If Joe Stirling had not passed away in 2020, he would have been celebrating his 98th birthday today. I remember so many birthdays – visiting his home in Norwich to find stacks of brightly coloured greetings cards from friends around the world, and wrapped parcels from his many loving family members. He was known to be a chocoholic so there were always boxes of these sitting on the coffee table. I miss him every day and always enjoy giving “his talk” to groups around Norfolk, sharing tales of his childhood in Nazi Germany, his freedom walk through Europe and his achievements in later life, so many recorded in my biography Escaping Hitler (Pen and Sword Books 2016). Joe was a very special man and I was fortunate to find him when I did. I owe my ongoing writing and public speaking careers to his generosity, amazing memory and zest for life. Thank you Joe and Happy Birthday….
Today, 18th October 2021, I visited the headstone of Joe and his wife Jean, set in the peaceful beauty of Earlham Cemetery in Norwich. It was my first visit and I had no idea how idyllic it would look with ancient trees, flowers, momuments and the odd squirrel. Joe died in February 2020, just before the pandemic lock-down, and his funeral was packed with family and friends, each wishing to pay their respects and celebrate the long and fruitful life of this wonderful man.
I was fascinated to see that Joe is next to Howard Cartwright, born in the same year as Joe and a serving soldier in WW2 with the Argyll and Southern Highlanders. I would like to think that maybe Joe and Howard trained together in Glasgow, perhaps Howard being part of the group of young soldiers in the barracks who ‘dubbed’ Günter as Joe, the name that stuck for the rest of his life. Two old friends brought together in death. Or is that too fanciful?
I wished Joe a happy birthday and left a spray of flowers. It has been a special day.
On the sad occasion of the death of The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, I would love to share this story about his visit to Norwich in July 1975 as it appears in my first book Escaping Hitler (published by Pen and Sword Books in 2016).
The crowds lined the streets of Norwich early on the morning of Tuesday,
1 July. Joe had recovered from the worst of the jet lag and looked forward to
wearing the Sheriff’s chain again, this time in the presence of Prince Philip,
Duke of Edinburgh. The Duke was visiting Norwich to inspect an awardwinning
conservation scheme dubbed ‘Heritage-Over-The-Wensum’. At
Thorpe Road Railway Station, Joyce in her Mayoral chain was part of the
welcome committee, on this occasion obliged to defer to the Lord Lieutenant
of Norfolk, Sir Edmund Bacon as first citizen of the City. This pushed the
Sheriff into third place in the hierarchy that day. The Duke’s first engagement
was to climb aboard a steam launch, moored at the Norwich Yacht Station, aptly
named The Princess Margaret. As the Royal party reached Fishergate, a specially
commissioned fanfare sounded from musicians on Fye Bridge. Cheering
schoolchildren, factory and office workers vied for a glimpse of the special visitor.
The landlord of the Woolpack pub in Muspole Street welcomed the Duke
to his recently redecorated establishment, serving him with a tomato juice,
presumably without the vodka. As he passed along St George’s Street, students
from Norwich Art School showered the party with ticker tape, worrying the
Special Branch bodyguards. As the Duke prepared to enter Blackfriars for a
sherry and buffet lunch, it was Joe and Jean’s turn to shake his hand. Once the
feasting was over, the Duke presented the city with the conservation award. He
had spent the previous night aboard the Royal Train in sidings outside Norwich
Station. During his speech he was less than complimentary about the view of
the city’s industrial area, visible from his carriage. A number of assembled
dignitaries and guests squirmed a little at what appeared to be unwelcome
criticism. At precisely two o’clock the Duke climbed into the pilot’s seat of a
helicopter of The Queen’s Flight and flew to King’s Lynn in the north of the
county for further engagements. Joe had fulfilled his second official task as
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.
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.
Maybe join me there?
Today, 18th October 2018, Joe Stirling (born Günter Stern), the subject of my biography Escaping Hitler, is 94 years old. I called in to his home in the Unthank Road Norwich this morning to give him his card and found to my delight that he had visitors – his nephew Paul Skitmore and his wife Sarah. (Paul features in the book as a child) Joe, although tired, was on top form. Tonight, instead of accompanying me to speak about his life to the good ladies of Thorpe End W.I. in Norwich, he will be dining out in the city with members of his close family. I wish him a happy birthday evening.
Joe and me with his birthday cards!
With the sun shining in Norwich, England, I am reminded of the wonderful summer’s afternoon I spent in the Norwich Castle Gardens in 2016, watching an energetic and inspiring performance of the unique community play ‘Come Yew In’. Within the many stories of Norwich history told that day, it was the segment that retold Joe’s story in just a few moments that I had been waiting for. Using words from my book Escaping Hitler the talented performers paid tribute to Joe. I have posted this film before but I thought it worth another viewing.
As a former Sheriff of Norwich (1975-6) Joe Stirling, the star of Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future (Pen and Sword Books 2016), was naturally invited to the annual black-tie dinner of the Norwich Civic Association. This year I was also invited as the after-dinner speaker, to speak about my new book The Lady Lord Mayors of Norwich 1923-2017 (Pen and Sword Books, 2018). It was an honour and a privilege to address this most knowledgable of audiences! All seemed to go well and Joe enjoyed his evening immensely. Victor and I are now taking a well earned break for a couple of weeks. Back with more updates on Joe soon.
Phyllida and Joe at Civic Association Dinner, 23rd April 2018
I don’t think I can ignore CHRISTMAS any longer!!! If you are considering gifts for the relative or friend who has everything, or someone who loves to read, especially if they are or have been Norwich residents, then Joe Stirling’s biography should be well received…. you can order a hardback copy, signed by both author and subject direct from me by contacting me at email@example.com. I can take credit and debit payments on the telephone and I will package the book up safely, mailing it out by first class post. The price is £19.50 plus £4 postage and packing. I look forward to hearing from you! PLEASE SHARE!!
I was delighted and honoured when Attleborough Heritage Group asked me to provide photographs and text for its exhibition on 28th October showcasing nuptial memorabilia and gowns from weddings held in St Mary’s Church Attleborough during the past seven decades. These were displayed in St Mary’s while the church hall hosted a Wedding Fair. During the evening there was an illustrated talk from the archive and records of AHG with a buffet supper. Many thanks to them for including Joe and Jean’s story. Here is the poster they produced along with the appropriate extract from Escaping Hitler.