These stamps honour some of Britain’s greatest humanitarians and their achievements.
Entitled British Humanitarians, the stamp issue commemorates three women and three men who challenged the causes of inequality, deprivation and ignorance, repairing shattered bodies and minds, and rescuing the vulnerable.
Their work helped to create much that is good in our modern world, and yet the first was born when George IV occupied the throne, while the last lived to see more than 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. They were driven human beings, sharing two significant characteristics – a natural concern for their fellow citizens of the world and a single-minded desire to help those in need.
Included in the set is a stamp to mark Sir Nicholas Winton, who organized the rescue of 669 predominantly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia on the eve of the Second World War.
A stockbroker, Nicholas Winton found homes for the children of refugees fleeing the Czech Sudetenland and arranged for their safe passage to Britain. It wasn’t until 50 years later, in 1988, that the world found out about his life-saving Kindertransport work, when the scrapbook recording his pre-war experiences came to light and his remarkable story was reported on British television. The press dubbed him the ‘British Schindler’.
Also included in the set is Sue Ryder. In 1953 she established the Sue Ryder Foundation – other organisations would later follow – and more than 80 care homes for those suffering from physical or mental disabilities were set up worldwide.
Eglantyne Jebb also features in the issue. Founder of the organisation that became Save the Children, she was a social reformer, driven by a belief that children should never suffer due to conflict, natural disasters or poverty.
Also honoured in the set is confectioner and Quaker philanthropist, Joseph Rowntree. Joseph used half of his wealth to set up three trusts: the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust; the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust Ltd; and the Joseph Rowntree Village Trust.
Josephine Butler was a social reformer and feminist of Victorian Britain and is also included in the set. Following the death of her only daughter in 1864, she became a fervent activist who campaigned to improve the life for destitute women in Liverpool. Most famously, she was instrumental in the battle against the Contagious Diseases Acts - that denied working-class women their civil rights.
Completing the stamp issue is Lord Boyd Orr. The Scottish physician and biologist advocated improved nutrition and global food provision and went on to become the first director-general of the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.
Stephen Agar, Royal Mail: said, “These six British individuals remain inspirational for their actions and achievements across nearly 150 years. It is timely that Royal Mail pays tribute to their humanitarianism with these stamps.”
Nicholas Winton, son of Sir Nicholas Winton, said: “The family are delighted that my father has been chosen to feature on a Royal Mail stamp celebrating British Humanitarians. He was always surprised at how much publicity his activities attracted and I am sure he would have felt that he did not belong in such distinguished company."
Heidi Travis, CEO Sue Ryder said: “It is a great honour that our inspirational founder has been chosen to have a stamp designed in her name. The work Lady Ryder undertook has helped millions of people in this country and abroad and we aim to continue that legacy by providing incredible hospice and neurological care for people facing a frightening, life-changing diagnosis.”
Liz Grierson, Chair of Trustees, The Rowntree Society, said: The Royal Mail have given Joseph Rowntree a real 'stamp of approval' for his work and legacy by including him in the group of humanitarians honoured in this set of stamps.
Joseph Rowntree was a humanitarian much admired for his work and vision and we hope the stamps will inspire interest and action in humanitarianism wherever they are sent.”
Tanya Steele, interim CEO at Save the Children said: “A visionary and a radical, Eglantyne Jebb’s leadership and powerful voice created the foundations of Save the Children’s life-saving work campaigning for the rights and welfare of children, and her legacy forms a core part of who we are as an organisation today. Therefore it is extremely fitting that Eglantyne should sit alongside these five other extraordinary humanitarians and be commended for her work in this way.”Next: Fact file >
Stamp by stamp
Sir Nicholas Winton
In late December 1938, Nicholas Winton, a young stockbroker, received a telephone call from a friend in Prague who had volunteered to help with the influx of refugees fleeing the Czech Sudetenland, after the Nazi invasion. After travelling to the city to offer his assistance, Winton became heavily involved in the aid operation, where he conceived the idea of moving endangered children to the UK. Working 18-hour days, he visited refugee camps, conducted interviews and compiled lists for evacuation to the UK of mainly – but not exclusively – Jewish children who faced a terrible fate at the hands of the Nazis.
