Dame Helen Hyde, former headmistress and now a leading social justice campaigner, encouraged QE pupils at the Year 12 Luncheon to say no to hatred in all its forms and to make a positive difference by taking action.
Dame Helen was the guest speaker at the annual meal, which is arranged to give sixth-formers experience of the sort of formal social occasions they will experience at university and in their careers beyond.
A recognised national education leader who mentored other heads and school leadership teams, she left Watford Grammar School for Girls, where she had been Headmistress for 29 years, in 2016, because, as her own website puts it, “she felt she could no longer be a bystander”.
She was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) for her services to national state education and Holocaust Education in 2013. Dame Helen was appointed to the Holocaust Commission established by Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013-14. Last year, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Hertfordshire.
Headmaster Neil Enright said: “The boys and the teachers present greatly appreciated her thought-provoking contribution, which was perfectly pitched for the occasion. The boys always value the opportunity to hear from those eminent in their respective fields and to be able to put their questions to them.”
And Mr Enright told Dame Helen: “Your message about each individual being able to make a positive difference to the lives of others resonates very strongly with what we try to convey to the boys, both directly and with the support of our guest speakers. Your inspiring work in Rwanda provides evidence of what can be achieved.”
The luncheon, a three-course meal, was supported by Friends of Queen Elizabeth’s volunteers and Year 9 helpers. As is customary, a number of toasts were made prior to Dame Helen’s address. School Captain Bhiramah Rammanohar compèred the event, while Senior Vice-Captain Fozy Ahmed delivered the vote of thanks.
In her presentation, Dame Helen explored aspects of the Holocaust, in which members of her own family were murdered. She considered its unprecedented nature, the events that led up to it in Nazi Germany, the widespread complicity of many in Germany and occupied lands across Europe, and the reasons why the world powers failed to intervene.
Her family were originally from Germany, but some managed to escape abroad. Her father went to South Africa in 1936, where she was later born. She emigrated to Britain in 1970.
Her presentation also looked at South Africa’s history of Apartheid, as well as at genocides from that of the Armenians in the early 20th century through to recent events in Darfur in the Sudan and among the Rohingya from Myanmar.
She spoke about the work of Refugees to Recovery (R to R), which she set up with Tony Rindl, Vicar of St Mary’s Church, Watford. R to R works with other organisations to collect items badly needed by refugees.
Her work with Holocaust survivors led to Dame Helen’s interest in the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when 1 million people died in 100 days. She is an active patron and co-director of the Rwandan Sisterhood, which brings together Rwandan women uprooted by the genocide and raises funds to provide ‘Mama packs’ to expectant women in Rwanda and other African countries.
She finished her presentation to the boys with a challenge, calling on them to consider “your decisions, your words and your actions” and to “be an upstander”, taking action to help with the campaigns and charities she had outlined.