Tag: Biography

Twelve months since Escaping Hitler launched in Jarrold Department Store in Norwich

Cannot believe it is exactly 12 months today since our Grand Launch in Jarrold.  It was one of the most thrilling moments of my life when I came into the room to be greeted by 220 relatives, friends and members of the public.  And then to see Joe Stirling at the front, just as I had always imagined it might be.  The two of us at our launch book signing!  And since then it has gone from strength to strength, the first print run of 1,300 books  by Pen and Sword Books selling out before Christmas, a  reprint, a visit to Germany to give two talks and sell books, over 40 public speaking engagements, most of them with Joe, and now in January this year the book has been published and launched in the U.S. by Skyhorse Publications of New York.  Loads of coverage and reviews in the press and in magazines such as the Association of Jewish Refugees and Lions Clubs International, nearly 500 followers on Facebook.  Wonderful progress –  and all the while researching for my second book!  Just wanted to share my joy with you.

Joe and Phyllida visit Paston Sixth Form College

Yesterday, 25th January 2017, Joe Stirling and I visited Paston Sixth Form College in North Walsham in Norfolk.  Notable alumni include Baroness Shepherd, Stephen Fry and Horatio Nelson!   We were there at the invitation of Naomi Hardman, teacher of English.  Some students had been studying the play ‘Kindertransport’ by Diane Samuels and here was a unique opportunity to meet and hear a real ‘kinder’. The timing was to commemorate  Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January.  It was a long drive through misty winter drizzle but it was so worth it.  About sixty students and staff members packed the classroom to hear Joe talk, eloquently as ever, about his early life in Nazi Germany.  I controlled my powerpoint slides before taking my turn to address the audience with, hopefully, inspiring tales of studying Biography at UEA, meeting Joe and ultimately turning his remarkable life story into my debut biography – my first book with my name on the spine!  Dreams can come true!  Everyone was welcoming and delightful and we even received a Paston College Teddy Bear each as a gift!  (and chocolate).  We sold 12 signed copies and were treated to a buffet lunch by Principal Kevin Grieve in the Nelson Room of the historic and beautiful main college building. Here we met with eight students, two of whom had grandmothers who had travelled to England on a Kindertransport.  The conversation was lively and informative.  Joe and I both enjoyed ourselves very much.  These lovely photos are courtesy of Jodie Rice.



Homage to America Part 3: The Texan Oilmen invade Great Yarmouth 1970s.


Joe Stirling had hardly opened his second branch of Stirling Holidays, in the coastal East Anglian town of Great Yarmouth, when oil was discovered offshore.  The invasion of the Texan Oilmen began!  This extract from Escaping Hitler, recently published by Skyhorse Publications of New York for North American readers, gives you a flavour of the times and the significance of this in the business life of Joe.


In 1965 the first offshore oil and gas wells were drilled off the coast of East Anglia. American giant Conoco built their first fixed platform just 50 miles off Great Yarmouth and by 1967 gas was being piped ashore from the Leman field. The Duke of Edinburgh opened the Bacton Gas terminal in 1968. Senior company directors from Texas and the Gulf of Mexico virtually took over Great Yarmouth, bringing the mighty dollar and prosperity in their wake.

[…] Over the following year over 10,000 American families settled in the Great Yarmouth area. Although everyone struggled to understand each other’s accents, the incomers brought with them many benefits but especially business. The region was booming. With money to spend and time on their hands, they were keen to discover the tourist hotspots of London, Cornwall, the Lakes and especially Shakespeare Country. There were only two travel agents in Great Yarmouth, Seaforth’s and Stirling’s. But with more than enough work for both companies, days were busy. Evenings too, with Doreen and Judith often staying late to keep up with administration. Quick to learn, Judith was soon made manager of the air travel section, reserving First Class flights to Houston or enquiring directly with airlines on the most cost-effective method of flying a group of oilmen to India or Nigeria. The discovery of ‘black gold’ was becoming a priority around the globe and Stirling Holidays was more than happy to play its part. Judith was always willing to open lucrative accounts for both major and smaller drilling companies, her personal service and attention to detail and rewarding the company with 7 per cent commission on each airline ticket.

