Nicholas Winton

Barbara's Blog

Winton's Children
News and Archive

Barbara Winton is the daughter of Sir Nicholas Winton and gives talks about him, his legacy and its resonance with today's world.

6th June 2017: Thoughts on Europe and refugees.

My father died nearly two years ago on 1st July, aged 106. He had a huge life force which seemed propelled by his love of people and his curiosity about the world and its problems and solutions. He had many concerns about the direction of many big issues, such as population growth, water shortages , the effects of religion and building strong communities but he was always talking to people about how such problems might be solved.

In the past two years since he died, I find it hard to imagine how he would have reacted to the huge events that have happened over that time, which will shape our future for generations. Firstly he was a proud European. Having lived through two world wars (he was born 5years before the start of WW1), he was deeply committed to the idea that a strong interconnected Europe was a huge force for peace. He felt as much at home in France, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy etc etc as he did in England and had many friends across Europe. The idea that Britain might choose to leave the brotherhood of Europe would have struck him as a tragedy, I am sure.

The Syrian refugee crisis had started long before he died, but it gathered pace and spread into Europe as he was declining in health and after his death. The resonances of seeing families torn apart, children suffering in insanitary and makeshift camps, compared broadly to what he had witnessed in the camps set up around Prague in 1939. Those sights then had compelled him to try and help, much as today's sights have led to thousands of volunteers helping in the camps in Greece and Italy and doing their utmost to bring children to safety.

I think he would be proud of all those doing everything they can to help but also dismayed at the grudging response from the UK government to their responsibility for sheltering those in greatest need, especially unaccompanied children adrift in Europe. One of those he rescued in 1939, Alf Dubs, now Lord Dubs, was responsible for an amendment to the government's Immigration Act to allow unaccompanied refugee children into Britain made in May 2016. Sadly it has been an uphill struggle to get the government to honour this amendment and my father would have been deeply interested in hearing Alf's experience of trying to do the right thing for such children and might even have been lobbying his local MP about it. She happens to be Theresa May. They met at regular intervals and he was not afraid to tell her what he thought should be done in the political arena when they spoke.

Mrs May spoke kindly and generously about him at his Memorial Service last May 2016. A lasting legacy for him would be if the government responded more generously towards vulnerable unaccompanied refugee children, and took up the many offers from local councils and individuals to house and support those children in need.