Nostalgia: Chorley mathematician Bernard Cannon was a contemporary of Albert Einstein

When Lancashire mathematician Bernard Cannon was busy doing his sums at school, he never imagined he would end up working with Albert Einstein.

Monday, 20th August 2018, 11:48 am
Updated Monday, 20th August 2018, 1:00 pm
Mathematician Bernard Cannon, of Euxton

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Described as a ‘quiet man,’ he never really talked about his work or his contemporaries, but there were plenty of people who were willing to shout about his academic success.

Born in Euxton to Joseph and Ellen Cannon, Bernard showed an enthusiasm for numbers at an early age.

Mathematician Bernard Cannon, of Euxton, while he was doing National Service in India

He gained a scholarship with Balshaw’s Grammar School and was taken on by the University of Liverpool from 1931 to 1934.

Whilst there, he placed in the first division of the final Bachelor of Science Lists and was awarded the Frank Stanton Carey Prize, which enabled him to enter the Honours School of Mathematics.

A year later, he got a first class honours in maths and was awarded a prestigious Derby Scholarship for post graduate research.

Unfortunately, he was unable to pursue this any further, as he received a letter from Lancashire County Council, informing him he owed £100 which he had borrowed for a grant a few years earlier.

Mathematician Bernard Cannon, of Euxton

He left his post at the university and took a job as assistant master at Bury Grammar School for a year, paying back the money.

Determined to go back into research and further his education, he applied for a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship to attend any university he wanted in America and was successful.

He decided to undertake advanced graduate work in mathematics at the Graduate College, Princeton University, where Albert Einstein was also working.

Bernard’s achievements were printed in the Lancashire Daily Post article, in January 1940.

Mathematician Bernard Cannon, of Euxton, at University of Liverpool

The article says: “His father told a colleague that his son seldom spoke about his work or about people like Einstein who were at Princeton. He has had several papers published by the London Mathematical Society and seems destined for a high position in the world of mathematics.”

Bernard had set sail on Laconia ship from Liverpool on September 10 1938, ready for his next academic challenge at Princeton.

His niece, who did not wish to be named, says: “He was really excited. All his expenses were paid for by the Commonwealth Fund Fellowship. That paid for everything.

“He was told what to do and what he needed. He had to carry his books in boxes, rather than suitcases.

Lancashire Post article January 27 1940 about Bernard Cannon, of Euxton

“I don’t really know much about his time there and how much he worked with Einstein.

“He met up with several scholarly people there and went on several trips, including the national park there.

“His uncle Albert had emigrated to Canada, so Bernard had planned to visit him. But immigration said he couldn’t go as he had to report in every day.”

Bernard returned to the UK in June 1940 and was called up to do National Service in the Second World War.

Speaking about the war, Bernard had told the Lancashire Daily Post: “World war Two was a great shock to us, though we had seen that it was inevitable.”

His niece adds: “He got called up as a normal civilian to go into the air force. He worked in India, spotting planes. As he was a doctor, people thought he was there as a medical practitioner and so he had to explain that he was a professor in mathematics.

Mathematician Bernard Cannon, of Euxton, at Balshaw's. Pictured front row, second right

“His name was well known overseas. The University of Cairo published some of his work.

“He was happy in India and didn’t want to go back, but he had to return and was demobbed in 1946.”

Bernard moved to Leicester, getting a job at a boarding school. He lived in a boarding house with Mrs Tyrell and found love with her daughter, Lucy, who was a widow, with two children.

He died in Leicester 1984, aged 70, leaving behind a legacy in the world of mathematics.

Professor of Pure Maths at Liverpool University JM Whittaker, wrote a glowing reference, saying: “He permits an undue modesty to cloak his attainments but this will not bar his success as a teacher. He is one of the ablest mathematicians I have ever taught.”

L Rosenhead, Professor of applied mathematics added he was “one of the best students I have had.”

His niece adds: “Uncle Bernard was a quiet man and softly spoken. He was very gentle and never pushed himself forward.

“When I knew uncle Bernard, he lived in Leicester but would come up to Euxton during the school holidays.

“He had two twin brothers, Hubert and Arthur, Sadly Arthur died aged 15 from diphtheria. He also had two sisters, Margaret and Ellen, who was my mum. Their mum, Ellen, died when my mum was only 12, in December 1928 so the children were brought up by their father.

“My mum moved to Adlington, uncle Arthur lived in Chorley and Margaret moved away to Coventry.

“I remember going to my grandad’s when Bernard would visit. He played whist with us. My grandad was deaf and Bernard had brought back some records from America. He would play Beethoven’s Fifth so loud so grandad could hear it.”

One of Bernard Cannon's maths papers
Commonwealth Fund Fellowship letter about Bernard Cannon's Princeton scholarship
One of Bernard Cannon's maths papers