Two generations of alumni celebrate at degree congregation

A University of Birmingham alumnus who missed his own degree congregation because he was away fighting in the second world war will watch his grandson receive his masters degree at a ceremony at the University of Birmingham on Thursday 13th December. 

Brigadier Stephen Goodall, who is now 96, will receive a copy of his wartime degree – a BSc in mining - after the ceremony, where his grandson Stephen Denbigh, 24, will graduate with an MSc in Mathematics.

Grandfather, Brigadier Stephen Goodall, studied mining engineering at the University of Birmingham between 1940 and 1942.  As mining was a reserved occupation during the World War II those in the industry were not ‘called up’, so Stephen volunteered to join up and served in the Royal Engineers, where he stayed for the rest of his career.   He, like many of those who went to war, was awarded a ‘degree in absentia’ from the University of Birmingham in 1944 while he was serving in Burma. 

He has fond memories of studying at Birmingham.  He said: ‘I enjoyed my time at Birmingham enormously.  The staff were brilliant.  I used to go to the hops on a Friday night, and met female students who taught me to dance.  I used to play rugby, which was a good way to revive yourself after a hop and I played for the University in my 2nd year.  We went to Wales, and York to play other university teams.’

He remembers his wartime experience of being on campus.  ‘The morning after the Coventry Blitz, with some fellow engineering students, we got on a bus and went over to Coventry to help extricate people who were trapped.  Some of my friends found dead bodies there.  I can remember helping someone to a medical dressing station.  Thankfully there was not much bombing over our side of Birmingham.’ 

‘The Home Guard was formed while I was in Birmingham and some of us joined up and did fire watching from the top of Old Joe, the tower in Chancellor’s Court - our job was to report on the site of fires across the city.’

During vacations from University Stephen and other students worked in mines to gain practical experience.  He worked for two months in the tin mines in Cornwall, as well as two weeks in a coal mine north of the midlands, and in a lead mine in the Lake District.

During the war Stephen served in India and Burma and at the end of the war decided to stay in the military and served with the Royal Engineers for 31 years which included tours to Malaya, Germany, and two years in the USA as the British Liaison Officer to the US Corps of Military engineers, based at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. 

He was awarded the Military Cross in 1945 for bravery during the crossing of the Irrawaddy River on February 14th 1945, and for several days reconnaissance behind enemy lines.   It was here that he almost lost his life, but was saved by his 21st birthday wristwatch which deflected a bullet away from the artery in his arm. 

His final army position was as head of the Royal School of Military Engineering in Chatham.   After leaving the army he became controller of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge. 

Stephen Denbigh, who will graduate with a masters degree on 13th December, and also completed his undergraduate study at Birmingham, said:  ’I am delighted to have my 96 year old grandfather with me at my degree ceremony and to see me graduate in the Great Hall of the Aston Webb building.   It has been wonderful to share my experiences of studying at the University with my grandfather who also has many interesting stories to tell about Birmingham.’

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For further information

Kate Chapple or Beck Lockwood, Press Office, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772