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December 2015 - Best of the collection

The Voices of the University project has given us a fascinating and heart-warming insight into life at Warwick, and has also unearthed a wealth of knowledge about social and cultural history after 1945. In this final blog post for 2015, we’ve compiled seven of the best interviews from the collection from individuals who have some of the best stories to tell.

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Geseke Clarke came to Warwick in 1965 with her husband, Malcolm Clark, a founding professor of Inorganic Chemistry. She taught German in the language laboratory, and at evening classes. Born in Hamburg in 1934, Geseke vividly describes life in Germany during the Second World War, her evacuation, and even fleeing from the Russian army during the freezing winter of 1945, as the family returned to Germany. “I remember when the western forces came marching towards Hamburg, and Hamburg‘s Burgermeister, Kaufman, risked his life surrendering to the British forces, because he could see there would be fighting, and Hamburg would lose, and it would not be good for the inhabitants. So, he surrendered, and the English forces marched into Hamburg. I remember flattening my nose against the window and looking at the forces coming from the right, past our window.” Geseke also describes life following the war; a younger sibling crossing the Green Frontier between Russian and Allied-controlled Germany in the dead of night, the German black market, and the relationship between the inhabitants of Hamburg and British Forces after 1945. The story of how Geseke and her husband Malcolm met is particularly moving.

Debjani Ganguli studied for a Master of Arts in Global Media and Communication at the Centre for Cultural Policy in 2013. Debjani shares the story of her childhood growing up in Abu Dhabi. “I had friends from all over India, and in my school there were a few foreign nationalities as well, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh. That was great. I’m not a Christian myself, but the first school I did go had nuns and priests teaching us, we had lots of Egyptians and Lebanese people also studying with us for some time. So, I guess there was a lot of exposure to different nationalities, and that’s where my respect of other nationalities comes from. I’m eager to mingle with other people from different cultural backgrounds, and very excited to meet them when I do!”

Frank Devine came to Warwick as a student in 1987 and was an SU sabbatical officer for two years. Frank was born in Monaghan in the Republic of Ireland in 1954, and describes moving with his mother to Belfast to get away from the stigma of single-motherhood in Ireland. His mother bought a shop in a Loyalist area of Belfast, but was sent an ultimatum to leave or face being burnt out, since she was Catholic. Frank gives an insightful look into the political situation in England and Ireland during the 70s and 80s and during his years as a sabbatical officer, including inviting Glenn Barr of the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) and former Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, to campus. “I just rang up, got straight through to him, asked him to speak at a Warwick debate, and he said, ‘yeah, sure’. He just arrived at Birmingham airport, the ex and future President of Ireland, and I picked him up with a friend who could drive! There was no foreign office involvement, no security. It was amazing that a person of that calibre would just come without any fuss.”

At 67, Geoffrey Gibbons retired from his legal practice and embarked upon an MA and PhD in History at Warwick. Geoffrey was born in Greater Birmingham in 1927 and he describes life during the war. “Throughout the time Birmingham was being bombed, most nights during the winter months were spent in an air-raid shelter on the [Moseley Grammar] school site. The local residents poured into the shelters. There were bombs dropping and incendiaries everywhere all night from the beginning of November until the end of February. I did all my school work there. Food rationing was a great problem and continued for five or six years after the war.” Dr Gibbons describes army life for a National Service conscript as second-in-command of a supply platoon in Moascar, Egypt, and then in command of a supply platoon in El Ballah on the Suez Canal.

Salvador Ortiz Carbonarez is a retired Spanish teacher and translator and Honorary Fellow of Warwick. Salvador was born in Franco’s Spain in a rural town in Valencia and describes life at that time. “If you didn’t do anything against Franco, you were all right. But, of course, people who didn’t agree with him, they were not free. So you could feel always there was a shadow hanging over you. And there were the police ‘the grey’ we used to call them, because they were dressed in grey. Because my mother’s family were rich farmers, my grandfather was put in prison and my grandmother was taken to be shot. And my mother had to be on the run from that time because they also wanted to take her to prison. So when I came to England, I felt very free because I could talk about everything without any fear.”

Warwick Post-room supervisor Brendon Cassidy was born in Earlsdon in 1949 and describes his life in Coventry as a youngster. Brendon’s parents came to England from Ireland and his father worked in Coventry’s factories. “We’d nothing at all and life was tough. We had no central heating, no television. Outside toilet. In the winter the ice stood inside. Four in a bed. We had plenty of love though. We lived in a two up, two down in Earlsdon. There was a big Irish community in Earlsdon, and also Polish as well and most of the people who lived in the street were factory workers.” Brendon’s tales of his time in the police service in Coventry from 1966 to 1998 are heart-warming, nail-biting and amusing in turns.

Omar Shubeilat studied for a postgraduate degree in MSc Management from 2006 to 2007. Omar was born in Oman, Jordan, into a large family of 10 siblings. “My childhood is full of nice memories because there were so many people around, always someone to talk to. We’re a close family, there are some age differences between the siblings, but we’re still close. I had a close relationship with my grandfather. We were brought up in a typical Muslim family, with ethical, Islamic values being a strong influence. My father also insisted on being courageous, that we should speak the truth, which is the one trait I can always remember.” Omar describes his childhood, the educational system and university in Jordan, and the experience of coming to England as a student, aged 23.

Listen to the IAS podcast here to hear what our interviewees think of Warwick's future.

Click here to listen to the full interviews featured in the blogs (and podcasts). Browse the page by searching for a particular participant in the search bar, or scrolling through the alphabetical list.