b. 1934 | Civilian
In August 1939 in Vienna, at just five years of age, Vera Buchthal (later known as Stephanie), and her nine year old sister, Renate, were placed on a Kindertransport train headed for London by their very brave mother, into order to escape persecution from the Nazi’s.
They arrived unaccompanied in the West Midlands and eventually came to stay on the Welsh border in Oswestry. In the audio recording contained within this collection Dame Stephanie looks back at her life and fondly remembers the market day when the Welsh farmers and traders came into the town and where Welsh was the language of the day.
In 1939, 5yr old Vera Buchthal escaped Nazi persecution only after her parents had made the courageous and selfless decision to place her and 9yr old sister on a Kindertransport train in Vienna bound for Britain. Unaccompanied, they arrived as refugees in the West Midlands, completely alone, not knowing what to expect.
In this audio recording Vera (better known today as Dame Stephanie Shirley CH), recounts memories from her childhood, the vast disruption to her life, the enormous uncertainties and challenges but also the tremendous feelings of affection and appreciation to those who cared for her during that period. Dame Stephanie talks about her time on the Welsh borders in Oswestry, when on market day Welsh was the language of the traders, and where her deep fondness for Wales began.
Out of adversity, Dame Stephanie became a pioneer of IT and of women’s position as leaders in the workplace. Following retirement, she became a well-known philanthropist contributing very significantly to both IT and autism. Her influence in Wales especially in autism, led to the development (through the charity she founded, Autism Cymru), of the Welsh Government’s national plan for autism, and Cardiff University’s Wales Autism Research Centre (WARC). Her personal involvement in Ysgol Plas Brondyffryn in Denbigh, changed an under-funded and failing school for children with autism and ALN, to become a flagship school in Wales and further afield.
This audio recording provides the listener an opportunity to learn of the early experiences of a Kindertransport refugee and the influence it had upon the rest of her exceptional life.
Post-war, the young Stephanie displayed a vocational talent for maths and forged a very successful career for herself in the IT industry. She became a pioneer of not only IT but also of women as leaders in business and her contributions to enterprise and society received formal recognition.
Dame Stephanie and her husband, Derek had a son, Giles who had autism. After retirement Dame Stephanie devoted her life to ‘giving back’ through the philanthropic Foundation she established called The Shirley Foundation which has created and supported many pioneering initiatives in autism and IT. In the audio recording, Dame Stephanie talks about projects in Wales she has supported, which have brought about local as well as national strategic-level impact from Denbigh to Cardiff Bay.
On 17th June 2017, Dame Stephanie was made a Companion of Honour. On 26th August 2021, a Blue Plaque was unveiled by Oswestry Town Council to mark the town’s links to “Dame Stephanie Shirley CH. Refugee, Entrepreneur and Britain’s first ambassador for philanthropy”