As well as providing a focal point for the heritage of The Peak District, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is also a meeting place for the local community. One of our most frequent visitors is a Buxton resident called Cynthia who makes use of the public computers at the museum. More often than not, Cynthia is there to greet us when we open the door at 10am. It’s always nice to see a friendly face and get an early morning chuckle from one of her jokes or anecdotes. Cynthia often mentions her dad who was served in the RAF during World War 2 but her past is equally fascinating.
Cynthia lost an eye to a wayward arrow when she was just four years old. 67 years later, she still remembers being taken to Stockport Infirmary in a maroon-coloured ambulance and being put into a cot; the only child in a cot! The surgeon, Mr Faulkner, told Cynthia’s mum and dad that he could save her eye but there was a risk she would be completely blind by the time she was 14. They decided to completely remove it and Cynthia was the town’s first ever recipient of an artificial plastic eye. Not only did she overcome the accident but Cynthia developed a new party trick; taking out her eye and showing it to her school pals at playtime. The entertainment was brought to an end when the head teacher called mum and dad. At home, they “grizzled” at her and she wasn’t allowed out at playtime for six weeks.
Cynthia’s mum died when she was 8 but her dad, Ernest did a wonderful job of bringing her up. Holidays were at the seaside but one year, they went to Downham Market in Norfolk where Ernest was stationed in the war and met Mr and Mrs Barlow, whom he used to stay with. Mr Barlow was the town’s railway signal man. One morning, he took Cynthia to the box and she was allowed to use the signals; under supervision, of course!
In 1977, Cynthia worked at a school and one of the teachers asked for volunteers for a charity parachute jump and she and her dad got involved. Despite being an RAF man, Ernest had never jumped. He was the eldest of the volunteers and the event soon attracted the attention of the media. Ernest hit the headlines. He went on to do a lot more parachuting and even tried hand-gliding and hot-air ballooning.
Cynthia recalls the adventures with her dad with great fondness. A couple of years ago, she developed a problem with her eye and had an operation in Manchester. She learnt a few things from her consultant:
1) She was not the youngest person in Stockport to have an artificial plastic eye but the youngest in the country.
2) She is no longer classified as having an artificial eye but a prosthetic limb.
3) Her “eye fitter” is now called a prosthetic engineer.
Cynthia often laughs at the way things have changed. She has researched what her dad did in the RAF during the war as it was kept under wraps for years afterwards. This final story from Ernest himself gives you an insight into the tenacity and spirit that she has clearly inherited.
I was in a Bomber Squadron based in Norfolk during World War Two. Our aircraft were dispersed for miles around the huge airfield, which was surrounded by woods. Next to our aircraft on the edge of these woods, was a Nissen hut. This was our home. One Christmas, we were ordered to stand-by for operations, despite the fact that the ground was covered in snow a foot deep with huge, mountainous drifts.
I had promised to ring my wife at 19.00hrs. The nearest phone was a lonely road on the other side of the woods so, giving myself plenty of time due to the adverse weather conditions, I decided to set off an hour early. After struggling through the snow drifts, I finally reached my destination with seconds to spare. My relief turned to misery when after my battle against the elements, the operator greeted me with “sorry, the phone lines are fully booked until 21.00hrs”.
In order not to be caught out again, I booked a call myself for 21.00hrs. Not fancying the thought of standing around for two hours, I set off again on my bleak trek through the woods, back towards civilisation, and the hut. I crawled and crawled, finally arriving there at 20.00hrs. I looked in and explained my situation to the lads; they were highly amused at my predicament. Well, an hour there, an hour back and an hour left before I was due to place my call. Off I set once more, to fight my way back through the frozen wastes of Norfolk.
I made it with two minutes to spare, the operator connected my call and I then managed to wish my dear wife a Belated Merry Christmas. It was roughly 22.00hrs when I arrived back. I was cold, wet and thoroughly exhausted.
The Squadron Leader had invited Joe Loss and his Band over for the evening, to give a little comfort to those of us who weren’t on duty. And despite my physical sufferings, I couldn’t help but smile when during my journey, I heard their melodic rendition of In the Mood. It was a Christmas Night I will always remember.