Death of Burnley teacher who escaped Communist Czechoslovakia

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A TEACHER who was much-loved by three generations of Burnley pupils has died aged 85.

But few of the hundreds of students she taught at Towneley High School over 22 years knew of the dramatic events that led Stania Buckland being able to leave the then-hardline Communist state of Czechoslovakia at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s.

Or how she outwitted the regime to marry the man she adored and come to the town she came to cherish.

Mrs Buckland, born Stanislava Hamrova in 1927, spent her teenage years under Hitler’s Nazi regime after it invaded her country before the Second World War.

Then she had to survive the Communist dictatorship after the conflict ended, teaching English in Prague.

But when Burnley man Claude Buckland went on a coach holiday to Czechoslovakia more than half a century ago the two fell in love when they met as she acted as tour guide during her summer holidays.

When widower Mr Buckland and Stania applied to marry she was sacked from her job and hauled up before a party committee and denounced as a “traitor” for wanting to wed a “capitalist” foreigner.

Claude Buckland was refused a visa to even visit her.

So, for three years, they kept the romance going by love letters.

But neither of them gave up and, in 1963, Stania outfoxed the Communists through an old university friend who was working as a secretary to the Czech Prime Minister.

Part of her pal’s job was to present her boss with a huge pile of documents - some authorising executions of enemies of the regime – for his signature.

She slipped in an authortisation for Stania to marry ex-wartime RAF navigator Claude and emigrate – almost unheard of at the time.

The dangerous trick worked and they were married in Prague on December 28th 1963.

They then came to England where they were picked up by one of Mr Buckland’s three sons, 19-year-old Chris, who had accompanied his father on that first trip. But Stania’s problems were not over. One day Claude came home from work for the then Ministry of Power in Manchester to find his wife missing.

With the help of his friend from Towneley Methodist Church, the then Burnley Chief Constable Newton Greenwood, he discovered she had been taken to Preston for questioning by the Special Branch who wanted to ask her about how she broke through the Iron Curtain.

The couple were reunited and spent the next 23 years together before Claude died in 1986.

But Stania, who lived in Orpen Avenue, Rosehill, refused to leave Burnley, a town she had grown to love.

She died in the Royal Blackburn Hospital on April 17th, after a hip operation is believed to have caused a massive heart attack.

Her funeral is due to be held at Burnley Crematorium tomorrow (Wednesday).