Three weeks later, back in London, Winton was at the Stock Exchange by day, but by night he was finding foster parents, writing reports for newspapers, arranging transportation and lobbying governments. Some 669 children were saved from certain death. But he would never forget the 250 young people on the last train scheduled to leave Prague on 1 September 1939, swallowed by darkness after Germany invaded Poland and closed all the borders.
Winton was born Nicholas Wertheim – the family name was changed in 1938 – in London, the second child of a businessman. His father’s Bavarian Jewish parents had settled in Britain in the 1860s, while his Nuremberg-born mother had arrived in England in 1907.
Five years after being made an MBE for his charity work, his life-saving Kindertransport work of 1939 was finally revealed in 1988, when the scrapbook recording his pre-war experiences came to light and his remarkable story was reported on British television.
Knighted in 2003, Sir Nicholas eschewed publicity. “I just saw what was going on,” he said, “and did what I could to help.”
Sue Ryder was born in Leeds, the fourth child of a farmer-cum-landowner and his devoutly Christian second wife, a voluntary social worker. Educated privately at Benenden School in Kent, Ryder would never forget the childhood visits she made to the slums of Leeds with her mother – nor the “sense of pride” of their inhabitants.
Soon after the Second World War broke out, Ryder joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. “The war and its aftermath,” she wrote later, “have all been our teachers.” Her learning began, after a spell as a nurse, with a transfer to the Special Operations Executive (SOE), often driving SOE agents from Poland to mission take-offs, which helped to develop a lifelong bond with that country. In 1943 she was posted to North Africa and then to Italy.
With the coming of peace, Ryder commenced her odyssey as a social worker. In the wreckage of Germany, she campaigned on behalf of concentration camp survivors, the displaced, the orphaned and the unjustly punished, and what began in Europe would become, throughout the rest of the 20th century, a global campaign. In 1953, she established the Sue Ryder Foundation – other organisations would later follow – and more than 80 homes for those suffering from physical or mental problems would be set up worldwide.
In January 1979, Sue Ryder was made a life peer and took the title ‘Baroness Ryder of Warsaw’ in tribute to the people of Poland.
Lord Boyd Orr
In 1945, as the first director-general of the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the physiological nutritionist, Sir John Boyd Orr, urged the creation of a new body which would both fund worldwide development of agriculture and ensure food supplies to developing countries. Charity and love are essentials for a “great soul”, he would write later, but so too were “vision, courage and a willingness to sacrifice oneself”. Boyd Orr’s life exemplified those ideals, and in 1949 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and also created a baron.
The son of a quarry owner and his wife, both devout Christians, the Scotsman’s career took him from the tranquility of Kilmaurs in Ayrshire, through Kilmarnock Academy, to spells as a teacher and degrees from Glasgow University. By 1914, he was director of an institute of animal nutrition based at the University of Aberdeen (that later became known as the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health), which he would transform following his war service. On the Western Front, Dr Boyd Orr was decorated for gallantry while serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps and the Sherwood Foresters.
By the time of the 1918 Armistice, in a land exhausted by conflict, he was examining food resources for the Royal Society. Between the wars his work ranged across the world, while he advised – and clashed with – the government, evangelising for the poor and the virtues of milk for children. In 1946, in an attempt to address the post-war food crisis, he established an International Emergency Food Council, with 34 member nations signed up within the first year.
Though he left the FAO in 1948, his commitment to the struggle remained undiminished. As the Cold War deepened, Boyd Orr urged its protagonists to agree on the “common cause”, that of providing “sufficient food for all mankind”. This could, he argued, shift society towards “the evolution of a new civilisation, free from poverty with its intolerable evils of hunger, disease and resulting social unrest”.
