u3a - Kindertransport Memories - Mick Oliver

Mick Oliver

Member of Harrow u3a, paying tribute to Clement Attlee

'Surprising news in November'

During November we [St John's Church] were surprised to receive an email from Rajeev Syal, a Guardian journalist, which enquired about Clement Attlee’s and Rev. William Hewett’s activities in 1938-9. Rev. Hewett was Rector at St. John’s then, and Clement Attlee was Leader of the Labour party and lived near Stanmore station at Heywood in London Road.

November 2018 was the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht when pre-war persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany intensified. There were events that month to commemorate the Kindertransport, an initiative to bring Jewish children to safety in England.

What we did not know until we had this contact, and read Rajeev Syal’s article, was that Rev. William Hewett had been involved in a similar activity, as a private initiative.

A Jewish mother, Franziska Willer, lived in Würzburg in Bavaria, with her two sons, her marriage to her Christian husband having broken down five years earlier. She was desperate to leave Germany and find a new home in England, where her brother Otto was already living. He knew Rev. Hewett, and persuaded him to look for English families who could care for the two boys. William Hewett was able to find homes for the two boys locally, and one of the host families was the Attlees. Paul Willer, then aged 10, stayed with the Attlees for four months, then went to school in Northern Ireland, worked in Hertfordshire, and retired in Gloucestershire.

After 1939, Clement Attlee became deputy Prime Minister during World War II. He moved from Stanmore when he became Prime Minister from 1945-51, and his home was demolished to become flats as Heywood Court. What is striking is that he made no effort to gain publicity or political kudos from his actions.

Clement Atlee

Sign at Heywood Court, Harrow

As part of the 80th anniversary celebrations, Paul Willer met Earl Attlee’s granddaughter, Jo Roundell Greene, who could recall her mother mentioning having had a German refugee stay in the house. 

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