Mother, 79, reunites with 21 child refugees she rescued from Bosnia

Hero British mother, 79, who fostered 21 child refugees from Bosnia after answering newspaper ad as country was ravaged by war is reunited with them nearly three decades later

  • Clare Findlay, who lived in Scottish Highlands, answered plea for help in 1992
  • She took in 21 children after plane carrying them needed an address to take off
  • The mother had initially only agreed to take in two youngsters
  • Belief that most children were orphans was dispelled with help of student 
  • Petra Lovrekovic, then 16, was a Serbo-Croat speaker who communicated with the four mothers who were on the flight
  • They revealed that the other parents were stuck in refugee camp 
  • Ms Findlay then cared for the children until other mothers arrived in the UK 

A British mother who sheltered 21 child refugees fleeing from the war in Bosnia after answering a newspaper advert has reconnected with some of them after nearly 30 years.

Clare Findlay, 79, who was then living in the Scottish Highlands, answered the plea for help in 1992, when refugees were fleeing war-torn Bosnia.

She had initially only agreed to care for two children but was then told a plane carrying 21 youngsters and four mothers needed to give an address to be allowed to leave Bosnia.

Incredibly, she therefore agreed to take all of the refugees in until permanent foster homes could be found for them.

The story took a further twist when a Serbo-Croat-speaking school pupil enlisted to communicate with the children discovered that the ones who did not have their mothers with them were not orphans, as had previously been believed.

Instead, their mothers were stuck in a refugee camp. Ms Findlay therefore insisted that they be flown to the UK to be reunited with their children.

Speaking in tonight’s episode of BBC documentary series Saved by a Stranger, Ms Findlay said: ‘As far as I was concerned the children weren’t going to move from our house until they had their actual mothers with them.’

The programme shows the incredibly moving moment that she is reunited with some families, as well as the student who offered her translation services.

Scroll down for video.  

A British mother who sheltered 21 child refugees fleeing from the war in Bosnia after answering a newspaper advert has reconnected with some of them after nearly 30 years. Pictured: Clare Findlay, 79, (centre) with some of the children and their families 

Clare Findlay, who was then living in the Scottish Highlands, answered the plea for help in 1992, when refugees were fleeing war-torn Bosnia. She had initially only agreed to care for two children but was then told a plane carrying 21 youngsters and four mothers needed to give an address to be allowed to leave Bosnia. Pictured: Ms Findlay with the children in 1992

Ms Findlay had responded to an advert placed in the newspapers by charity BP Health Care Foundation.

The mother said in the BBC show: ‘We always watched the six o’clock news. I remember people being turfed out of their homes.

‘There were tiny children being carried. There was an advertisement in a Sunday newspaper which said they would like to have some foster parents who would volunteer to have one child from the warzone for three months.

‘And I said, ‘why not it would be lovely to have a child, or two perhaps, a brother and sister’.

But she said the charity then called her to say that there was a ‘bit of a hiccup’.

A plane carrying the children she had agreed to take in, along with 19 other youngsters and four mothers, was unable to take off ‘until they had an address to go to’.

Ms Findlay said: ‘My brain went into overdrive because it was a very emergency situation. Well alright, I said, ok.’

The Balkans conflict led to the eventual break-up of the former Yugoslavia. It ended in 1995 with 100,000 people dead and two million displaced. Pictured: Bosnian Croat soldiers during the war

Ms Findlay had responded to an advert placed in the newspapers by charity BP Health Care Foundation. Pictured: Mothers and children flee a the town of Jajce in what is now the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina 

She said her husband Andrew, who has since passed away, said to ‘let them come.’

When the refugees arrived, Ms Findlay believed that 13 of them were orphans, whilst the four mothers had eight children between them.

She was flooded with donations from her community to help care for the children. The local baker said extra bread could be had for free. The butcher offered the same for meat.

Ms Findlay said she put ‘a bit of fruit, some sweets and a cuddly toy’ on the children’s pillows.

At this point, the plan was to place the orphans into foster homes. But first they needed to be able to communicate with them and the mothers.

Ms Findlay said the nearby prestigious private school, Gordonstoun, then rang up to say that one of their pupils, named Petra, 16, could speak the language.

Ms Findlay is also seen reuniting with Petra Lovrekovic, who was the first person to properly speak to the children and their mothers. She was recruited after her school, Gordonstoun, informed Ms Findlay that the then 16-year-old was a Serbo-Croat speaker. Ms Findlay had not had any contact with her until the BBC tracked her down 

The mothers then told the teenager they had been forced to quit their jobs in the run-up to the Bosnian War.

They also described how Serbian forces would ‘pick a house in the Muslim end of town’ and then barricade the residents inside before setting fire to it.

The Balkans conflict led to the eventual break-up of the former Yugoslavia. It ended in 1995 with 100,000 people dead and two million displaced.

Amazingly, Petra also discovered that none of the children were orphans. 

Ms Findlay said: ‘I was euphoric.

‘To have a moment like that in your life. Just one moment where somehow, God knows how, you’ve sort of vaguely done the right thing, and its worked.

‘Petra deserves to know she has saved those children from never seeing their parents again.’

The programme, presented by Anita Rani, then tracked down Petra with the help of staff at Gordonstoun.

Ms Findlay said she was ‘euphoric’ when she found out that the children were not orphans

The children are seen above with Ms Findlay in 1992, after she agreed to temporarily care for them

They contacted her after discovering her full name: Petra Lovrekovic. She now works as an artist.

The show shows the moment that both she and Ms Findlay break down in tears when they see each other for the first time since 1992.

Petra said: ‘It was the natural thing to do. It wasn’t about me it was about them. I was just translating and giving them voice.

‘From those few hours, it went from laughter to tears to hugs to silence. It was very emotional.’

She and Petra are then seen reuniting with some of the children. Most of them still live in Scotland, while others live in Dewsbery, West Yorkshire.

What was the Bosnian war? 

The Bosnian war was a conflict which took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995 amid the break-up of Yugoslavia.

After Slovenia and Croatia seceded from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991, the mutli-ethnic Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina passed a referendum for independence.

It was inhabited mainly by Muslim Bosniaks, as well as Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats.

After the declaration of independence, fiercely opposed Bosnian Serbs mobilised their forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina to protect ethnic Serb territory.

The Bosnian war was a conflict which took place in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995 amid the break-up of Yugoslavia

The war quickly spread across the country and led to ethnic cleansing. More than 101,000 people were killed, mainly Bosniaks. A further 2.2million were displaced

The Bosnian serbs were led by Radovan Karadzic and supported by the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic.

The war quickly spread across the country and led to ethnic cleansing. More than 101,000 people were killed, mainly Bosniaks. A further 2.2million were displaced.

There was the horrific use of systematic mass rape, as well as the indiscriminate shelling of cities and towns.

Karadzic, now 75, was later convicted of war crimes and handed a life-sentence after 8,000 men and boys were massacred in the Srebrenica genocide.

It was recently announced that the former leader would be transferred to a British prison to serve the rest of his sentence.

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