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Vintage Kingston: War hero's moving reunion
5:00am Saturday 7th June 2014 in News
From June 2, 1989
The identity of an unsung World War II hero was revealed at a tearful reunion, in a quiet cottage garden in Thames Ditton.
After 50 years, retired journalist Bernard Sykes, 75, met the Jewish women he had helped escape the clutches of Hitler.
It was the first time he had met Martha Bieler – now Bendoff – since 1938, when as a 26-year-old reporter on the Bolton Evening News, he had provided her escape route from Austria.
Martha, also 75, had long had a yearning to meet him again, but knew him only as Uncle Bernard, the name he used to fool the German authorities.
She tried all kinds of methods to track him down, including an unsuccessful attempt through Cilla Black’s Surprise Surprise! TV show, but eventually found him through friends, living in Church Walk with his wife, Dorothy.
Mr Sykes set up his escape route from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Italy. He established a pen pal club and got his newsroom colleagues to join him in writing to Jews in at-risk areas.
He adopted the Uncle Bernard tag to trick the authorities into thinking he was related to his pen pals.
Martha, who lived in Vienna, told him in a letter she “needed another holiday” – Bernard replied he would be delighted to see his “niece” again and said she should visit with her sister Sonya as soon as possible.
He even arranged job interviews for the refugees he brought to Britain.
Mr Sykes personally helped another 12 jews escape harassment, abuse, and potentially an even worse fate. His colleagues helped yet more.
Not many got to meet their Uncle Bernard. But he later helped Martha’s parents, plus another sister and her husband, all escape from Austria.
Martha spent a year as a cook in Bolton before moving to Manchester to make clothes for British service members. She married her childhood sweetheart, who had also managed to escape.
After his death in 1973 she met and married Hyman Bendoff, an English jew, and moved to Streatham.
Mr Sykes became a war correspondent, but was wounded. He married the physiotherapist who nursed him back to health.
50 YEARS AGO: June 3, 1964
When he adopted and hand-reared an abandoned baby thrush, Henry Matthews gained a new problem – it just would not to fly away. The bird was quite content to hop around Mr Matthews’ garden, in Hook Road, Surbiton, but did not to know how to feed itself. It was found by Mr Matthews’ son, Francis.
25 YEARS AGO: June 2, 1989
The last surviving part of Kingston’s original railway station was to be demolished after the Department of the Environment refused to issue a preservation order. When the dilapidated Victorian engine shed marooned between the new relief road and the present station was bulldozed, the final link to the railway’s arrival in 1863 was severed.
10 YEARS AGO: June 2, 2004
Plans for the 120-bed Travelodge in Tolworth Tower were given the green light by councillors 10 years ago. They were swayed by arguments from officers that the hotel would bring more jobs to the area. It was set to be built in less than a year, with rooms costing £25 a night.
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