Earlier this evening I learnt that Sir Nicholas Winton, the man so often described as British Schindler, had passed away at 106 years of age. I decided to pay my respects to this extraordinary gentleman, that I bought some flowers and took them to Maidenhead train station which has a statue of his reading a book.
As I drove there, I thought of the crammed day I had had. After tidying up some loose ends at work in the morning, I had changed into fancy clothes, thrown on a fascinator and had gone with a friend to Henley Regatta. We had sunned ourselves, had posh tea, circulated amongst others and in all and had had a spiffing good time. While there, I had had an opportunity to meet two women who were rowing across the Atlantic ocean. Yes, they were going to row all 3000 nautical miles of it and were happy to share the details of their adventure when quizzed by random strangers like me.
It was on my return that I learnt of Sir Nicholas Winton’s passing and was reminded of his incredible feat of rescuing over six hundred Czech children from certain death at Nazi concentration camps. And his famous reluctance to acknowledge the magnitude of his endeavour. His achievement remained hidden from public for a very long time until a chance discovery by his wife of a scrap book crammed with information about the children whose lives he had saved. At a recent ceremony to honour him at Prague, he jocularly remarked that the trouble with living so long is that people tended to exaggerate what he’d done.
Meeting the Atlantic rowers and learning of Sir Nick’s passing away on the same day, I was struck by the depth of kindness human beings are capable of and the lengths to which we are can pushing our bodies and minds to. However, the horrific circumstances that prompted Sir Nick’s rescue mission are also the evil work of human minds. We can embrace humanity just as easily as we can opt for violence.
I dropped flowers on the lap of Sir Nick’s statue on platform 4 at Maidenhead train station, bowed my head in remembrance and turned to leave. There were six others waiting for their train. Two young women and a baby, a middle-aged man telling another that this was the train he normally took to get back home from a late shift and a sixth man sound asleep stretched on a bench. Life, in all its dull, quotidian detail. And Sir Nick reading his book unobtrusively at the far end. Exactly how he’d have liked to have remained, I imagine.
*Apparently, Sir Nick used to say, ‘If it’s not impossible, there must be a way to do it’.