This year marks the 80th anniversary of ‘Kindertransport’, the mission which took thousands of children to safety ahead of World War Two (1939-1945), in which the town of Watford played a key role...
The humanitarian effort was led by the Government and British public to take in over 10,000 children from Germany and other European countries from families that were persecuted for being Jews primarily.
In 1939, Mrs. Kathleen Freeman gave up her home for refugee children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, which become to known as the “Welcome House” located near Watford Junction station. The children were primarily those from mixed Jewish parentage. Its inhabitants soon became known as the “Welcome Family”. Because the house was near an important railway station and therefore subject to possible bomb damage in the event of war, Mrs. Freeman moved the children to her own home, Nascot Wood House, on Hempstead Road, where the “Welcome Family”, of around 12 children, was safely accommodated until the end of the war.
The local efforts of Mrs Freeman were later told in the autobiography of Henry Graupner, now living in Ottawa, Canada, who was there during this period. In his memoir, he describes the impact of the house and how grateful he was: “My experiences and development during my years in the Welcome Family, had the most influence on my character and the sort of person I became. I could write many pages about Mrs. F and I have to thank her for my upbringing on a very moral basis with a strong emphasis on education and intellectual pursuits”. In 1964, Mrs. Freeman was awarded an O.B.E. for all her ‘outstanding services and untiring devotion to the cause of the world’s children’, from some years before 1939 continuing to well after 1945.
Elected Mayor of Watford Peter Taylor said: “The impact that the Second World War had on our town was enormous. Watford has always been a very caring town and the town pulled together around the war effort. Mrs. Kathleen Freeman is testament to this ethos, I am sure children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who were rescued are forever grateful for her extraordinary work”.
Many parents of children who had been rescued on Kindertransport were killed in the war. The children chose to stay in the UK and build new lives for themselves, as they had no family to go home to. You can find out more at www.britannica.com/event/Kindertransport