Czechoslovak State School

Between 1943 and 1945, the Czechoslovak government-in-exile established a secondary school for refugees at the Abernant Lake Hotel in Llanwrtyd Wells. The school had previously been located in Surrey and Shropshire, before being evacuated to Wales. Around 140 pupils were taught at the Czechoslovak State School, mostly from Jewish backgrounds but also including Roman Catholics, Protestants and those of no religious affiliation. 

Instruction at the school was in Czech and all expenses (including the teachers’ salaries and children’s board) were paid for by the Czechoslovak government-in-exile. Marilyn Yalom, a former pupil, said that “It was clear that we all needed both to speak and to feel Czech, as the aim of the school was to prepare us to rebuild the republic devastated by the Nazis.”

Ruth Hálová was another student at the school and remembers her time there as “full of friendship”: 

“We were a varied group: most of the students were children from the children’s transports, whose lives, like mine, had been saved by Nicholas Winton. Part of us were also children of soldiers and airmen who were serving in the British armed forces, or children of civil servants and high officials of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile. After two beautiful years, I graduated from there. It was May 1945, the end of the war.”

Read Ruth’s story here (External)
Pencil Drawing of Abernant Lake Hotel, 1940. In addition to the Czechoslovak School, the hotel also hosted the Bromsgrove School, which was evacuated from Worcestershire at the beginning of the war (© Bromsgrove School Archive. Reproduced by kind permission of Bromsgrove School Archive)

At one concert held at the school, the children sang Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (Land of My Fathers), which endeared them to the local community. Vera Gissing was a Kindertransportee from Prague who came to Britain in May 1939. She was a student at the school and remembers that, at the concert, there “wasn’t a dry eye in the audience”. She later wrote a book about her experiences entitled Pearls of Childhood.

Former student Frank Schwelb also remembered “with particular affection the Welsh people who welcomed” him and his classmates “so warmly during [their] time of need”. The town of Llanwrtyd Wells later twinned with the Czech town of Český Krumlov, further cementing ties between the two communities.

Listen to Vera’s story here (External)
Further reading

Vera Gissing, Pearls of Childhood (London: Robson, 1988)

Cai Parry-Jones, The Jews of Wales: A History (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2017)

Jane Marchese Robinson, Seeking Sanctuary: A History of Refugees in Britain (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2020)

Marilyn Yalom, Innocent Witnesses: Childhood Memories of World War II (Stanford, CA: Redwood Press, 2021)