An IT pioneer who arrived in Britain on the Kindertransport scheme has said she does not believe the UK’s efforts to deal with the current refugee crisis are as organised as they were in the 1930s.
Dame Stephanie Shirley arrived in Britain in 1939 as one of 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees who fled the Nazis.
She spoke as she received her damehood at Buckingham Palace for services to IT and philanthropy.
Dame Stephanie said: “It’s not nearly as well organised from a British point of view as it was in 1939 when the Christian and Jewish activists really got 10,000 children out, each one guaranteed to be fostered in this country.
“I came to this country as a refugee, and always sort of said I would repay the country that let me in.
“It leaves you with the ability to cope with change, a determination not to waste the life that was given to me and I just love this country with a passion that perhaps only someone who has lost their human rights can feel.”
Dame Stephanie, who set up her own successful IT business in the 1960s, was tearful and emotional as she spoke of the honour of receiving her damehood from the Duke of Cambridge.
But she was not always so freely recognised for her work – Dame Stephanie used to go by the name of Steve, saying she got more responses from letters she wrote if the recipient thought she was a man.
When asked what the proudest moment of her career was, Dame Stephanie said: “I think what I did for women in the early 1960s to have women recognised as full members of society and economic society as well, that we could do every job at every level, that I was opening the door.”
She said she was disappointed that progress for women had not gone further.
The philanthropist, who estimated she had donated £67 million to charity to date, also spoke of the sexual harassment scandal which is currently gripping industries from entertainment to politics.
She said: “Obviously I am appalled at a few of the things that I’ve been hearing but the rest of them I just find so trivial.
“‘I don’t like your dress’, I mean what’s the point of it, it’s so trivial.”