Month: October 2016

Joe attends Sukkot ceremony in Norwich

Last Saturday, 22nd October, Joe Stirling and I were delighted to attend a Sukkot ceremony at the invitation of Annie Henriques, Chair of the Norwich Liberal Jewish Community.  This event took place at the Community’s regular home at the Old Meeting House in Colegate in Norwich, a beautiful historic Congregational Church.  Others from the Inter-Faith group were there, along with Deputy Lord Mayor of Norwich, James Wright.

It was my first time at a Jewish service and I was excited to see the simple Sukkah, or shelter, erected outside the building from simple sticks and covered with natural materials, including various fruits.  This festival is a celebration of Harvest as well as remembering the Jewish exodus from Egypt and the Israelites sheltering in the wilderness.  Having studied a little about Torahs and the Yad (ritual reading pointer) for my book, I was fascinated to witness Rabbi Leah Jordan opening the decorative box and removing the two huge parchment holy scrolls, covered by an exquisite white cloth covered in gold embroidery.  I cannot claim to have followed the Hebrew or join in the singing or prayers, but it was a pleasure to be there alongside Joe.

The photos show the meeting house with the Sukkah shelter, Joe in his Kippot and Rabbi Leah holding the Lulav before shaking it in every direction, symbolising God’s presence as being everywhere.  The Lulav is a bouquet of a single palm leaf, two willow branches and three myrtle branches, held  together with woven leaves.  We then shared bread and wine symbolising the bounty of the vine and the earth.  My thanks to the Norwich Liberal Jewish Community for their kind invitation.


Joe Stirling, the subject of Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future, is 92 years old today, 18th October 2016.  I dropped in to see him this morning, taking him a published copy of this blog, going back four years.

In honour of his birthday, I have now posted a video onto Youtube taken in December 2012 by Roger Hewins, Lecturer in Film and Video Production at the University of East Anglia.  It shows Joe in his living room in Norwich, telling me the story of his early life. It runs to over an hour, so grab a coffee, settle down and listen to Joe’s story from his own lips.  These tales and so many more are told in great detail in my biography, as published by Pen and Sword Books in January 2016 and to be published in America by Skyhorse Publishing next January 3rd.  Enjoy and Happy Birthday Joe!  (If you would like your own signed copy see the menu of this blog for instructions of how to buy).



Wigmore Hall Visit – remembering Joe and Jean’s first date

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a lunch-time concert at London’s Wigmore Hall, a most intimate and beautiful concert venue.  I was with my friend writer Deborah Jay and we enjoyed one hour of exquisite piano music performed by American Nicholas Angelich.  It was my first visit to this prestigious venue and I was especially excited to be there because of its connection with Joe’s life.

During WW2, whilst they were both serving in the British Army Ordnance Corps in Basingstoke, Joe took his sweetheart Jean Skitmore of Attleborough, to Wigmore Hall along with a party of other soldiers.  To sit there on Monday, imagining the young couple enjoying the music was a real delight.  I reproduce below the short section from Escaping Hitler that tells of this special day that was to lead to much more in the years to come……

“A devotee of classical music, Joe organised a visit to London for his students. Train tickets for uniformed personnel were subsidised by the Ministry of Defence, costing just one shilling each way. Discounted tickets for the concert at the Wigmore Hall were priced the same as the train. Despite the total representing a whole day’s pay, twenty-two people signed up. Jean, although knowing little about chamber music, was keen to be there, her first trip away with her new special friend. The programme was Die Winterreise, a song cycle by Franz Schubert from 1828. The twenty songs, performed in poetic German, tell the tragic story of a solitary traveller during a bleak savage winter, whose heart is frozen with grief. Joe and Jean sat close together.”

Taking Joe back to an Attleborough Birthday Party!

Last evening, Saturday 8th October 2016, found me taking signed copies of Escaping Hitler to the 10th Birthday party of Attleborough Heritage Group.  Joe was sadly indisposed and not able to join me, but the good people of Attleborough welcomed me and my books into a hall full of bunting and good cheer!  For it was the Group’s 10th anniversary and they were celebrating the success of this innovative group of local historians by updating members on the research that led to various presentations over the past ten years.  The Connaught Hall in Station Road was full of fascinating individuals, each of whom had their own specific  interest and specialities.  Victor and I enjoyed the evening immensely and were privileged to meet people who remembered the Railway Carriages where Joe lived with his new in-laws as a young married man in the late 1940s.  I was able to show them photographs and documents representing the Skitmore family which had adopted the German refugee as their own after he had fallen in love with Jean Skitmore when they were both serving in the Army.  I sold a number of copies and left feeling I knew far more about the Norfolk market town of Attleborough than I did before I arrived.  Thanks to Cliff, Jacqueline and Jenny Amos for their hospitality and kindness.