One favoured client was the Senior Director of McDermott Marine Construction Limited, an Offshore Field Development Company, established in 1923 in Texas, USA. One morning Judith received a telephone enquiry. Could Stirling’s arrange for some of the guys to fly from Norwich to Aberdeen for a golf tournament?

During the early 1970s Norwich Airport was still establishing itself as a commercial airport, dealing mainly in freight. Through a friend of a friend, Joe was able to contact the owner of East Anglian Airways, a tiny operation boasting just one Douglas DC-3 propeller-driven airliner, the plane that had played a significant part in popularising air travel in the United States. It sat twenty-six passengers, who were obliged to enter at the back of the plane and walk uphill, pulling themselves up the aisle using the backs of seats. Flights were invariably noisy and shaky but thankfully reliable. Stirling Holidays chartered a private flight for the American oilmen, the first company to do so out of Norwich Airport. Joe waved them off personally. At Aberdeen, the plane waited on the apron while the oilmen enjoyed their eighteen holes. Two days later on flying back into Norwich, they found Mr Stirling there to greet them. McDermott Marine would not forget Mr Stirling’s professionalism, ingenuity and good humour.

Everyone in Great Yarmouth hoped the oilmen and their deep pockets were there to stay.


© Phyllida Scrivens 2016

Escaping Hitler is now available from Amazon.com,  Barnes and Nobles bookstores or by following this link to the Skyhorse site. http://www.skyhorsepublishing.com/search?q=escaping+hitler+%22escaping%20hitler%22&f=1


Homage to America part 2: Lions Clubs International Annual Convention 1971

Here is the second blog dedicated to celebrating the launch of Escaping Hitler by Skyhorse Publishing in USA on 10th January 2017.  This quotation from the book refers specifically to the first Lions Clubs International Convention attended by Joe Stirling, when he was both a District Governor and the official tour guide for the British contingent.  He went on to lead 20 further consecutive trips.  Enjoy!




Joe spent the next few weeks planning every aspect, leaving nothing to chance. The Convention opened on 22 June with Joe and his colleagues obliged to arrive four days earlier in time for District Governors’ School. His planning was meticulous. This trip would involve far more than just a Lions Convention.


Flights into New York led to a couple of days riding yellow cabs, taking the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building and a ferry to the Statue of Liberty. It was just like being in a movie. An internal flight to San Francisco, almost as far again as London to New York, took them the Golden Gate Bridge, Fisherman’s Wharf and views over the Pacific Ocean. Finally it was time to discover the playground city of Las Vegas.

As the party descended the aircraft steps, they hit a wall of air measuring 107o Fahrenheit. The transfer bus, thankfully fitted with air-conditioning, drove down The Strip and Fremont Street, the British delegates and the ‘lady from Nor-wich’, gawping through the windows. Had they landed on a different planet? Cocktail lounges, topless clubs, ‘Coin Castle’ amusement arcade with its 20-foot cowboy figure in neon-yellow shirt and ten-gallon hat, stood alongside the outrageous hotel-casinos; ‘Silver Spur’, ‘Flamingo Hilton’, ‘Lady Luck’, ‘The Sands’ and ‘Bonanza’. There was great excitement amongst the ladies when passing the enormous billboards announcing Tom Jones playing Caesars Palace and Elvis himself appearing at the International Hotel. Lovingly polished Chryslers, Plymouths and Cadillacs cruised past the bus, ferrying long-legged showgirls to work. Strolling the streets were 15,000 Lions and their wives, recently arrived from all over the world.

