Former pupils of the Duchess’s school saved lives of Jews in 1930s

The front cover of Ida Cook's book, Safe Passage.
The front cover of Ida Cook's book, Safe Passage.

A Mills and Boon author and her sister, who helped save 29 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany before the Second World War, lived and went to school in Alnwick for a time.

Ida Cook published the first of her more than 100 books in 1936, under the pen name Mary Burchell, going on to help found and be president of the Romantic Novelists Association from the 1960s to the 1980s.

The income from her novels helped Ida and her sister Louise travel to the United States and Europe to fulfil their passion for opera.

But it also acted as a screen for their efforts to help Jews escape Nazi Germany in the final years of the 1930s.

The pair would smuggle the valuables of those wishing to flee back to the UK, as they were not allowed to take wealth out of Germany but needed to satisfy financial requirements to enter the UK.

In 1965, the sisters were honoured for their efforts when they were awarded the status of Righteous Among the Nations by Israel.

But before all that, Ida and Louise, who were born in Sunderland, had spent some time as children in Alnwick. In her memoir, Safe Passage, a republished version of We Followed Our Stars from 1950, Ida wrote: ‘In the summer of 1912, we moved to Alnwick, the county town of Northumberland, where we stayed through the First World War and untii I was fifteen.

‘For Louise and me, these years in Alnwick were extremely happy ones. We genuinely enjoyed our school days at the Duchess’s School, originally endowed and initiated with the then Duchess of Northumberland more than a hundred years earlier.

‘The building was across the road from Alnwick Castle and had once been the Dower House. From the windows of our classrooms, we could look out on the castle battlements with their stone figures of fighting men, once used to deceive the invading Scots into thinking the place was better defended than it was.

‘We lived and played on ground where the history of England and Scotland had been written, and if this fact had not left its mark upon us, we should have been insensitive indeed. We made our own amusements in those lucky, happy days, of course.’