Principal of Millisle Primary, Linda Patterson, is proud of the wartime role her school played in sheltering Jewish children from Nazi persecution.
In 1939, with war raging in Europe, the seaside school opened its doors to hundreds of frightened new pupils who had been shipped abroad for their own safety.
As part of the Kindertransport programme, Belfast’s Jewish community acquired a farm in rural Millisle where around 300 refugees sought sanctuary over a turbulent 10-year period. Mrs Patterson said the fascinating revelation came to light during a talk by a local historian.
Bobby Hackworth was telling the children of his own wartime experiences in Millisle when he mentioned how he shared classes with Jewish children from across Europe.
“Unfortunately Bobby has since passed away but his presentation led to the school beginning its own search for information about the local involvement in the worldwide Kindertransport programme,” Mrs Patterson said.
“My children got very interested in this and, of course, started to ask questions. Roughly 300 children passed through the farm. They also came from the concentration camps after the war and that’s why it stayed open until 1949.”
The farm buildings have since been demolished but the memories have been preserved in a short film made by Mrs Patterson and her pupils in 2005.
“The DVD has gone out all over the world, because there are still people who either lived on the farm, or who are their children or grandchildren, and I would have visitors come to my school every couple of months.
“The sad thing is they can’t visit the farm any longer, but they come to my school, and that is why I felt it was important to show just how important Millisle had been. And that’s why I have a Holocaust memorial garden which was funded by Lottery funding.”
Mrs Patterson added: “The children were taught English as a lot of them didn’t know English. One of our Millisle children sat beside each one of the Jewish children teaching them English.”
The story of the refugees in Millisle was recreated in a novel for children by Marilyn Taylor. Titled Faraway Home, it was selected for the annual Blue Peter Book of the Year awards in 2001.
A screening of Millisle Primary School’s film, ‘A Kinder Place, A Different Home – The Story Of Millisle Farm,’ will feature at a special event being held by Castlereagh Borough Council tonight to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.