More than Meets the Eye…

Muriel Cryer was born in 1917, the only daughter of John Henry Cryer and his wife Emily in Littleborough, Lancashire.


2 John Henry Cryer 19073 Emily Cryer 1907

She had 3 brothers, Eric, Donald and horold but she was the only girl and she was the apple of her father's eye. John Henry was a big man in the town of Littleborough, he supplied all the coal to the town and surrounding area, a venture which had made him a very wealthy man indeed. He was the first person in Littleborough to own a motorcar.


He built the family a large, detached house, set in fields and called it 'Woodside'. Whilst it was being built John Henry would carry Muriel across the field from their current house, with his Airedale dog runing alongside, to see how things were progressing. Woodside is still there today and is still surrounded on 2 sides by fields.

While she was in her teens Muriel met John Mingham, known as Jack, a local lad from a respectable family.


As used to happen in small towns across the world, the two became close and gradually began 'courting' as it's known up North. They were a very ordinary couple who did very ordinary things, they went on trips to the sea (chaperoned of course!), they went to the pictures, they visited each other's families.




Everyone expected a wedding and they weren't disappointed.


The wedding was on 26th December 1939 but things were not so simple at that time. War had been declared and fabric was becoming harder to get hold of so Muriel's dress was made of parachute silk. The rumours of war had been rumbling around the country for some time before it was actually declared and Jack, in common with so many other young men, had made the decision to join the forces. He was an airman, a sergeant in the RAF and only a couple of months after the wedding, early in 1940, he was posted away from the area and Muriel was left back in Littleborough waiting for news, as so many other women were doing.

Jack was in 59Sqn Royal Air Force Volunteers and flew in a crew with two other men Wiliam Powell (pictured on the right with Jack on the left) and Sydney Collier.


On the 28th April 1941 they were sent out in their Blenheim on an operation to the Dutch coast. The place was shot down over the Hook of Holland and none of the men survived. Jack was 26, William was 22 and Sydney just 21.

Muriel wa still back in Littleborough waiting for news. She always said afterwards that she knew when he left the last time that he wouldn't be coming back but what could she do? He was a serving airman and the premonitions of his wife wouldn't have been enough to allow him leave to remain at home. He had to go. So she waited and waited and eventually the black edged telegram arrived, followed by a letter from the Red Cross.



As more information about the events surrounding the loss of the airmen filtered through to the Red Cross, she received a further letter.



The grave is at Hook of Holland cemetary and is tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who by all accounts take great care over them. She only visited it once, in the 1980s but flowers have been put on it regularly and every year I dedicate three little crosses in the Westminster Field of Remembrance, one to Jack, one to William and one to Sydney.




After Jack died, Muriel didn't know what to do. She didn't want to stay in Littleborough, thinking about how things might have been different, she wanted to run away to somewhere else but she didn't know where. Times were different then and a well brought up girl wouldn't have dreamed of venturing out into the world on her own. As she was walking through town one day she passed the recruiting office and on a whim she went in. By the end of the month she was in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).




Life in the WAAF was a learning experience for Muriel and an adventure too. She mixed with all sorts of girls, girls she would never have met if she'd stayed in Littleborough. She was a plotter, one of those women that you see in war films moving little planes around big tabletop maps with sticks. It was a prestigious position and required her to sign the Official Secrets Act, after all she was one of the few people who would know exactly where a squadron of planes were flying at any one time.

It was while working at an airbase that she bumped into Vernon Molloy. He always maintained that it was her smile that caught his eye.

Vernon was born and brought up in Salford (back row, third from right).



His family were poor but respectable and Vernon was clever. He worked hard at his studies and by the time Muriel met him he was a meteorologist in the forces.




Legend has it that he might have been more than a meteorologist, that the weather balloons that he and his team were sending out were more than they first appeared and that they were studying rather more than just wartime weather patterns but I don't suppose we'll ever know for certain.

Muriel and Vernon started 'stepping out' together. She had some concerns about it, Littleborough was a small town and some war widows had received condemnation and abuse for entering another relationship, some people felt it was disloyal to the memory of those who had died for their country. She didn't need to worry, her friends supported her, as did her father John Henry, his standing in the local community was enough to stop the gossips and the narrow minded from having words with her. There were probably mutterings behind closed doors but nothing was ever said to her directly.

Muriel and Vernon were married and she remained in the WAAF until she discovered she was pregnant with her first child, Ian, in 1945. Vernon was still in the forces and for most of their first decade together he was posted abroad, awat from her.



They wrote to each other almost every day, love letters, gossip, news of the children and descriptions of life in India, the Maldives, Gan, wherever he was at the time. The letters are all still together, in a huge box, hundreds and hundreds of them tied together in bundles. No one has ever taken them out and read them although I know they wouldn't mind. It seems like prying, the letters weren't written for anyone else to read.

Muriel and Vernon had 4 children, Ian, Susan and Colin (who are twins) and Vivienne who has born while they were living on the airbase at Buckeburg in Gemany in 1953. Buckeburg was a whirl of social events; parties, balls, dinners and gatherings. They lived well and Muriel used to send parcels of food home with the German lady that worked for them in the house. Germany was cripplingly poor after the war and it was hard for many ordinary Germans to feed their families (Muriel and Vernon are on the far left).




