Those of us of a certain age will fondly remember the TV programme That’s Life. It was a staple of Sunday nights and, one evening in 1988, there was a special moment which moved viewers in an unforgettable way. They featured a special tribute to Sir Nicholas Winterton who saved hundreds of Jewish children from the horrors of the holocaust by means of special train journeys called Kindertransport. What many people might not know is that one of those very people on the programme, who was saved from the then Czechoslovakia aged just 9, has made a profound impression on Preston.
Lady Milena Grenfell-Baines [then Fleischmann] was sent on the journey in 1939 with her 3 year-old sister, Eva, just before the outbreak of WW2. Her father had managed to escape Prague the day before the Nazis arrived and settled in Ashton-under-Lyne. Having helped a prominent anti-Nazi author get Czech citizenship earlier he was a top target for the invading forces.
The sisters travelled unaccompanied through Europe on one of the special trains and eventually were taken to Ashton too. Their father, however, was too ill to care for them so they were put in the care of guardians until their mother escaped via Norway a year later. Education for Milena was at a Czech school in Britain, which helped her greatly in getting work as an interpreter. Prior to this, after leaving school at 16 she had spent 2 years working as an au-pair in Deauville where she not only learnt French but developed a great affinity with the area in Northern France.
Marriage to Preston businessman George Grenfell-Baines followed and the couple settled here. His career as an architect flourished and he was knighted in 1978 for services to architecture. Having studied at the Harris Institute [the forerunner of UCLan] the university named its school of Architecture, Construction and Environment in his honour in 2013.
Milena’s own interests in cookery and music led her to become a force in the local culinary scene and also a supporter of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. She has also taken part in organising the 2012 Guild celebrations and is closely involved in Preston’s twin town programme. Now also a much-welcome Friend of the Harris, she is also involved in the fundraising activities of the Harris Museum and Art Gallery. In 2015, in recognition of her role as a ‘wonderful ambassador for Preston’, Lady Milena was awarded the freedom of the city. Prague’s loss has been very much Preston’s gain.