Appreciation: Sir Nicholas Winton, stockbroker
Sir Nicholas Winton’s brave action in 1938 in saving the lives of nearly 1,000 children from Czechoslovakia had a very direct connection with Scotland – especially the East Lothian village of Stenton. From Harwich in Essex a train took the children to London’s Liverpool Street station, where they were met by Sir Nicholas and allotted foster parents.
Those without foster parents were sent to the Whittingehame Farm School near Stenton which had been owned by the former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour. Initially 69 were housed at Stenton but that grew within months to 160.
The home was set up as a Zionist school to teach agricultural techniques to the children in anticipation that they would settle in Palestine after the war. With the financial support from Edinburgh’s Jewish community and the churches in the capital, along with the Balfour family, the home provided essential domestic accommodation for the children who had experienced such turmoil.
Many were later absorbed into the British economy and many of the boys volunteered and served heroically with the UK forces in the war.
The children, of course, spoke German but on visits to Edinburgh they were discouraged, for obvious reasons, from speaking the language. They were active on the football field and Whittingehame FS beat Pencaitland 6-0; East Linton 24-0 and a combined Haddington/Pencaitland team 8–1.
It is not known for definite if Sir Nicholas visited Whittingehame but visits from the Edinburgh governors every Sunday proved popular as they arrived “with lashings of ice-cream”.
One ex-pupil wrote 50 years later: “Whittingehame I consider the happiest year of my life in retrospect: the camaraderie, simplicity, and last unaffected and carefree year of my youth, the Chaluzik spirit with its enthusiasm, singing, religious services, dancing and emerging puberty.”
There was a Whittingehame Farm School reunion in Israel in 1989. More than 200 assembled and gave thanks to Sir Nicholas for his actions in 1938. As the Countess of Balfour said: “Every one of them had his hidden personal tragedy in the background, each was profoundly alone.”
The school was closed in 1941.