Cover of the book David Goodman wrote when he was 83, which was about state pensions
I'd always wished I had a picture of my Uncle David. Always friendly, always approachable (unlike one member of the family who was snobbish in the extreme), he was, without doubt, my favorite uncle.
True, he had sent me a photograph of himself, smiling modestly, in his cap and gown when he graduated, but I had put it "somewhere safe". So safe that I could not find it.
Losing it was a matter of great regret as my uncle's graduating at the age of fifty-four was something to be really proud of.
Why hadn't he gone to university in his early twenties as many of his school friends had done? The answer, quite simply, was money or - to be more precise - the lack of it.
My uncle grew up in the industrial town of Middlesbrough, Yorkshire, in the north of England. He was one of four children: three boys and one girl (my mother). Never seen without a book in his hand, he dreamed of going to university. But that was out of the question: my grandparents needed him for "the business" as they were finding it hard to make a living, and paying for someone to help was equally out of the question. My grandparents, originally from somewhere in Europe, had arrived in Middlesbrough where my grandfather opened a shop selling cotton goods. It was called Manchester House. He needed someone to help in the shop, to ride a bone-shaker of a bicycle to the suppliers on the other side of the city, and to keep the books. This "someone" was my Uncle David.
My grandparents were never rich; later, as they became slightly more comfortable (or
as a Yorkshireman would put it, fair-to-middling), they acquired a ramshackle vehicle known as "The Van" and my uncle, on behalf of "the business", would travel around the north of England in this elderly contraption. But a university education could not be considered.
David Goodman ... concerns and passions for his fellow men
My mother, in the early 1930s, somehow persuaded her parents that she should take up nursing and so, one day, amid warnings of dreadful dangers, unspecified, lurking around every corner, she left provincial Middlesbrough for the Big City. She made it to London and a few years later, still unscathed, qualified as a State Registered Nurse.
But there were other dangers - real ones - looming in Europe; and David somehow convinced his parents that he should join the International Brigade in Spain.
Fighting against fascism, he told them, he'd be of more use than helping in the shop in Middlesbrough.
David was one of the six hundred volunteers in the British Battalion. Many came from the working or lower-middle classes although there were one or two notable exceptions. These included Lewis Clive, a descendant of Clive of India, and Esmond Romily, a nephew of Winston Churchill. The Battalion stopped Franco's advance on Madrid but at a cost: 400 of them were killed, wounded or captured in the four days of bloody fighting.
My uncle's memories of this period are bleak: three months and one shrapnel wound after joining up, he was one of those captured as Franco's forces advanced, splitting the Republican territory in half. David was taken to a concentration camp, San Pedro de Cardena, Burgos.
He recalls those days: "It was grim. No windows - just bars. It was cold, even in the late spring. A stone floor - no bedding. Sanitation was minimal. We got a very small loaf of bread once a day, either that or some beans. There were fleas and rats all over the place, but worst of all were the lice." And yet, despite the brutality of the guards, the men tried to stay cheerful. "People made chess sets from scraps of the bread and we organized classes. We tried our best to keep ourselves mentally and physically alert."
Nine months later, David and his fellow-prisoners were moved to a local jail and, shortly afterwards, released at the International Bridge between Spain and France.
He remembers a decision they made: "We wouldn't just straggle across the bridge but march across in good order to demonstrate our morale." And then they were in France - and free.
Another war was waiting just over the horizon. But now, together with many ex-Brigaders, David was banned from enlisting in the army and blacklisted from war work. And then, at the age of fifty, the dream of his youth came true: he was able to go to university. He enrolled at the University of Hull and, in 1969, graduated in Economics. The knowledge he gained was put to good use when, later that year, he became Lecturer in Trade Union studies at Cauldon College in Stoke-on-Trent.
My uncle then became Warden for the Workers' Education Association at the Wedgwood Memorial College in the area known as The Potteries. There he pioneered a program of studies which included summer schools for miners. The subjects were the Renaissance and the Reformation. He was warden for seven years (1972-1979) and then had to retire. But he continued to organize educational courses for adults. Some reflected his experiences of the 1930s, such as the Spanish Civil War, others illustrated his concern for the rights of older people.
He may have retired but the fighting spirit was as strong as ever. When he was 83, he wrote a book, No Thanks to Lloyd George, which dealt with the history of state pensions. And he was also concentrating his energy on fighting for a better deal for the elderly. Living in Stoke, Staffordshire, he held a weekly clinic in which he advised retirees of their rights; he also had a column called "Grey Power" in the local paper, The Sentinel, in which he answered questions that old age pensioners and others cared to ask him.
And then the man who had had to wait so long to study was honored with an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Staffordshire University.
My brother visited him when David was in his seventies. They were waiting to cross the road when a large, chauffeur-driven car stopped and the driver waved them across. Open-mouthed, my brother asked, "Who is that?" My uncle grinned sheepishly, "Er - that's the Mayor. We're both on the local council."
And I visited him when he was in his eighties; he had just bought a little car, a new one. He took me outside to where he had parked it and looked at it fondly, "It's a bit different from the old van I used to drive when I was a lad", he said, and then he went back to writing his column in The Sentinel.
It is not often that one's name and one's character fit perfectly. But his name, David Goodman, suited him down to the ground. He was a really good man and, after he died at the age of 85, an obituary appeared in The Guardian; it was a tribute to his fighting for the underdog, and to his concern and compassion for his fellow men. The obituary also appeared in The Guardian's international edition where it was seen by a retired professor of science, now living in Paris, who had lived in Middlesbrough in his younger days. He cut the obituary out of the paper and sent it to his sister, Rhoda, living in Montreal. Somehow - I still do not know how - she got in touch with me and told me that she, my mother and my uncle used to play together when they were children, and she sent me a rather crumpled sepia photograph to show me. So now I have a photograph of my Uncle David.