Tag: Escaping Hitler

Wuppertal Flying Railway – movie link

Look what popped up on my facebook feed this morning – I immediately knew what it was as Joe Stirling described to me his trip on this amazing Flying Railway in the Rhineland town of Wuppertal when he was a little lad.  Here is the extract from the book.  It is referring to the summers of the early 1930s, before Hitler’s Nazi government took away all freedoms from the Jewish community.  This piece of film is from 1902, about 30 years before young Günter rode the railway.

“On Sundays Uncle Alex drove his wife and nephew the twenty miles to the thriving town of Wuppertal, known for cotton weaving, dye making and calico printing. Günter tingled with excitement when riding the Schwebebhan, the oldest elevated electric railway in the world, its hanging cars speeding above the River Wupper. It was here that he first visited a Zoological garden, enthralled by the lions, elephants and camels. In less favourable weather, the impressionable boy spent much of his time stood behind the counter in his uncle’s shop, watching as staff advised the Düsseldorf hausfraus, shopping for buttons, blouses and bloomers.  It was a lesson in customer service, to prove invaluable for his life yet to come.”

 

 

Happy 90th Birthday to Shirley Williams

 

Today, 27th July 2020, is the 90th birthday of Baroness Crosby, known to all as Shirley Williams.  I would like to honour this fact and send my good wishes to this wonderful lady, who was kind enough to write the foreword for Escaping Hitler back in 2015.  There were a number of reasons why I approached Shirley for this task – firstly her mother, celebrated writer Vera Brittain, had been a close Oxford University friend of Freda Free from Birmingham (via Russia), who ‘fostered’  young Günter Stern (aka Joe Stirling) when the 14 year old arrived in Britain on a Kindertransport from Nazi Germany, on 19th July 1939.  Secondly, and most significantly, in 1954 when Joe was working for the Labour Party in Norwich, he was drafted in to help a young woman, Shirley Catlin, in her ill-fated attempt to win her first by-election, standing for the Labour Party in Harwich. Decades later, as a Liberal Democrat, I was honoured to meet Shirley more than once at Conferences and was delighted to discover that she remembered the energetic activist from those Harwich days.  She readily agreed to write my foreword.

And so we arrive at 8th April, 2015.  Escaping Hitler is almost complete, a General Election is imminent and Shirley Williams is due to visit Norwich to give the Lib Dem troops some much needed encouragement.  I ask if I can bring Joe Stirling to Chantry Hall to meet Shirley for the first time in over 60 years.  It was all arranged and the reunion happened as I’d hoped.  The press were there to cover the political story, but in the event became far more intrigued with these two mature people, friends from long ago, chattering together as if they had never been apart.  It was one of my proudest moments and an occasion that Joe and I often returned to in our conversations for years afterwards, until sadly he passed away in February this year.

Thank you Shirley Williams for being a constant inspiration to so many.  Many Happy Returns!

 

 

Joe’s obituary published in The Guardian newspaper 23rd May 2020

Delighted to announce that Joe Stirling’s  obituary, as submitted by local writer Tom Carver, has today, 23rd May, 2020, been published in a UK national newspaper, The Guardian.  Probably the first national to carry a photograph of my book cover; its been a long time coming!  So pleased that Joe’s remarkable story has now reached an even greater audience.  Joe would be thrilled to see his obituary, alongside other luminaries, inside a national newspaper…..

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Joe’s memories of VE Day

 

1-15Joe and Jean on wedding day

On this special 75th anniversary of VE Day, I would like to share the short passage from Escaping Hitler (Pen and Sword Books 2016), written directly from  Joe’s  memories of that time, spent in Bramley near Basingstoke, serving with the Ordnance Corps and where he met his wife to be Jean Skitmore.  I remember sitting in Joe’s living room hearing his wartime stories, simply feeling grateful that a training injury meant he was unable to go to Europe and fight.

