Oral history of British science

Shirley, Stephanie (Part 1 of 15). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Computer Software

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    Interviewee's home, Henley-on-Thames

  • Interviewees

    Shirley, Stephanie, 1933- (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 1: Same Stephanie Shirley (SS), born Vera Buchthal in Dortmund, Germany, 16th September 1933; sharing Virgo perfectionist traits. Remarks on parents: Father, Jewish, judge until sacked by Nazis; Mother, non-Jewish tailor's assistant. Short story about later visiting Dortmund for a commemoration event and feeling proudly British. Remarks on: family not very religious; paternal grandmother one of Germany's earliest female mayors; not knowing father well; father keeping edict sacking him for many years; a remaining element of Germanic in herself; remarks on correlation between mathematics, music and the law. [06:55] Remarks on transient life in seven countries in the 1930s. Comments on father: worked for a time in a Vienna coffee shop; parents ran coffee importers; similarities to SS's late autistic son; intelligent and focused, played violin, linguist; anecdotes about father's lack of practical nature; cultured, friendly with composer Satie; escaped from Vienna to Switzerland. [10:05] Comments on Kindertransport train: volunteer girls taking out babies before returning themselves; lost doll; ill boy; having no nationality or money; waiting in children's home whilst mother made Kindertransport arrangements; organisation by Quakers; [15:50] feeling out of place at reunions of Kindertransport children. Remarks on: feeling more Jewish as she gets older, but spending much of her life trying to be very English; religion little part of upbringing; short story about sitting in a Cathedral in Vienna because there was nowhere else to sit. [19:48] Comments on: Jewish elements of her character, nature and nurture; influence of father's ethics; story about father chastising her for squashing a beetle; ethics as a part of later life. Further Comments on father Arnold Buchthal: interned in 1939, then sent to Australia, abused on voyage aboard the Dunera by crew; interned in Hay in Australian outback, where internees recreated café society; [26:48] released to join Pioneer Corps at Bicester, but became manager at Talgarth Asylum for prisoners of war; changed name to White; anecdote about VIP's surprise at finding a friendly enemy alien running Asylum; father's visit on leave; not good with children but proud of their progress; limited knowledge of further family background. [30:07] Comments on paternal grandmother: two children, AB and sister Alice, who spent war in Catholic convent; [cough] practical minded; very lively with many interests and friends; hidden during war; story about grandmother's search at customs when visiting England; generous; limited communication during war courtesy of Red Cross. [37:00] Comments on mother escaping to England: entered domestic service, visited SS sometimes, no phone calls. [38:56] Remarks on seeing grandmother in Vienna. Further remarks on Kindertransport: given present by mother for journey; temporarily losing Ruth her Kathe Kruse doll on journey, later donating to Bethnal Green museum; voyage to Harwich before train to Liverpool Street Station where they met foster parent Guy Smith [GS]. [43:44] Remarks on sister remembering father being there too. Remarks on the Smiths, known as Auntie and Uncle: no children, spotted advert for fostering in paper. Remarks on effect of traumatic childhood on her: accustomed her to change, liking new things; patriotism toward Britain; need to prove her life was worth saving; living in the present.

  • Description

    Interview with entrepreneur, computer scientist and philanthropist Dame Stephanie 'Steve' Shirley.

  • Related transcripts

    Dame Stephanie Shirley interviewed by Thomas Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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