While husbands attended District Governor classes, Jean, the other wives and the ‘the lady from Nor-wich’ experienced a breathtaking flight over the Grand Canyon in a light aircraft. What tales they brought back to the hotel! Every building with a roof was air-conditioned, kept at a manageable level of around 70o. Outdoor social activities were reserved for after sunset, when the temperature dropped to a ‘cool’ 82o. In keeping with tradition, the incoming DGs from every country led their contingent in the Grand Opening Parade through the city streets, national flags proudly held high. Setting off at 8 p.m., the parade was loud, brash, colourful and vibrant with decorated floats and flotillas of extravagant cars, accompanied by baton-twirling cheerleaders. By the time the final contingent crossed the ‘saluting base’, duly acknowledging the outgoing International President, the sky was black, city lights obscuring the cosmos above. Wives, officials, tourists and locals packed the streets, cheering, applauding and straining to catch as much as possible of this spectacular event, laughing aloud at ‘Lord’ Dawkins of Andover from the British contingent who strolled along the Strip in City of London attire of bowler hat, rolled umbrella and copy of The Times. Joe had never heard the Lions’ inspirational song, ‘Don’t You Hear Those Lions Roar!’ performed by quite so many people.

Inside the vast convention hall the opening speeches included news of the extended Lions Headquarters in Oakbrook Chicago, now complete and doubling its space. Earlier in the year Lions had seen the formation of Club number 25,000. The honour went to the small wine-growing town of Fredericksburg in Texas. It was a hectic few days with Joe keen to hear every key speaker, attend fringe meetings, join in debates, vote on decisions and meet with like-minded Lions, never losing sight of his responsibilities as a tour leader. The final day of the convention arrived. Jean took her seat for the Installation Ceremony, the highlight of the entire event. She was weary of the non-stop fashion shows, coach tours into the desert, wives’ tea parties and boozy sessions long into the night, having to keep that smile going all the while. But it was Joe’s special moment. She was ready. With International Officers for the coming year introduced and welcomed, it was the turn of the incoming District Governors. Hundreds of men, tall, short, balding, bespectacled, thin, not so thin, hailing from all continents, marched into the hall under the flag of their nation. The welcome from the audience was deafening, close to pandemonium in the hall as loyal Lions cheered their friends and colleagues. The International President, industrial engineer Robert J. Uplinger from Syracuse, New York, gave the instruction to pull the ribbons, previously pinned to the lapels of the shiny new DGs, revealing the special metal badge confirming their new rank. Not since her wedding day had Jean Stirling felt so proud of her husband.

(Escaping Hitler by Phyllida Scrivens 2016)

U.S.A. ‘Escaping Hitler’ Booksales now Launched!



Phyllida and Joe in Norwich England talking to Skyhorse Publishing in New York

On Tuesday 10th January Skyhorse Publications of New York published and launched my book Escaping Hitler on to the U.S. market.  Here in the U.K. I held a party at my home with 18 friends and colleagues, offering them an American themed buffet of mini burgers, spicy chicken legs, coleslaw, prawns (shrimp in the U.S) and home baked cup cakes!  Joe Stirling, the 92 year old former Kindertransport refugee and subject of my book along with his grandson Charlie were our guests of honour.  At exactly 8pm UK time, 3pm Eastern Standard Time, my computer rang and we began our FaceTime interview with the lovely Leslie Davis,  Digital Marketing Coordinator and Assistant Publicist at Skyhorse.

She began by asking Joe Stirling how he felt when I suggested I might write his biography, way back in 2011.  He modestly replied that he was very surprised as he had never considered anyone might be interested in his life story.  He added that his family and friends had been intrigued by the prospect of having the family story written up for posterity.  Leslie asked Joe about his message when giving talks to the public and to schoolchildren.  He answered that it was about taking care not to take our political leaders for granted and to beware the possibility of dictatorships taking over slowly, without warning.

