‘I am very much alive!'
Practical Boat Owner|October 2021
A wartime act of kindness is recalled by a survivor of St Helier Yacht Club’s ‘miracle of St Malo’ evacuation, writes Philip Jeune
Philip Jeune

Possibly the last living survivor of St Helier Yacht Club’s ‘finest hour’, the evacuation of St Malo on 16 June 1940, has been discovered living with her family in America.

Irène Weindling was just nine years old when, together with her mother Claire and elder brothers Sylvain and Irwin, she was rescued from the French port by a Jersey boat owned by yacht club member Jim Langlois.

Now, 81 years later, she lives in Massachusetts, just south-west of Boston, where she recently celebrated 70 years of marriage to Ronald Probstein, a former space engineer and Emeritus Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The yacht club members who answered the Admiralty’s call ‘to send all available craft to St Malo to help the evacuation of British troops’ have sadly all since passed away, as have almost certainly all the troops and other civilians rescued by the Jersey boats as the German army entered the French port.

Out of the blue

However, Irène recently made contact with the club having read of last summer’s parade of sail in St Aubin’s Bay to mark the 80th anniversary of the evacuation and now the dramatic tale of a young Jewish girl’s escape, rescue and new life in America can be told.

“I read that no individual involved in this event remains alive today,” said Irène. “I am very much alive!”

The Weindlings lived in Belgium before World War II where Irène’s father Samuel, originally from Poland, ran a business. Claire was English and the couple had three boys and a girl, the eldest son, Leon, being in the Belgian Army.

On 10 May 1940 the Germans bombed their home in Antwerp and the family fled to Paris. Leon had been taken prisoner when the Belgian Army capitulated and Samuel stayed in Paris in the hope of making contact with him. Meanwhile, Claire and her three other children continued their escape to Dinard where they hoped to get a boat to Bordeaux.

“We waited for my father in Dinard, going to the train station every day, but finally the trains stopped running,” recalls Irène.

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