Today the news went public – an autobiographical piece I wrote recently for the Jarrold 250 Short Story Competition was awarded with a special commendation and it is now available to read at their website, along with the four winning stories, all inspired by everyone’s … Continue reading Story of Escaping Hitler book launch commended in Jarrold short story competition
Today, 18th October was Joe Stirling’s birthday. For eleven years I made sure to see him, taking a little gift, sharing a slice of cake. As you are aware, Joe was very special to me, not just as the subject of my first book, but as my friend and confidant. Joe died in February this year and I miss him. This photo is from his birthday in 2018, before his health deteriorated.
Happy Birthday Joe!
Last evening, 13th October 2020, I was delighted to share my presentation via Zoom with the good ladies of Youlgrave Women’s Institute. Having found myself on the recommended list of Zoom speakers for the Derbyshire Federation, I was approached just last week to see if I was available to speak at short notice. I was thrilled to accept, not only because it was an opportunity to extend the reach of Joe’s remarkable story, but particularly as Victor and I spent a wonderful week’s holiday, just two summers ago, staying in Tweedledee Cottage, in the centre of that delightful village, enjoying walks in the stunning countryside, eating at superb local pubs, visiting Bakewell, Dovedale, Heights of Abraham, Chatsworth and the Plague Village Eyam, to name but a few. We vowed to return sometime to Youlgrave, but never in a million years did I think it would be via an online conference platform in the middle of a global pandemic! Thanks again to last evening’s audience – I really enjoyed the experience. Here are some photos of the village from our time there.
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.”
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!
Written by Norwich writer Tom Carver, this moving tribute to our very own Joe appeared yesterday, 27th March 2020, on the Guardian Online ‘Other Lives’ feature. I am grateful to Tom and to the Guardian team who put this piece together, allowing even more people to appreciate the remarkable life of this amazing man.
Joe is much missed by family, friends and former colleagues but his story remains relevant, inspiring and poignant in these difficult times.
Keep safe and well everyone. We will beat this.
The piece continues so it is well worth clicking on the link.
Happy Birthday Joe! Today, 18th October 2019, Joe Stirling, the subject of my biography Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future (Pen and Sword Books, 2016) is 95 years old. I first met Joe in 2011 and never imagined our friendship would last as long as it has. I visited Joe this afternoon in his Norwich Care Home to find his two lovely daughters, Jane and Johanna, sharing his day with him. We had tea and cake with candles, gifts and a loud rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to You.’ Joe continues to keep a keen interest in how my writing and public speaking careers are progressing and is always proud to hear about it when I have share his life stories with new audiences in Norfolk. Many Happy Returns Joe!
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.
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)
Quite simply, thinking of Joe Stirling’s parents Alfred and Ida Stern who perished at Sobibor Death Camp in the summer of 1942. R.I.P.
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?