In 2003, Winton was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for "services to humanity”, in saving Jewish children from Nazi Germany occupied Czechoslovakia.
(The following information comes from Queensferry Gazette archives and also www.independent.co.uk
also old Queensferry School Records as recorded by Dr John Mason, Headmaster).
He persuaded the Home Office to let the children in, but they would only take unaccompanied children, under the age of 17 years. For each child he had to find a foster parent and a £50 guarantee to be deposited at the Home Office, in those days a small fortune, to pay for their eventual return home. The assumption the children would be able to return home to their families on mainland Europe when the violence had blown over would ultimately prove a tragic underestimation of the Nazi threat.
A final train carrying 251 children was due to leave Prague on 1 September 1939. It never left the station. The German army had invaded Poland and Germany had closed all borders. World War 2 had begun. The children got off the train and returned to their parents. Many were subsequently murdered in the Holocaust. Only two survived the war.
This action was initiated in response to Kristallnacht (“the Night of the Broken Glass”), which saw 267 synagogues razed, 91 Jews murdered and 30,000 people rounded up to be taken to Nazi concentration camps on the night of 9 November 1938.
On December 2nd, 1938, Jewish and Christian agencies began a huge humanitarian undertaking rescuing German and Austrian Jewish children on Kindertransporten (children's transports). The "Refugee Children's Movement," a group under the auspices of the Central British Fund for German Jewry or CBF (which later became the World Jewish Relief organization), urged concerned Christians and Jews to support "Operation Kindertransport."
An extensive fund-raising effort was organized and the British public responded generously, raising half a million British pounds in six months. A large portion of this money was used to care for the children who were rescued.
Between December 1938 and May 1940, almost 10,000 Jewish children (infants to teenagers) from Germany and Austria were rescued from certain death in the Holocaust and given shelter at farms, hostels, camps, and in private homes in Britain. Altogether some 60,000 Jewish refugees arrived in Britain seeking asylum, with around 50,000 settling permanently and the remainder subsequently relocating to North America, Australia or the newly formed state of Israel.
The children were given accommodation at Butlaw, the former WWI Naval Hospital at Port Edgar, (which was turned into a holiday camp for unemployed families, mainly from the West, after the war,) and they enrolled into Queensferry School on April 19th.
The headmaster, Dr Mason (who founded Queensferry Museum) undertook the education of all but the infants, as he had some knowledge of the German language. Miss Graham was in charge of the infant division. Friendships were built with the local people who helped where needed, entertained and even issued invites to tea.
It was noted in the records that the Czech children were learning wonderfully well. The director of education examined the children and he expressed appreciation at the work done by the children.
May 12th: “The model in school garden finished today. A medal and an address in German were presented to the builder, in presence of the pupils of advanced division and Czech children”.
May 16th: “Some Czech children visited Edinburgh today, the headmaster was present with them”.
May 20th: “Some children left for Canada today”.
May 25th: “Five Czech children taken to Broxburn School for dental treatment”
June 5th: “Some Czech children left for Culloden House, Inverness”.
A few of the Adult refugees who went to Canada, kept in touch with the families who befriended them in Queensferry.