Eventually Vernon left the forces to help set up what is now the Met Office. The family settled in Cheshire and that's where Vernon and Muriel spent the rest of their lives together. They had 9 grandchildren and several great grandchildren who they doted on and who doted on them too, they were everything you imagine grandparents should be. Vernon, in the manner of John Henry, was a pillar of the local community and played the organ in the local church. Muriel was a well known embroideress, her work can still be seen in St Matthew's Church in Stretton. She did marriage guidance counselling for a while and she also used to conduct informative talks for the Mother's Union. Vernon died at home 5 years ago and Muriel followed him 3 years later, although her last 2 years were in a nursing home. They had been together for over 50 years.

Muriel and Vernon were in their 60s when I was born and for many years to me they were just 'Grandma' and 'Grandad'. She was the nice cheerful grandma who lived in a nice bungalow and who painted my nails pink, he was the grandad who used to take me and my brother on puddly walks and not mind if we jumped in a deep one and covered all of us in mucky water. I wasn't until I got older and she started to sit down with me and go through the hundreds of family photos with me, telling me the stories behind them that I started to realise there was more to this woman than I'd originally thought. She hadn't always been 'old', she'd once been my age, she'd done the things I did, thought what I thought and had been through things that I couldn't even imagine. She was more than just 'Grandma', she was also 'Mum' and 'Muriel' too. She was one thing to me but another to my mum and something different again to her brother's wives who had been her friends for decades. Once I realised this I started to see the similarities between us. We have the same eyes and the same shaped legs. We've also got the same sense of humour, the same intolerance for what we think is ridiculous and we've both got the tendency to run away when a serious problem hits.

A couple of weeks ago Baroness Warnock, a leading advisor to the government said that she believed that old people with dementia had a 'duty to die', that they should be put to sleep because of the drain that they put on their carers and the NHS. This surprised me because I would have thoguht a woman of her age would have learned to look beyond the facade of age and see the person behind it but apparently not. No one is just an old person and having spent time talking to the residents in the nursing home that my parents own I could tell you a thousand amazing stories passed on to me by the very people that Baroness Warnock would like to see euthanased. There's a world of history out there if you take the time to talk to those you come across instead of just writing them off as old and worthless. If Baroness Warnock hasn't realised this then I pity her because she's really missing out on a lot.

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15 Responses

  1. Thank you for this glimpse into your family. The Baroness reminds me of Scrooge.
    I will admit that I would have read the letters years ago, having done so with my own family's.

  2. I have thought about reading them but I think I'd feel a bit like I was spying on someone. Added to which they are in my parent's loft which is full of spiders so I'm too scared to go up there and get them. One day I will definately read them, I'm just not sure when.

  3. And the Baroness is a cow. She wouldn't be so flippant if it was her daughter chasing her ronud the living room with a copy of the will in one hand and the big. blue injection in the other!

  4. Wow Vicola….very, very interesting…and not an ordinaryl existance at all. That story had me at the first pic. It sounds like it was a rich life and wonderful life – treasure it for the memory. And yes the letters – I would have read them – imagine what stories are contained in them. Girl – right a book…or screen play…ooohhh that would be exciting. "Letters in the Loft"…the next big blockbuster!!
    As for the Baroness…phewy…what a stupid woman.

  5. This is is an incredible story….. Thank you SO much for sharing!

  6. [esto es genial]

  7. D'you know, they might make in intersting book, you're right.I might get them down from the loft and go through them this winter. Seriously, there are HUNDREDS of them!

  8. The Baroness is indeed a complete tosser. I bet a tenner that when she starts forgetting what she had for lunch she doesn't put herself forward for 'Bump off the Elderly' programme. Anyway, these people did their jobs and paid their tax and national insurance, why the bloody hell shouldn't they get something back in their later years?

  9. I could not stop reading once I got started! Ha!

  10. Life is so precious isn;t it?My grandad tells me the same stories over and over and I never tire of them.I could cry at the Baroness. This is pretty much a reflection of the attitude towards Luke. He is draining time, money and resources. Months ago the family were asked to sign Do Not Resusitate forms. Twice. And told months ago that Luke had weeks left. Bunged on a surgical ward and left to disappear. What the hell is wrong with people? How they sleep at night Il never know?

  11. What an interesting story, sad and joyful, and those photos are amazing. It is such a shame that so little time is given to actually listening to the seniors in our lives. They do have wonderful stories to share. I hope that someone will still listen to me in about 20 years time instead of wanting to euthanise me!

  12. I don't know how they sleep either. They just can't be bothered to find the individual behind the ill or old person and if they just took the time to listen to them talk or to listen to what the family have to say about their life or the person they were then maybe they'd show a little respect and a little concern. Luke is so lucky to have a supportive family and fiancee looking out for him, at least you know that there will always be someone there fighting his corner.

  13. Loved it, Vik. I could see the resemblance to your gran int eh very first photo of her. Lovely woman. You are so right she was interesting. i keep trying to imagine my grannie and yours sitting together.

  14. I suspect that they could have set the world to rights within the first ten minutes! I think they'd have seen eye to eye, my grandma also wore bright colours, always looked smart and wouldn't EVER leave the house unless the shoes and handbag matched the outfit.

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