Well known Buxton man celebrates 100th birthday

A well-known resident with a vast knowledge of Buxton history celebrated his 100th birthday last week.

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 8:56 am

Oliver Gomersal marked the milestone on Friday with a small gathering of friends at Monyash Village Hall, with High Peak Mayor Councillor Paul Hardy and his wife Mayoress Mary also in attendance.

Oliver is known to many people for his vast knowledge of local history, particularly of his hometown, Buxton. This knowledge was put to good use when he collaborated with local historians, Mike Langham and Colin Wells during the research and publication of their books covering various aspects of the town’s history.

Born in 1921, he was the son of Arthur and Gertrude Gomersal. Arthur was a well known footballer and cricketer, entertainer and collector of books and paintings. Gertrude was a popular pianist in the town who during the first war played regularly for the soldier patients in the Devonshire Hospital, and also in a trio in the Pump Room during the mornings, and in Boots Cafe in the afternoons.

Oliver Gomersal celebrates his 100th birthday

He was a pupil at Kents Bank Road School from which he won a scholarship to Buxton College. After leaving school he studied the history of printing, lettering and layout at Twickenham Technical College. He went on to work in the Treasurer’s Department at Buxton Town Hall.

After the outbreak of war he joined the Home Guard and in 1941 joined the RAF and trained as an Observer ( Air Navigator and Bomb Aimer). His main flying training was in Oudtshoorn in South Africa.

On his return to England he went on a specialist course at Squires Gate (Blackpool) airport for work in Coastal Command and cooperation with the Navy. From here he went to Silloth in the Solway Firth to “crew up” and learn to fly in Wellington aircraft. He was then posted to a new squadron being formed in East Africa to patrol the NW area of the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden to counter the increased submarine activity due to the reopening of the Suez Canal. His squadron took over a brand new Wellington X111 and after two weeks ferry training in South Wales they flew flew our aircraft out to East Africa.

Oliver honed his navigation skills flying by night over Northern Africa and Somaliland by the use of “dead reckoning” with none of today’s modern navigational aids. He was flying with another crew whilst their navigator was sick, when they found a boat and raft loaded with survivors from a torpedoed ship, and were able to get them picked up by the Navy. Also, whilst flying with his own crew they depth charged a German submarine which had just dived, and forced it to the surface. It was eventually captured and a lot of intelligence material was obtained. After completing a year in East Africa and the Indian Ocean he returned to the UK where he attended a special centre for Transport Command work which was then expanding, to do with the safe loading of aircraft as regards the centre of gravity, weight, and the handling of passengers and freight.

Oliver Gomersal (centre) celebrates his 100th birthday with High Peak Mayor Cllr Paul Hardy and his wife, Mayoress Mary Hardy.

After the war he resumed his job in the Buxton Council Treasurer’s department in a new “Costing Office” and in 1963 he moved to the Highways Department on Market Street and was put in charge of the Office & Highway Stores for 8 years. In 1971 he returned to the Surveyor’s Department as Chief Clerk until local government reorganisation in 1974, when he became a senior administrator in the Technical Services Department which dealt with similar work over all the now grouped North Derbyshire towns of “Borough of High Peak”. He retired in 1979.

Oliver was married to his wife, Marjorie who was known and loved by such a wide circle of people, until her death in 2008. They enjoyed interesting holidays over England, Scotland and Wales and were both members of both the National Trust and English Heritage.

In earlier days Oliver was a keen cricketer and played the game whilst at Buxton College and during his time with the RAF. He played tennis in Buxton local parks and became a member (and later Treasurer) of the Buxton Gardens Lawn Tennis Club situated at the end of the promenade and now a car park. He was also a member of the Buxton Spa Table Tennis Club.

In 1951 he walked to London with an ex-RAF friend. Starting off from Dovedale this was one of the most interesting weeks he ever spent.

Oliver always had a keen interest in the history of Buxton and In 1980 was invited to join the Buxton Archaeological and History Society where he was eventually made a life member in 2012. He addressed the society on a number of occasions and contributed from time to time to the periodical newsletter which was started during his term as Chairman.

In about 1990 he was invited to join the committee of the “Friends of Buxton Cottage Hospital”, on which he served for a number of years, helping with the various “efforts” to raise money, and at one time he was the Chairman.

Despite a gradual deterioration in his health, particularly his eyesight, he remains independent in his own home and to this day is still regularly consulted for his memories of the late 1920s and 30s.

Paying tribute to him, Trevor Gilman, Chair of Buxton Local History Society, said: “Oliver is our oldest and longest serving member. He attends almost every one of our monthly meetings and always has something interesting and informative to contribute- whatever the subject. His depth and breadth of knowledge of Buxton history is truly amazing!

“We are looking forward to seeing Oliver as soon as current restrictions allow.”