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The Warriner School

The Story of Doreen Warriner OBE

Please take a minute to read the incredible story of Doreen Warriner OBE. We are so unbelievably proud to be linked to such an amazing woman.

The new film "One Life" staring Anthony Hopkins shares the life and extraordinary efforts of Sir Nicholas Winton in which Doreen Warriner played a vital part in securing safety for thousands of people during World War Two.

The trailer can be seen here

We are immensely proud of our link with the Warriner family, who originally owned the land where our school is today. Perhaps the most noteworthy member of that local family has been Doreen Warriner OBE, who worked tirelessly on the eve of war in 1938 and 1939 to rescue children and adult refugees in Prague, in what was then Czechoslovakia, from the Nazis.

Born in 1904, Doreen graduated with a first in PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) from St Hugh’s College Oxford. She later received a doctorate from Somerville College, Oxford in 1931 (a rare achievement for a woman in those early days of egalitarian education).

In the terrifying months before the outbreak of WW2 Doreen interrupted her academic career in order to do what she could to aid increasing numbers of refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and neighbouring countries.

She flew into Prague in September 1938, shortly after the Munich agreement had ceded a key part of Czechoslovakia (Sudetenland) to Germany. Just weeks later she witnessed the after-effects of Kristallnacht (night of broken glass) in Germany, when anti-Jewish pogroms forced tens of thousands of Jews to flee for their lives.

Having secured limited funds from UK sponsors, Doreen Warriner was appointed as the representative of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia (BCRC) with a budget of just £7,000 and a staff consisting of a small band of women.

Doreen worked tirelessly to help as many people as she could. Her work in 1938 escalated as 1939 brought war ever closer. In January 1939 she flew back to Britain and got permission to evacuate immediately 600 families and to speed up the bureaucratic procedures for Czech refugees to go to Britain. But in March 1939 Germany invaded the whole of Czechoslovakia and German authorities began refusing exit visas for Czechs, although not hindering the departure of Jewish children. Doreen worked closely with Nicholas Winton who helped 669 Jewish children escape Prague. The last group of children, scheduled to leave Prague on 1 September 1939, was unable to depart. With Hitler's invasion of Poland on the same day, the Second World War had begun. Of the 250 children due to leave on that train, only two survived the war.

In 2023 the film ‘One Life’ starring Anthony Hopkins as Nicholas Winton, launched to international acclaim. With Romola Garai playing Doreen Warriner in the film, one gets a real understanding of her outstanding bravery in securing the safe departure of many adults as well as children from Prague. On 23 April 1939 she left Prague as she was about to be arrested by the Gestapo. It is estimated that Doreen Warriner and her colleagues in the BCRC, including those who remained in the country after her departure, altogether facilitated the departure of 15,000 refugees from Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939, most of whom were resettled in Britain.

Doreen Warriner was awarded an OBE in 1941 "for services in 1938 and 1939 in connection with refugees leaving Czechoslovakia". She was also involved in humanitarian missions to Yugoslavia and Egypt. She continued her academic career following the war, becoming a leading authority on peasant economies, and (like Sir Nicholas Winton, as he became) rarely spoke of her immensely brave story. She died in 1972 and is buried locally in the churchyard at St Mary’s Church in Bloxham, where guided tours stop at her graveside to briefly tell her story.

We honour her memory with pride and gratitude.

Doreen Warriner's Plaque Unveiling | UCL School of Slavonic and East  European Studies (SSEES) - UCL – University College London