Suitcase1938 One Year On

Joe Stirling and Cast of Suitcase PressThis 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 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.

Tea in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour

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.

Joe and the Lord Mayor in conversation November 2014
Joe and the Lord Mayor in conversation November 2014

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  I am only sorry that my book will not be published while Councillor Lubbock is still Mayor, but with Joe’s long time connections with the City Council, I am trusting that the next Mayor will be as supportive of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.

News from Nickenich

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.Mowing the fields in Nickenich


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!Private Stirling

Contract from Pen and Sword

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:


Shirley Williams to write Foreword

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.

Baroness Williams
Baroness Williams

Jean Skitmore

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……The ATS Girls at Bramley

Maryhill Barracks, Glasgow

Maryhill Barracks, Glasgow

I found this wonderful story about Clement Freud when researching Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow yesterday. Joe was sent there for further combat training after he joined the Royal Warwickshires during WW2.  Apparently at one time  Clement Freud was called up to join the Royal Highland Infantry at Maryhill. The story, from the Scottish Herald dated 4th June 2013, goes like this:

Thousands of soldiers passed through Maryhill Barracks over the years, not only in wartime but during national service.  Broadcaster and author Clement Freud, grandson of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, told the story of reporting for duty at Maryhill Barracks accompanied by a chap whose name was read out after Freud’s as “Jung”. Thinking of the other eminent psychotherapist Carl Jung, Clement cheerily told him that was the most amazing coincidence, the two of them arriving at the same time. His fellow recruit listened to him impassively before eventually saying: “My name’s actually Young.”