“On 1 May 1945 the BBC announced Hitler’s suicide. The finish-line was in sight. The following evening radio programmes were interrupted with the news that the German Army had surrendered in Italy. Two days later troops capitulated in Denmark. For two days no one knew what was happening. By Monday 7 May expectant crowds were gathering outside Buckingham Palace but still the news did not come. In fact, the British were waiting for Russian and American confirmation of the Nazi defeat. At 7 p.m. Winston Churchill broadcast on the BBC, declaring that the following day would be ‘Victory in Europe Day’. The Nation could allow itself a ‘brief period of rejoicing’, but should remember that Britain was still at war with Japan. After five years people were ready to party. The morning papers led with photographs of vast crowds, many dressed in red, white and blue, celebrating in London the previous evening. That morning the same crowds cheered and sang as King George, Queen Elizabeth and the two princesses Elizabeth and Margaret alongside Churchill, waved enthusiastically from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

Bramley barracks held a celebration parade. The Commanding Officer made a speech, thanking everyone for his or her valuable contribution to the victory, even if they hadn’t been involved at the front line. That afternoon Joe joined a group of comrades on the train to nearby Basingstoke where they danced in the street and invaded the public houses, the overjoyed landlords honouring the servicemen with a free first drink. It took some time to walk the six miles back to base late that evening, the men having either missed the last bus or more likely having spent every last penny on best beer. Jean and her friends stayed on base holding their own celebration. Young ladies didn’t frequent pubs.”

Images show Jean (centre) celebrating with her colleagues at Bramley camp & Joe and Jean on their wedding day in 1946.

 

Joe’s funeral, a beautiful occasion

Yesterday, 6th March 2020, Joe’s family hosted a wonderful afternoon of memories, tears and smiles, with well over a hundred people squeezing into the tranquil Woodland Hall at Green Acres Woodland Burial Park in Norwich.  There was someone from every part of Joe Stirling’s long and remarkable life, family members of all generations, civic colleagues including the current Norwich Lord Mayor, Rabbis from the Norwich Synagogue, people from business, his former committees, Lions Club International, the travel industry and from the Nursing home where he ended his days.  The humanist celebrant gave a wonderful summary of his life including a mention for Escaping Hitler, commenting on how much joy the experience of working on his life story had given to Joe in his final years.

The guests and well -wishers were invited back to the Sainsbury’s Centre at the University of East Anglia for a drink, a buffet and to share many memories of ‘knowing Joe Stirling’.  The beautiful spray of yellow and white flowers, created by Elizabeth’s Florist of Unthank Road, that had graced the coffin, were brought into the hall where they took centre stage on the sumptuous buffet table.  There were photos of Joe and his family on the walls and it was so good to become reacquainted with many people whom I had interviewed when researching Joe’s life.  Joe was a special man and there are many who will miss his friendship.

Joe requested that instead of flowers, friends might like to contribute to one of his favourite international causes, UNICEF.  If you would like to add your name please call Gordon Barber Funeral Home in Norwich on 01603 484308 and ask how you can help.

REVIEW OF 2019 Presentations about Escaping Hitler & Lady Lord Mayors

On Thursday last, 21st November I gave my final talk of 2019, sharing stories from the remarkable life of Joe Stirling with the members of Horsham St Faith’s Ladies’ Group.  It was a splendid evening in the historic Mission Hall and the ladies were generous in buying copies as Christmas presents.

Having just reviewed the success of 2019, I can reveal the following statistics for the year:

55 talks in total around Norfolk (Many to members of Women’s Institutes)

24 concerning Escaping Hitler (Pen and Sword Books 2016)

28 about my second book, The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich 1923-2017 (Pen and Sword Books 2018)

2 ‘When the Past Collides with the Present’, covering research findings from writing both books.

Total Sales following talks:

114 Escaping Hitler

98 Lady Lord Mayors

This is remarkable and looking forward I can report that I currently have 37 talks in the diary for 2020, and 5 for 2021!  I am so grateful for the continuing interest in both my books and for the many evenings and afternoons spent in community halls, church halls and hotel dining rooms over this past year.  My highlights must include speaking at the Time and Tide Museum and the Royal Assembly Rooms, both in Great Yarmouth,  Norwich Castle Museum, the Noverre Suite at the Assembly House in Norwich, Fakenham Racecourse and How Hill near Ludham. Always good company, sometimes tea & cake (or even lunch!) and always a great reaction!  And my thanks go to my followers on WordPress and Facebook for their loyalty and interest.  MAY I WISH YOU ALL A HAPPY HOLIDAY SEASON. Phyllida Scrivens, Norwich, UK.

