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Helena Bonham Carter is one of the stars exploring their grandparents’ wartime pasts

Four leading British actors are reduced to tears in a moving new documentary series as they uncover the horrors their grandparents experienced in the Second World War. 

Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Mark Rylance and Kristin Scott Thomas had loving relationships with them, but their grandparents rarely spoke of the scars the war left, leaving their families with little knowledge of their bravery.

The series, commemorating the 80th anniversary of the start of the war in 1939, sees the actors cross the globe from the beaches of Dunkirk to the PoW camps in the Far East to meet people from all sides of the conflict.

Helena Bonham Carter (pictured) is one of four actors who takes part in a new documentary series about the horrors their grandparents experienced in the Second World War 

None of Helena’s grandparents fought, but they did save countless lives. Her maternal grandfather, Spanish diplomat Eduardo Propper de Callejon who was based in France, defied orders and helped thousands of Jews escape as the Nazis invaded. 

He signed so many visas that his wife, Bubbles, soaked his hands in hot, salty water each night to soothe them.

Her paternal grandmother Lady Violet Bonham Carter, a Liberal politician and friend of Winston Churchill, sponsored thousands of Czechoslovakian refugees to enter Britain, and Helena had the privilege of meeting the daughter of one, named Naomi Violet after the woman who helped her parents escape the Nazis. 

‘I knew little about what Violet did, she died when I was three,’ says Helena.

Helena's paternal grandmother Lady Violet Bonham Carter, a Liberal politician and friend of Winston Churchill, sponsored thousands of Czechoslovakian refugees to enter Britain. Pictured, Lady Violet at home with son Raymond during the Second World War

Helena’s paternal grandmother Lady Violet Bonham Carter, a Liberal politician and friend of Winston Churchill, sponsored thousands of Czechoslovakian refugees to enter Britain. Pictured, Lady Violet at home with son Raymond during the Second World War

‘I knew she stood for liberalism and freedom, and there she was helping strangers. Naomi Violet would never have been born were it not for my grandmother. I’m so proud.

‘This documentary felt like I met my grandparents properly and I want to keep conversing with my mum about them, I feel like there’s so much more. 

Mark Rylance (pictured) learns about his maternal grandfather Osmond Skinner

Mark Rylance (pictured) learns about his maternal grandfather Osmond Skinner

‘It’s one of the most important things I’ve done. Every young person should talk to their grandparents.’

Carey Mulligan’s maternal grandfather Denzil Booth was a junior Naval officer on the aircraft carrier HMS Indefatigable as it fought the Japanese in the final months of the war. 

His was the first British ship to be hit by a suicidal Japanese kamikaze pilot. On 1 April 1945, one smashed his bomb-laden plane onto the deck just feet from Denzil, killing 14 men. 

‘Mum said Den told her little but talked about a particular fatal attack,’ says Carey, who travels to Japan. 

‘But I had no idea how close he was. It’s a miracle he lived.’

Mark Rylance uncovers the story of his maternal grandfather Osmond Skinner, a banker with HSBC, who spent almost four years as a Japanese PoW, while Kristin Scott Thomas learns about her Naval officer paternal grandfather. 

He endured eight trips on the Arctic convoy run delivering supplies to Russia.

During what was described by Churchill as ‘the worst journey in the world’, they faced severe cold, storms, ice, huge waves – and German U-boats. 

‘I was struck by their great sense of duty – I’m not sure we have that now,’ says Kristin. ‘I knew nothing of my family story before. 

‘But I now have a new respect, and a new way of seeing the world.’  

Mark's grandfather (pictured) was a banker with HSBC, before becoming a Japanese PoW

Mark’s grandfather (pictured) was a banker with HSBC, before becoming a Japanese PoW

My Grandparents’ War, Wednesday, 9pm, Channel 4.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk



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