Leslie then turned to me and asked when I had first met Joe.  I told her that he was speaking about his early life at a University event and having heard the early part of his life story, I was captivated, knowing that this man’s life could become my debut biography. I told her about my research trip to Germany, the wonderful people I had met and the places I visited.  I told her about the many references to the USA in the book, a country that Joe has explored extensively over his lifetime, including buying an apartment on Florida Keys and his Lions International trips with the UK delegates from 1971 for 21 years.

Although the link was difficult and we had to repeat many questions and answers, it was an exciting experience.  The edited video clips will soon be available on YouTube and I will post up the link once they are ready.  So to celebrate this momentous occasion I am going to dedicate the next few blogs to America by reproducing some extracts from Escaping Hitler that feature a particular time there.  Starting with Joe taking a trip of British Lions to the recently opened Disneyland in Florida in 1972.

‘I read that Walt Disney had recently opened a new attraction called Walt Disney World in a small town in the middle of Southern Florida called Orlando. I had never heard of it. I thought that might be interesting for some.’ (Joe Stirling in interview 2013)

Joe read in the Travel Gazette that in 1965 Walt Disney had announced his visionary ‘Florida Project’. Tragically the entertainment tycoon did not live to see his project develop, dying from lung cancer in 1966. However, his company had already bought up thousands of acres of cheap swampland in Orange County. The outcome was a theme park five times the size of that in California, complete with linked resort hotels, opening to the public in October 1971. Joe knew that this could make an appealing addition to his ‘side trips’ and set about investigating the travel logistics. Within a month of Joe’s advert appearing, every available place was taken, his party once again larger than the previous year. As he checked his British contingent into their convention hotel, Joe felt the pressure of being the tour leader, rather more than before. As his numbers increased so did the responsibilities. It was becoming difficult to remain ‘one of the boys’[…]

The Convention over, the British contingent divided into two groups, some looking forward to simply relaxing on Miami beach for a few days, others heading for Walt Disney World and New Orleans, accompanied by Joe and Jean. A short hop on a noisy DC-4 propeller plane took the party to Orlando. They felt a little strange to be a group of just adults as they explored the Magic Kingdom, Adventureland, Bear Country and Fantasyland. Everyone agreed it had been a bewitching experience. (Escaping Hitler 2016)



Another Chance to see Joe in action!

Nearly one year since this short film was broadcast on Mustard TV in Norwich, here is another chance to see Joe in action as he is interviewed and filmed in his own home. Just follow the link below or copy and paste into your browser.  With so many more followers on Facebook than this time last year, this is an opportunity for the ‘newbies’ to see this delightful piece of footage, filmed just before Holocaust Memorial Day 2016.  Since the filming Joe has two further great-grandchildren, has turned 92 and is looking forward to the publication of his biography Escaping Hitler in the USA by Skyhorse Publishing of New York.  If you would like to buy a copy of his book, signed by both Joe and by me, maybe as a Christmas present, you will find details of how to order on the Menu section of this blog.  Enjoy!

Escaping Hitler: Joe Stirling’s story of Holocaust survival is preserved in print




Your Norfolk Magazine featuring Escaping Hitler event!

One for the diary: Delighted to discover this inside my free Autumn edition of Your Norfolk, the freebie from Norfolk County Council letter recently dropped into every household in the county.  It is the first promotion of my talk on Joe Stirling’s life and my biography Escaping Hitler, scheduled for the Norfolk Records Office on Wednesday 22nd February from 10.30.  This wonderful archive has been invaluable to me during my research periods for both this book and for my forthcoming book to be published by Pen and Sword Books, My Lady Lord Mayor: The Seventeen Female Lord Mayors of Norwich 1923 – 2017. Joe and I are looking forward to addressing an audience of historians and book lovers in this prestigious building next to County Hall.  Keep an eye on the website http://www.archives.norfolk.gov.uk for details of how to reserve yourself a seat!

The following two events in March and June look fascinating too!






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.