Tag: Harwich

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!



Anniversary of first Kindertransport into Harwich

1-003 Gunter ID card front
Günter’s Child passport for the Kindertransport with Nazi stamps

Today, 2nd December 2015 is the 77th anniversary of the first Kindertransport train to arrival at Harwich laden with desperate and frightened Jewish children, seeking sanctuary from the tyranny and anti-Semitism of the Nazi regime. The train was from Berlin. In the following July 14 year old Günter Stern left his parents behind in the Rhineland, travelling to Harwich, destined for freedom and a future. Two years ago, during the 75th anniversary commemorations of this incredible rescue project we took 89 year old Joe Stirling (born Günter Stern) back to Harwich to witness an amazing performance of Suitcase 38, on the very platforms where he had first stepped on British soil.  We witnessed this man relive a momentous part of his life through the words and actions of young writers and actors.  His story will be told in my debut biography, Escaping Hitler, to be published by Pen and Sword during January 2016.  Signed copies, both by Joe and me, will be available to buy direct from this blog from end January.

Joe Stirling and Cast of Suitcase Press
Joe meets the cast after the show.


Joe sits on platform at Harwich watching his younger self with his one suitcase.