Joe’s friend Roy Blower, former Lord Mayor of Norwich dies, aged 76

It was with great sadness today that I learnt the news of the death of Roy Blower, Lord Mayor of Norwich in 2007, “Superfan” and fundraiser for Norwich City Football Club, and one of Joe Stirling’s closest friends.  Roy suffered from progressive Parkinson’s Disease for many years, and died peacefully this week with his wife Beryl and family members by his side.  Roy gave me tremendous support when I was researching Joe’s political life for Escaping Hitler, sharing stories of his youth when ‘Mr Stirling’ helped him join the Young Labour Group when Roy was just sixteen.  Roy remained a loyal fan of Joe for the rest of his life.  Below you will find an excerpt from the book.  Roy was a fun man, always ready with a smile and a joke.  Everybody loved Roy and the City of Norwich will miss him.

‘By 1960 Joe’s political career was escalating. A firm supporter of democracy, he chaired a number of sub-committees at City Council, at the same time holding positions within the Norwich Labour Party. These included Chair of the Finance Committee, Political Education Officer and Youth Officer. It was through this latter post in 1958 that Joe first met Roy Blower, a fifteen-year-old schoolboy from Lakenham Secondary School. Roy was an energetic member of the Young Socialists, but not yet old enough to become a card-carrying member of the national Party. He approached Mr Stirling to ask whether the Party might permit him to join early, his sixteenth birthday seeming such a long way off.

Although this breach of the rules was clearly out of the question, Joe admired the boy’s enthusiasm, putting him to work delivering bundles of campaign leaflets as well as offering additional responsibilities during social evenings held at the Herbert Fraser Hall twice a week. Curious, Roy asked others about Mr Stirling’s long involvement with the Labour Movement. He was struck by the man’s genuine interest in him and the respect he commanded from all who met him. On 6 April 1959 Roy was finally sixteen. His membership card was already prepared. It was the start of a lifelong association with local politics; Chairman of the Young Socialists by twenty, two years later sitting on the

Regional Executive. This was just the start. The coming years would see Roy fulfilling many of his early political ambitions.’

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Joe’s friend Marian becomes Sheriff of Norwich May 2019

I am delighted to announce that Joe Stirling’s friend Dr Marian Prinsley became the new Sheriff of Norwich last Tuesday at a traditional ceremony in City Hall.  I was thrilled to be invited by Cllr Judith Lubbock, my chapter 15 in The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich, to attend the 2019 Mayor-Making ceremony at Norwich City Hall last Tuesday.

I met up with several of the former Lady Lord Mayors who feature in my second book and was delighted to discover an overlap with my first biography, Escaping Hitler, as Dr Marian Prinsley from the Jewish community in Norwich was made Sheriff. Marian is a good friend of Joe Stirling, the subject of this book, and I have met her on several occasions. Marian made an excellent speech which uncovered some close parallels with Joe’s experiences. Both were from Jewish families; Joe’s ancestors from Germany, and Marian’s from Russia. Both came to England escaping possible persecution when they were 14 years old, both marrying and settling in Norwich. The following day I visited Joe and told him all about the Mayor-making and he was delighted to hear that his friend Marian was now wearing his gown and hat, as worn by him in 1975-6. I wish both Vaughan and Marian an excellent year of civic service.

 

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The new Lord Mayor of Norwich, Vaughan Thomas, with his wife, Lady Mayoress, Vivien Thomas, and the new Sheriff of Norwich, Dr Marian Prinsley, with her husband, Peter Prinsley, on the City Hall steps. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY (EDP)

New illustrated presentation from Phyllida Scrivens launched in Norwich

Last Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, I was excited to launch my brand new talk.  I spoke to the members of the popular Out & About Club, a social Club for the over 50s, held at the Congregational Church on Chaplefield, Norwich.  Joe and I have many friends there as we have spoken about his life on two occasions, and last year I delivered my Lady Lord Mayor’s presentation.

This new talk is called ‘When the Past Collides with the Present: remarkable true stories of coincidence, luck and fate while researching biography in the modern age.’

I include those ‘behind the scenes’ stories discovered while researching for Escaping Hitler, The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich and other biographical work.  I show original photographs (some shown here), all illustrating personal moments of “Can this really be happening?”, “Where did you find that?” and “Are you sure that is true?”   As a biographer, I find that once you put yourself and your discoveries ‘out there’, people come back to you, generously offering finer details, corrections, fragments of stories to add to your research, people you thought you would never reach. The unexpected connections, many because of our wonderful research tool, the internet.

The talk seemed to go down well.  I look forward to sharing it further with other Norfolk groups, such as the Women’s Institute, History Groups etc., starting with the Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth on 1st March.

http://www.events.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/public_events.aspx?id=5605

Maybe join me there?