Epilogue for the
By the time I arrived
in Exeter the second world war had been over for 10 years but
the city still bore a lot of the scars of destruction. There
were vast areas which had been cleared of bomb damage but were
awaiting rebuilding. These could be very eerie, especially when
walking home at night. But it was not just the city which had
suffered. So many of the people were only just recovering from
the terrible things which had shattered their lives during the
war. During my three years in Exeter I lived with Mr.and Mrs.Crocker
and their family in St. John's road. This notion of living with
a family has disappeared from other universities which I have
known since. Maybe it still exists in Exeter. I was the first
university student which this family had taken in, and I like
to think that we took to each other instantly. I knew immediately
that I had been very fortunate and that I would be very happy
with them and so it proved. Never for one instant did I envy
any of my fellow students who lived in their halls of residence.
The Crockers spoke to me often about their wartime experiences
and how many people in Exeter had suffered so badly. It was the
Crockers who introduced me to Dartmoor. Very quickly this kindly
family organised a trip to show me the Moor and the Devon countryside.
They hired a large car and off we went accompanied by daughter
Lillian, her husband, and wonderful granddaughter Susan (another
Susan!). I was entranced by Dartmoor but I was even more entranced
by this marvellous family. The photographs which I took of them
that day are amongst my most treasured possessions.
One of the first shops I visited in Exeter was that of Mr.Vosper
Arthur at 129 Sidwell Street. Mr.Arthur and his wife were very
cheerful and friendly people who ran a very good photography
business, much frequented by students. They became great friends
and we sometimes managed to persuade Mr.Arthur to come to the
University to talk to us about photography. I can remember riding
along Prince of Wales Road in Mr.Arthur's large car on our way
to one of his lectures thinking how splendidly he had dressed
for the occasion (bow tie etc.) compared with our usual lecturers.
Most of the photographs shown on this site were processed by
him and it is a testimony to his high standards that the negatives
are still in excellent condition over 40 years later. The Crockers,
the Arthurs and Mr. McMartin, who drove for the local bus company
and accompanied us and looked after us on so many expeditions,
were Exeter people whom I have never forgotten. There was no
reason why they should go out of their way to be so kind and
helpful. They just did. Other students will remember them and
they fully deserve a part in the history of the University. They
are certainly part of mine.
Now you may think that
university students today are pretty much the same as what we
were in the late 1950s. And, indeed, I would agree that there
are great similarities. But there is one striking difference
and this difference is of the most fundamental kind. In a few
words - we thought differently. Our frame of reference was different.
The climate of opinion in which we operated was very different.
In particular we had great confidence in the future. We were
sure that it was possible to make a better society, a better
world and that we were destined to play a part in this. John
Maynard Keynes had (in theory) shown that the economy could be
managed to provide prosperity and plenty. Sociologists could
(in theory) analyse and solve the great social problems of our
time. Science could solve the problems of the environment and
medicine and the National Health Service would soon conquer illness
and disease. As a nation we could learn from past experience
and our politicians would avoid making the same mistakes again
and again in the future. All that was needed was for everyone
to cooperate together in building a better society and this was
achievable in the not too distant future. In short progress was
now inevitable. Things were bound to get better. I doubt if you
would find one university student today who believed any of these
propositions. But in the late 1950s hopes were high. We had the
great advantage of believing that we were on the way to somewhere
and we would be there soon ( just like our walks). The idealism
and high hopes had to be experienced to be believed. I am glad
that I was a student in those exciting times.
The winds and storms
of 40 years have seared across Dartmoor and battered the coasts
and estuaries of South Devon since we left. I now live on the
edge of a different moor and when I climb (map in pocket) to
its highest places, I pause just for moment or two and, in perfect
peace, face South towards that other moor, now so far away in
time and distance, and remember and wonder. The landscape will
have changed. Exeter will have changed. I have never returned
since the day I departed from No. 44 in July 1959. So all the
photographs are the real thing. They could not be anything else.
I leave you with
this final photograph of two Exeter students standing on a rock
on Dartmoor forty two years ago looking confidently across the
Moor and into the future stretching before them. I hope they
had happy, fulfilled lives. There were some very stormy times
ahead. Like our expeditions, nothing ever goes quite as you expect.
So many of the high hopes we had in the late 1950s were dented
by the shocks of the 1960s and 1970s and, in the next two decades,
it sometimes seemed that everything we had hoped for had all
but vanished into the gathering storm - and no Mr. McMartin with
his comfortable coach and cheerful smile to take us back home.
For us the age of high
hopes has, after 40 years, given way to the age of digital communication.
We are assured by our leaders that this is the way forward now
and this will provide a better, more prosperous society. So pack
up the rucksacks once again as we head off together into this
new digital age. I suspect it will not be as good. Past experience
suggests it may not work well. But best foot forward: new paths
to traverse: new vistas ahead. Time to get started while the
day is new and the sun shining. Now where did I put that map?