Shirley Williams foreword for biography

Shirley Williams and Joe Stirling 8th April 2015Shirley Williams and Joe Stirling

As a member and activist of Norwich North Liberal Democrats, I am delighted to share the news that on 5th January, Pen and Sword Books published my debut biography Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future. The book tells the true story of Joe Stirling, Kindertransport refugee, pioneering travel agent, leading member of Lions International and past Sheriff of Norwich.

During my four years of research for this book, one afternoon Joe told me how, as a Labour Party agent for Central Norfolk, he was sent to Harwich in 1954 to help the Labour candidate, a young woman called Shirley Catlin, fight her first by-election. Later she would become Shirley Williams, Baroness of Crosby.

There is a further extraordinary link between Joe Stirling and Shirley Williams that emerged during my many hours of interviewing Joe. On escaping Nazi Germany in 1939, a Birmingham family of academics fostered him. The wife, Freda Free, had been a close friend of Vera Brittain at Oxford University, and often spoke to young Günter (Joe’s birth name) of Vera’s daughter Shirley.

I decided to write to Shirley asking if she would consider writing the foreword for my first biography, never really believing she would say yes. To my astonishment and delight, she remembered working with Joe Stirling and was happy to oblige. Shirley writes: ‘A 23-year-old candidate, I recall the excitement of convening with Joe two or three meetings a night, hurtling down muddy lanes in the dark, looking for small halls, each with its audience of a dozen or so.  Joe mobilised a handful of supporters from a score of villages to come.’

During the General Election campaign in 2015, Shirley visited Norwich activists. I arranged for ninety-year-old Joe to meet with her again after sixty years. The two spoke together recalling past times. The local press were more interested in that story than in the politics and a photograph of that reunion appears in my book.

Escaping Hitler is available now direct from Pen and Sword Books and For a signed copy at the discounted price of £17 plus £4 p&p (U.K. only), order direct from my author’s website at which gives full details.



* Phyllida Scrivens is a long time Liberal Democrat member and wife of the current chairman of Norwich North.

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