In May 1919, at the City of London Magistrates’ Court, Eglantyne Jebb and Barbara Ayrton Gould went on trial for staging a protest highlighting the plight of children in post-war Europe. They had given out leaflets in London’s Trafalgar Square featuring photographs of malnourished children with an accompanying text blaming the Allied blockade for the needless starvation of innocents. The First World War had ended in November 1918, but the enforced blockade continued, with devastating effects, into 1919. The two defendants were found guilty of the unauthorised distribution of the controversial material and fined £5 each – but the publicity was vital. Days later the ‘Save the Children Fund’, conceived by Jebb and her sister Dorothy Buxton, was launched in London. Jebb would become its honorary secretary and vice-president of Save the Children’s international arm. In the ensuing century, Save the Children evolved into the world’s largest independent organisation for children.
Activist and writer, Jebb was born in Ellesmere in Shropshire, the fourth child of a socially committed country landowner and his wife. Home-schooled, Jebb went on to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, leaving in 1898 with the equivalent of second-class honours in Modern History – female students were denied university degrees. She took a teacher-training course (but ill health curtailed her teaching career), studied economics, became a social worker and, in 1908, produced a sociological study of Cambridge. By 1913, Jebb was confronting the horrors of the Balkan war as a relief worker and investigator in Macedonia.
As part of her work at Save the Children, in the early 1920s Jebb drafted the ‘Declaration of the Rights of the Child’, a document that was brought before the League of Nations’ Assembly in September 1924, with a strong recommendation that “we should claim certain rights for the children and labour for their universal recognition”. Unanimously adopted by the League of Nations (and known as the Declaration of Geneva), it was one of Save the Children’s first breakthroughs in improving the lives of children across the globe and it remains a humanitarian benchmark to this day.
Born into a prosperous and distinguished Quaker family in York, Joseph Rowntree was educated at Bootham School before starting a six-year apprenticeship at his father’s grocery store in 1852. After building up valuable business experience over the next few years, in 1869 he became a partner in his younger brother’s confectionery company where he helped to transform both the firm’s fortunes and, perhaps most significantly, the well-being of its employees, with the introduction of welfare programmes, medical services, pension schemes and sick benefits for the workforce.
“Healthful conditions are not luxuries to be adopted or disposed of at will,” he proclaimed. “They are conditions necessary for success.” But he also identified one remorseless enemy – “selfish and unscrupulous wealth”. Concerned that he was in possession of too much money, in 1904 he used half of his wealth to set up three trusts: the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust was created to give support to social research, adult education and the Society of Friends, the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust Ltd focused on social and political activities outside the strict definition of charitable work and the Joseph Rowntree Village Trust had responsibility for building respectable but affordable housing for the working classes.
The Quaker philanthropist rejected emotional responses to social crises. That there was poverty was obvious, Rowntree reasoned, but he wanted to identify the causes of such evils – and how they could be eliminated. There would ultimately be four trusts, and their work, born in Edwardian England, resonates across time and space, far beyond Rowntree’s home city, and continues to this day. Adult education, research into social change, progressive housing – both in theory and, at New Earswick in York and elsewhere, in practice – became just part of the long and far-reaching legacy of Joseph Rowntree and his family.
Butler (née Grey) was born into the gentry of Northumberland, though her father, a cousin of Earl Grey (British Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834), was a radical and a social reformer. In 1852, she married George Butler, an Anglican clergyman and university teacher. They had three sons and a daughter.
Devastated after the death of her daughter, Eva, in 1864, she flung herself into work improving life for the destitute women of Liverpool.
It was a world of double standards and hypocrisies, where men legislated while voteless middle and working-class women were subjected to inequality and exploitation.
She would inspire, outrage and transform society, and take her message across Europe and into India. Most famously, the devout Christian feminist, activist, writer and democrat was pivotal in the battle against the Contagious Diseases Acts and successfully campaigned for the raising of the age of consent from 13 to 16.
Butler’s attention was also drawn to battles for women’s suffrage and education for women.
Josephine Butler was “one of the great people of the world”, commented her friend, the educator and politician Professor James Stuart. “The world is different because she lived.”Next: Collectors' corner >