Page last updated at 10:53 GMT, Tuesday, 22 July 2008 11:53 UK

Graduate, 81, gets history degree

Robert Benjamin - picture courtesy of University of Manchester
Robert Benjamin is a retired solicitor

An 81-year-old former conscript has been awarded a history degree after studying events he lived first-hand.

Robert Benjamin has graduated from the University of Manchester alongside classmates up to 60 years younger.

Mr Benjamin was a former Bevin Boy - a group of young men chosen to work in coal mines during World War II.

He was even interviewed by a fellow student for a dissertation on the conscripts, who were named after politician Ernest Bevin.

The Bevin Boys were chosen at random to work in the mines from 1943, until after the end of the war.

"I'd missed my chance to go to university because during the war, I'd been forced to abandon my studies as a student solicitor to work in a coal mine near Wigan," Mr Benjamin said.

I was a living example of what they had been studying
Robert Benjamin

"As I have a great interest in history, a degree was a logical step," he said.

"I also thought that a degree would be a good way to discipline my mind. It certainly was and I'm delighted with the result."

Mr Benjamin, a retired solicitor, said he initially found it difficult to be among younger undergraduates.

"I was touched that after the graduation some of them asked me out for a drink," he said.

'History for everyone'

"After all I was a living example of what they had been studying."

Mr Benjamin's dissertation was on the 346 British soldiers "shot at dawn" in World War I.

Professor Penny Summerfield said that she was "delighted" Mr Benjamin got a 2:1 degree.

"As a veteran of World War II and a former Bevin Boy it was great to have him on my course on the Second World War and British Society.

"His success must certainly show that history can really be for everyone."


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