Taking a break from the writing for a few days to enjoy Christmas with the grandchildren in Surrey. But just this morning the postman brought me something exciting – a programme from the Norwich events held to celebrate the Festival of Britain in June 1951. Wonderful original source material to add authenticity to my account of Joe and his family moving to Norwich and him living in the city around this period. Some of the advertisements are fabulous – look at the beautiful old buses and the two Norwich hotels, one now gone but the Maids Head is still going strong. Happy Christmas and a splendid New Year to all my followers….
My grateful thanks to Richard Fowle of the Wymondham Town Archive for permission to use these two wonderful photos of the factory workers at Briton Brush Company during the 1930s. Joe’s wife Jean Skitmore worked there for a short while as a young woman before WW2 and once he had been demobbed, Joe took a job there in the Accounts Department. The biography is coming along – up to 1955 and counting….
This time last year it was the 75th Anniversary of the first Kindertransport train arriving in England from Nazi Germany. Seven months later fourteen year old Gunter Stern escaped Hitler using the same route. Victor and I took Joe to see a performance of Suitcase1938, an interactive promenade play about the Kinder, in Harwich during late November 1939. The cast were delighted to meet a real refugee and he really enjoyed his day. Victor and I then took two of our best friends (Judith’s father was also on the Kindertransport) to see the final performance at Liverpool Street. This can be now be viewed on their website at http://www.suitcase1938.org or via the youtube link below. Look out for Victor, me, Judith and her husband David, all singing along at the opening of the piece (1 minute 12 seconds!). It was a wonderful experience on both occasions and the video is well worth a view.
On Monday 10th November I was privileged to join Joe and members of his family at a Tea Party in honour of his 90th birthday, hosted by the Lord Mayor of Norwich, Councillor Judith Lubbock. The Parlour is a beautiful Art Nouveau room with Canadian Maple panelling, her own facilities, a little kitchen and a wonderful view over the Market Place and up to the Castle.
The walls are covered in old paintings of Norwich landmarks. The Mayor had baked a delicious lemon drizzle cake and some flapjacks, and as ever the tea tasted so much better out of fine porcelain cups. Joe had a lovely time as patriarch and the conversation was wide reaching. I am only sorry that my book will not be published while Councillor Lubbock is still Mayor, but with Joe’s long time connections with the City Council, I am trusting that the next Mayor will be as supportive of the project. It was a lovely afternoon. Thanks to the Lord Mayor for her hospitality.
For you Twitter fans out there, have just opened new site to share my research and publishing journey with even more potential readers…. Am inexperienced at the Twitter thing so bear with any teething problems please! And now back to the freezing winter of 1947…..
I am so excited about a new research lead that I have to share it with you straight away! A week ago Joe received a call out of the blue which led to a flurry of emails between a lovely doctor called Hubert in north Germany who it turns out was born in Nickenich. His father, Heinz was in the same school class as Joe and that the two boys were friends. Hubert’s mother, Maria Becker is now in her eighties but remembers little Günter and his parents well. This morning I received some wonderful old photos from Hubert. Here is one of his grandfather Peter Saftig (the taller and younger of the two on the mowing machine). This is from the 1930s. Apparently Peter would regularly go to the local pub to play Skat, the German national card game, with Günter’s father Alfred, presumably after a long day in the fields or at the Cattle market! I will not reveal any further touching memories from Nickenich at this stage – I don’t want to spoil the book for you! But I am exceedingly grateful to Herr Doktor Becker for his generosity in sharing his parents’ memories with me and Joe.
Today I am looking at Joe’s time in Portsmouth with his wife and new baby. I found this wonderful photo of Joe as a fresh faced young soldier and thought I would share it with you. Following Joe’s recent 90th birthday celebrations I have found so many other contacts and photographs – this biography is getting out of hand! Just today I have sent a collection of photos over to the publisher at Pen and Sword for the cover design despite there still being over a year before publication. This is certainly proving a learning curve!
Have now received the signed contract from Pen and Sword Books. It is really happening! My debut book…. I now have 21 days to produce some blurb (technical term apparently!) for the back of the book, some biog about myself and some ideas for the cover including old original photos. After that it is the long write up to my deadline of end March plus loads more lovely people to interview. If you are interested take a look at my publishers website at:
Exciting news today – Baroness Williams of Crosby (Shirley Williams) has agreed to write a foreword for Escaping Hitler:A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and A Future’. Her mother, writer and poet Vera Brittain, was at Oxford University with Günter’s first British guardian. Also Joe was part of the team that helped fight Shirley’s first by-election in Harwich back in the 1950s. I wrote to her recently and today I had the result! I am delighted.
One of the most rewarding aspects of researching and writing the biography of a person who is still living, is getting to know people he loved but are who no longer with us. After three years of interviewing Joe I am now writing up the story of how he met his wife Jean. I have been able to learn about her parents and siblings and have now found some lovely photos to complement the words. Jean died just over ten years ago after nearly sixty years of marriage. Joe still misses her very much. The photo shows Jean in the ATS at Bramley Camp in Hampshire during WW2 where she was a Ammunitions Examiner. Jean is top left. What an attractive group of young women……