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Your Memories - 1940s


Alan Rozelaar BSc Mining 1949


A few Mining students became President of the Guild of Undergraduates and it was probably this which led to the university anthem sung on Saturday nights in particular:

My old man is a fireman now what do you think of that
He wears cor blimey trousers and a little cor blimey hat
He wears a flipping muffler around his flipping throat
Because my old man is a fireman on an Elder Dempster Boat.

The Elder Dempster line was the shipping line which ran from Liverpool to W Africa and I myself had a number of happy journeys on the Apapa and Accra, 5 days from Liverpool to Las Palmas and then 5 days on to Freetown, sometimes with a stop at Bathurst, Gambia. From Freetown it went on the Accra in Ghana and then on to Lagos Nigeria.

Former students included Derek Ezra, now Lord Ezra I think. When I was President of the Cannock branch of the Association of Mining Electrial and Mechanical Engineers I met him at dinner and in fact sat next to him. He started the degree at Oxford or Cambridge but neither of these offered a full degree in Mining and had an agreement with Birmingham so that such students could do their final year there.

I used to teach an evening degree course in Electrical Engineering for Metallurgists at Suffolk Street Tec, later to be Aston University and as a result I got an invitation to the inauguration of Lord Nelson as Chancellor. This reminds me a Birmingham Mining degree entitled graduates to get a Geology degree with one further year of study and membership of the Civil Engineers similarly but being accepted as MICE for surveying merely required the submission of suitable drawings, plans etc.

Many students who subsequently ran their own business said how useful the Commerce and Company Law lectures were.

In addition to Mining I myself also worked in the aerospace industry as well as the Cinema.

Most students in the courses which I taught had a job within a few days of graduating. Other students occupied high places in Turkey and India. One became rich by running a company making the St Lawrence Seaway in Canada, others to my personal knowledge have become millionaires even in the days when a million pounds would still buy something.

The danger of silicosis was solved by research in the Mining department as was the explosion of coal mines when aluminium props were introduced. In the first World War much work was done designing effective gas masks when the Germans started using poison gas.

The Miners were always strong supporters of Carnival and I have several cine films of their efforts.

The experimental mine was also used to teach students how to survey underground and it was also used extensively by the Birmingham Fire Brigade to practice the use of breathing apparatus after some unfortunate accidents caused the authority to seek the advice of Dr Hancock.

The mine was also used as an air raid shelter during the war.

The Science of Resources course was one which I originated and could have been put on as another branch of the Mining and/or Minerals Engineering course. I failed to get enough support from the then Minerals Engineering Dept, but fortunately I had the support of Profs Shotton, Kolbisequi and McQuillan so that it eventually started with Prof McQuillan as Prof. We got between 12 and 20 students per year but these days Universities are more anxious to have hundreds of students in each year of a course even if they get no jobs on graduating.

In the 1970s I introduced an Inter Faculty Studies course called the Raw Materials of Civilisation, this attracted about 200-300 students per year for several years.

Rather than cheap Micky Mouse courses leading to no useful jobs, the Universities should be preparing for the future. For example how do we detect and mine ore on the moon, other planets and asteroids, then when we have mined the ore how do we separate it into its constituents, remembering that there may be no water, no air and not much gravity to help us in our task. All these things need looking into before we find the real need for this, I do hope that we do not leave it too late.

I might add that I was considered a crank until Russia put up Sputnik. At least I can now sign myself Fellow of the British Interplanetary Society.

Although Birmingham Mining Department was the worst when it came to fighting its corner, other universities across the world were not much better and there is now a world shortage of Mining Engineers.

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