|Tribute to May Buckingham - 23 July
First of all, my I say how pleased I am to see so many people here, whether family, members of this church or Mum's wider circle of friends. You represent the various strands of my mothers life. Of course, everyone's view of a person is slightly different. We meet people under different circumstances, at different phases of their lives and have different connections with them. But from the cards and comments we've received, there emerges a consistent theme, with descriptions of my mother as a lovely lady, someone who had time for others and a wonderful sense of humour.
This, of course, was a woman born 100 years ago, just 8 months after the first world war had broken out. But, despite this, one of her very first memories was a happy one. When she was only 3 years old her father took her to the front step of the house. He told her that there would be a lot of loud noises, but that she shouldn't be afraid. These were happy sounds because they were the sounds of the sirens and church bells marking the end of that terrible war. He wanted her to remember that time. And she did.
Mum was the youngest child of the large Jones family and she lived to be the last of her generation. Her, father Abram Jones, worked on the railways in Cardiff. He didn't earn a great deal, but they coped. What they lacked in money they made up for in being a happy and loving family. She and her brothers and sisters spanned an age range of 16 years years and so, as a little child, she regarded her elder sisters as being more like supplementary mothers. She was though close to her sister Gwen who was only a few years older than her. They used to play together and, later on, walk to work together and often went rowing on Roath Park lake in the early morning. And they fell into the lake together.
Adamsdown Gospel Hall, where her father was one of the elders, was of course very important to them and Mum remained a member at successive Gospel Halls throughout her lifetime, including this one which she and my father joined when we came to live in the Midlands. Indeed, she met my father when Adamsdown Gospel Hall and Minster Gospel Hall together decided to start a new gospel hall in a developing area of Cardiff. My father was a representative of Minster and my mother of Adamsdown. I suppose you could say that there was a merger.
To go back a little, however, my mother's interests at school centred around writing and painting. She always enjoyed painting, but won a number of prizes, both locally and nationally, for her essays and poems. She would tell the story of the prize of 10 shillings she won for an essay and which was sent to Miss Jones – but the wrong Miss Jones - by the committee. The Miss Jones in question was in fact her teacher and she came around to the house to deliver the 10/- to Mum on Christmas Eve, a kind gesture which stayed with my mother for the rest of her life.
You may find it difficult to believe, but Mum was in fact the head girl at her school. She reported directly to the Headmistress. Not that this meant going on to higher education. The family simply couldn't afford it. So a few days after her 14th birthday, her mother had found her a job in a shop – Peacocks - selling fabric. The hours were long, the rats ran around in the basement where the shop-assistants had their lunch and the job was poorly paid. The clincher was when the boss gave a number of them a lift in his car after the Christmas celebrations. His driving scared her to death and she decided to move on.
Obviously a determined, head-girl type of person, she soon found a better paid job in a haberdashery in one of the arcades in Cardiff and then subsequently started working in the lingerie department of James Howell. This was an upmarket department store frequented by the wealthier and slightly more rotund ladies of Cardiff. Mum seemed to get on very well, becoming quite expert in the fitting of corsets. She was even promoted to running her own kiosk at the main entrance, because of what would now be called her “people skills”, much to the envy of the other girls – she was on commission and doing very nicely.
My parents married in September 1940, the day after Cardiff had been bombed for the first time. In fact, their photographer was injured in the bombing and so there are only a couple of photos of the event, taken with someone's Box Brownie.
Immediately after the wedding, they went to live in a rented house in Filton, Bristol, where my father had been working for a little while. He worked at the Filton Aircraft factory and their house looked out on the factory itself. My father was normally part of the day-shift but had the whole week off after the marriage. My mother used to recount the tale that during the Wednesday morning of their honeymoon, my father had gone to the barbers – no doubt to get his usual short back and sides. Towards midday, my mother was in the kitchen, making a rice pudding. The kitchen was at the front of the house and she was looking out of the window at the factory while she was preparing the meal.
She was just about to put the rice pudding in the oven, when she saw a part of the factory erupt, “just like a volcano” she said, and a moment later there was the sound of an immense explosion. A few minutes later, my father arrived at the front door. He stood there and said "I won't need my key then". The door was flat on the floor and the roof was blown off. The kitchen window, my mother and the rice pudding were all undamaged.
They moved to another rented house where they were bombed out again shortly afterwards. Hearing the air-raid warning, they would normally have gone down to the Anderson air-raid shelter in the garden. Fortunately, my father went to check it first, He found that it was still flooded from the rain there had been, and so they took refuge under the stairs instead. A bomb dropped in the garden from a plane which was shedding its load on the way back to Germany. It blew the shelter clean out of the ground. They decided to move back to Cardiff where it was thought it would be a little safer, only a little while later to find an unexploded incendiary bomb in the back garden. My mother was the unlikely ARP warden for the street and so ran down the road to the nearest phone box to get the bomb disposal squad. So then, not a straightforward start to their married life.
After the war, my father went back to being a printer instead of remaining as an aircraft engineer. It was a standing joke in my family that every Friday he would cut out the job adverts from the newspaper in order to try to get a better job. One such application came to fruition and as a result, in 1954, we moved to Smethwick. John was 10 and I was 7 and we made the 100 mile journey on the pillion and in the side car of my Uncle George's motor bike.
As many of you will know, my father was very ill for many years. He insisted on going to work as often as he could, despite his frailty. But Mum had the task of looking after him when he became too weak to continue. Following his death in 1973, my mother went back to work, this time in the curtain department of Welch & Rayner on Cape Hill, until she finally retired.
As you can imagine, John's death in 2001 was a considerable blow for her, but she did her best not to be overwhelmed by it.
I came across Mum's passport the other day. It reminded me that her destinations were not limited to Cardiff, Weston super Mare and Barry Island. She was also a rather far-flung member of Coleshill Twinning Association, and we took her and Heather's parents to France on quite a few occasions, to savour the delights of French cuisine and better weather.
Progressively losing her sight was very difficult for her, as she could no longer read or paint. And of course just doing what we all do as part of our daily lives became a major problem. Whatever happened to her, though, whether good or bad, my mother always tried to smile, to be positive about things and to do what she could for others, rather than dwelling on her problems. For her this was an integral part of her Christian faith. Like the rest of her family, she was quite knowledgeable when it came to the scriptures, and was a regular reader of the Bible, but there is a passage in Chapter 25 of Matthew's gospel which was the most significant for my mother. For her, it summed up what it meant to be a Christian:
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
So then, although losing a mother is hard, her quality of life had become extremely poor. And so it was with a feeling of sadness, but also with considerable relief that we saw my mother slip away. I'm sure that we shall all try to remember her in happier days.