Modest Sir Nicholas Winton kept quiet about his kindertransport rescue for half a century

Credit: PA

Sir Nicholas Winton, who has died at the age of 106, is credited with rescuing 669 children - mostly Jewish - from the impending Nazi holocaust in 1939.

Fighting bureaucracy at home as well as abroad, Winton saved the children from almost certain death and it is poignant that he died on the anniversary in July 1939 of the train carrying the largest number of children - 241 - to leave Prague.

Winton kept quiet about his exploits for 50 years, not even telling his wife, and it was not until 1988 that the true story of his selflessness in the face of evil came to light, bringing plaudits, honours and, best of all, reunions with those children who, without him, would undoubtedly have been destined for the gas chamber.

Known to his family as "Nicky", Sir Nicholas was 29 when he arrived in Prague shortly after Christmas 1938 at the request of a friend, Martin Blake, with whom he had been meant take a holiday.

The capital of the then-Czechoslovakia had been deluged with refugees after Hitler's unopposed invasion of its German-speaking Sudetenland region earlier that year.

Through the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia (BCRC) he saw what was going on and decided that he had to help get the children to safety before the stormtroopers annexed the whole country.

Returning to London he organised eight trains from Prague to London known as the Czech Kindertransport operation and helped to find foster families for the children when they arrived in England.

Sir Nicholas with Vera Gissingaged who was 11 years old when he saved her Credit: PA

He worked around the clock to find British families willing to put up the then huge sum of £50 and agree to look after the children until they were 17.

It was Sir Nicholas's greatest regret that a final train of 250 children, due to depart at the start of September 1939, was prevented from leaving when Poland was invaded. All are believed to have died along with 1.1 million of the Czech Jews at Auschwitz.

The secret of his selfless humanitarian efforts was not discovered until wife Grete found an old briefcase in the attic with lists of children and letters from their parents.

In February 1988 his family took the scrapbook to Esther Rantzen's That's Life to make a programme about what he had done. He was invited along to the studio for the programme's broadcast, ostensibly to check it for accuracy.

Unbeknownst to them both he had been sat in the audience next to Vera Gissing, one of the women his Kindertransport had brought to safety and their tearful on-screen reunion was the first of many.

He was finally reunited with hundreds of the children - including Labour peer Lord "Alf"' Dubbs and film director Karel Reisz - in an emotional gathering for 5,000 descendants of the "Winton children".

A statue of Sir Nicholas in Maidenhead where he lived after the war Credit: PA

Honours then followed. Having already been made an MBE in 1983 for his services to learning disability charity Mencap, he was knighted by the Queen in 2003 "for services to humanity", with the monarch telling him: "It's wonderful that you were able to save so many children.''

In 2010 he was awarded a Hero of the Holocaust medal at 10 Downing Street.

The Czech government has repeatedly nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in recent years, most recently 2013. In October 2014 he returned to Prague to be admitted to the Czech Order Of The White Lion.