War hero becomes the UK’s oldest to receive a PhD

Date 26.07.2018

A former Royal Welch Fusilier, who left school at 14 and fought in France during WWII, has been awarded his doctorate at the grand age of 95.

Charles Betty, who graduated this summer, is the oldest person to ever be awarded a PhD by a UK University.

He completed his thesis at the University of Northampton through a long distance programme from his home in Spain, whilst caring for his wife who suffers from a long-term illness.

As part of his PhD, Charles researched the experiences of older ex-pats who’ve decided to move back to the UK from Spain.

Charles, born in Fleetwood in 1923, has lived in Spain for over 30 years and drew upon his own experiences as inspiration for his thesis.

During his time abroad he has worked to help integrate fellow British migrants and co-founded Age Care Association, an organisation which helps and supports the older British community on the Costa del Sol.

Charles said: “I came to live in Spain in 1985 after my wife had serious health problems and was told that her life expectancy would increase if she moved to a warmer climate.

“After we made the move, I paid a routine visit to a local health centre near to where we live in Spain, and I found out that many older British retirees were having problems communicating with the medical staff. I then set-up an interpreter service which proved very successful.

“In 1995, I co-founded Age Care Association, which now has six meetings points for members to exchange thoughts, experiences and problems about living in Spain. It was this involvement that prompted me to consider writing a PhD – and as they say, the rest is history.”

This PhD is the latest in a long list of academic achievements for Charles, who was previously a head teacher at two UK schools in the 1960s.

With Master’s degrees from both Brighton University and Nottingham University already under his belt – Charles has not let distance deter him from achieving his ultimate academic goals.

“I have always been interested in academia. During a tourist visit to the USA I discovered that I could obtain a Doctorate in Education by long distance learning. I obtained this Doctorate in 2005, but I wanted to obtain a PhD from the UK.”

Charles, who is a grandfather of three and great grandfather of two, explains that his background was traditional working class.

“I was born into a solid working-class family, I had four brothers. My mother was a housewife and my father was a deep sea fisherman – his occupation as a trawler chief engineer meant that he was away for weeks at a time.

“No one in my family were, what you might call now, University educated, nor did I really get any support from my parents. It wasn’t that they were not interested, it was just a different world than they were used to.”

Charles left school at the age of 14 without any qualifications and joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers at the age of 18. He served five years before being wounded in France in 1944 and sent back to the UK. Two years ago, Charles was awarded the French medal Legion D’Houneur for his services in World War Two.

After the war had ended, Charles recalled that it was a simple note on a notice board that kick started his career in education and his eventual academic aspirations.

“Just before I left the army I saw an item on the Battalion notice board which said that when the war was finally over there would be a need for teachers. I decided to apply for a fortnight’s teaching course

“I was accepted and trained at the Kirkby College of Education in Liverpool. I have often thought about why I was accepted especially as I didn’t have the necessary qualifications. Although later, when undertaking a search of my family history I discovered that some of my ancestors had been teachers, so education was clearly in my genes.”

Charles will be joined by his wife, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren when he is awarded his PhD on Thursday July 26th.