Second World War refugee becomes MBE

From wartime refugee to Member of the British Empire - that's the astonishing journey of restoration champion Tom Gondris.

IPSWICH: From wartime refugee to Member of the British Empire - that's the astonishing journey of restoration champion Tom Gondris.

Mr Gondris was awarded the MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours to mark his services to conservation and heritage in Ipswich and Suffolk.

However as he approaches his 80th birthday he did not feel fit enough to go to Buckingham Palace to receive the honour - instead it was presented by Lord Lieutenant Lord Tollemache at a special investiture in Ipswich.

Mr Gondris arrived in Britain as a nine-year-old refugee from Prague in one of the “Winton Trains” in July 1939 as the clouds of war were blowing up over Europe.

“I said goodbye to my parents in Prague and expected them to join me in England. They got out of Prague but only made it as far as Poland before the war caught up with them.

“I never saw them again,” he remembered.

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The Winton Trains - organised by a junior British official to save children at risk from the Nazis after the invasion of Czechoslovakia - were remembered earlier this year with a special train hauled by newly-built steam engine Tornado.

Mr Gondris moved to Suffolk when his company relocated to Hadleigh.

He rose to become chairman of food machinery company H. Erben before he retired in 1995.

Since then he has spent much of his time and effort saving buildings in Ipswich and throughout Suffolk as chairman of both the Ipswich Buildings Preservation Trust and the Suffolk Architectural Preservation Trust.

In Ipswich he has been behind moves to save well-known landmarks including the Old Moon and Star in Norwich Road and, most recently, Curson Lodge on the junction of St Nicholas Street and Silent Street.

This Tudor building is known as one of the few landmarks left in the town that Cardinal Wolsey would recognise, but it needed major restoration work before it could be brought back into use.

It is now the home of boutique Caramel - and Mr Gondris sees this as one of his most important works.

“Getting such a prominent building restored took a lot of time and effort, but it was worth every minute when you see it now.

“The larger part of the building has now been sold on and is in use. That is very good news,” he said.

Tom Gondris factfile:

Born in 1930 in Czechoslovakia.

Arrived in Britain in 1939.

Moved to Suffolk in the late 1960s with his company.

As well as being chairman of the two architectural groups, he is also a key member of the Ipswich Society.

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