World War II veteran Brigadier Stephen Goodall (BSc Mining, 1944) came back to campus to watch his grandson graduate and finally receive his own degree certificate.
The 96-year-old tells Old Joe about his memories of being a wartime student and his distinguished military career.
I didn’t expect to come back to Birmingham and be welcomed in the wonderful way I have been. I received my degree in absentia while I was fighting in Burma and was so proud to see Stephen graduate. Studying here was two years of my life that I shall never forget and I met some lovely people.
Campus has changed. When I was here it was really just the Aston Webb Building, where us engineers were based. It’s much easier to get lost now. I do remember playing rugby on a Saturday afternoon and girls teaching me to dance at the Hop in the Student Union [now the Guild] afterwards.
Cycling long distances is another memory from my student days. I used to ride my bike home from campus home to Hertfordshire and even to Cornwall, where I worked in a tin mine during vacations. All Mining students had to work in mines to gain experience.
I was a naughty student. I remember a group of us engineers were all fined £1 by the Vice-Chancellor after the police caught us stealing the beacons from the top of the lights at zebra crossings. We also put a dinghy on the top of the King George statue outside the Barber Institute (pictured).
We pulled bodies from the rubble after the Coventry Blitz. A group of us caught the bus and went over to help. I also used to fire watch from the top of the Old Joe clock tower. Our job was to report on the site of fires across the city.
The white feather I was given by a woman in The Swan pub in Harborne was a symbol of cowardice. Mining was a reserved occupation during World War II so those in the industry were not ‘called up’, but I gave up my studies and volunteered to serve in the Royal Engineers, where I stayed for 31 years.
A watch saved my life by deflecting a bullet away from an artery in my arm. I won the Military Cross for bravery during that crossing of the Irrawaddy River in Burma on February 14, 1945, and for several days’ reconnaissance behind enemy lines. But I was most scared during the Battle of the Admin Box in 1944 when the Japanese forces overran our headquarters.
I protest for what I believe in. In June 2018, I led the 100,000-strong People’s Vote march calling for a second referendum against leaving the European Union in my wheelchair.
Watching birds from my office window, was a fantastic way to end my career. I was Controller at the Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust for 14 years and it was a wonderful pleasure to work with the scientists there.