THIS weekend is the 75th anniversary of the start of a remarkable friendship between St Helens and Stuttgart that continues to this day, writes Stephen Wainwright.

Only last month a group of delegates from Stuttgart City Council came to St Helens to cement what is believed to be the oldest twinning partnership of its kind.

When on August 27, 1948 Walter Marshall arrived in the German city on an 8-day goodwill mission, he became the first British Mayor to visit post-war Germany in an official capacity.

And Cllr Marshall took lots of presents along with him!

The gifts included 400 bars of chocolate for the deprived children of Stuttgart.

These were packed in boxes made by apprentices employed in St Helens Corporation’s Building Department and were despatched with an accompanying message of goodwill.

However, a cocktail tray that had been made by Pilkington's and a local silversmith proved more controversial.

That gift bore the inscription: "To commemorate the civic visit of the Mayor of St Helens, England, to Stuttgart, 1948." This is what one columnist in the Yorkshire Post thought of the commemorative tray and trip: "What is St. Helens up to? What whimsy has overtaken the people of St. Helens, in Lancashire, that they must needs send their Mayor, accompanied by his secretary and the Town Clerk, on a flying visit to Germany, taking with him a £100 solid silver cocktail tray as a gift to the citizens of Stuttgart?

"When, yesterday morning, I read a report of this proposed adventure, I rubbed my eyes.

"What possible link, I asked myself, could there be between St Helens and Stuttgart? And was there any logical reason why Otley, say, should not follow suit and send a coffee service to Monte Carlo?"

Just whether the town of Otley in what was then the West Riding of Yorkshire ever sent a coffee maker to Monaco, I cannot say.

St Helens Star: St Helens Mayor Walter Marshall's speech in Stuttgart in August 1948St Helens Mayor Walter Marshall's speech in Stuttgart in August 1948 (Image: Image: St Helens Community Archive/ St Helens Archive Service))

But the newspaper columnist was missing the point.

St Helens and Stuttgart were both industrial centres with similar urban issues.

But although our Lancashire town was suffering from the effects of rationing, its German "twin" was enduring far worse post-war privations under American occupation.

One St Helens paper described the Mayoral trip as a "grim pilgrimage among broken totally blitzed towns" with Cllr Marshall visiting camps and "housing bunkers".

The latter involved two or three persons living in tiny compartments without electricity or basic conveniences.

But there were more pleasant duties for Walter Marshall to perform. These included taking tea with Princess Margarita of Greece and Denmark who was the elder sister of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

The St Helens Rotary Club had played a role in setting up the visit and the Mayor took with him a silk flag from the club as a symbol of greeting, which he passed on to the Rotarians in Stuttgart.

The mayoral party was said to have been welcomed wherever they went, including on a visit to the works of Daimler-Benz. A performance of Verdi's opera Aida was also given in their honour.

The trip was seen as sowing a seed of friendship amongst former bitter enemies. Future exchange visits were discussed, with the Stuttgart Youth Parliament issuing an invitation for twenty St Helens boys and girls to visit their city.

St Helens Star: Delegates from St Helens meet Dr Arnulf Klett at Stuttgart Airport in a twinning visit in 1959Delegates from St Helens meet Dr Arnulf Klett at Stuttgart Airport in a twinning visit in 1959 (Image: Image: St Helens Community Archive / St Helens Archive Service)

And in one speech Walter Marshall prepared the citizens of Stuttgart for what they could expect to find from St Helens folk: "My own county of Lancashire is a place where one meets a homely people with a character and culture of their own. The people are hearty, blunt and wholesome.

Nowhere are cares and troubles more readily forgotten or at least postponed."

Stephen Wainwright's new book 'The Hidden History Of St Helens Volume 3' is available from the St Helens Book Stop in Bridge Street from Saturday August 26th and online from eBay and Amazon from September 1st