The few dozen mourners at her graveside were mostly octogenarians – children when they first met Nancy, who died at the age of 101. They had never forgotten what she had done for them. I was there with my brother and mother because 77 years ago Nancy saved my father, Robert. Without her, our family would never have existed.
Nancy and Reg, (known by all as Bing) were schoolteachers who in 1938 answered an advertisement in the back of the Manchester Guardian and offered to foster this Austrian boy of 11, who like all the Jews of Europe would soon have come to be in danger of liquidation by the Nazis.
The Bingleys’ hillside semi was a pebbledash ark for vulnerable children, local orphans plucked from institutional lives and embraced as part of an ever-expanding family. Robert was the only foreigner among them, and arrived lonely and scared. Robert’s mother had brought him on the train from Vienna to the Belgian coast and then the ferry to Harwich, carrying a UK visa, granted thanks to a shortage of housemaids among Britain’s well-to-do. The only reason she was able to bring Robert was because he was sponsored by the Bingleys. But he could not stay with her.
His father, my grandfather, scraped out at the last moment, in March 1939, again with the Bingleys’ help in nudging the bureaucracy. He eventually found a factory job in Shrewsbury, at Corset Silhouette, an underwear manufacturer started by enterprising refugees, where he was to stay all his working life. My grandparents, obliged to labour and live apart, no doubt believed their son stood a better chance in this new country, growing up in a British home.
Nancy Bingley was buried in July in a Caernarfon cemetery overlooking the Menai Strait. As a wind blew in from Anglesey, she was lowered into the ground alongside her husband Reg, who had got there 63 years earlier.