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The Story of William Robert Buckland

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The Story of William Robert Buckland

In November 2005 part of the history of William Buckland appeared on National Television in a programme called "Not Forgotten".

This was the culmination of many years' research, hard work and a lot of good luck. Dick Monk who is a member of Penryn Royal British Legion, a retired C.P.O.,did the research, he joined the Navy in 1954 as an apprentice. Dick's wife, Carole Monk, was a Wren for a short period when they met and she later taught at Penryn Junior School for many years.

When Dick first met Carole's family in London he found out that her Grandfather, had been killed early in the Great War, at the Battle of Aisne. This was not talked about within the family, but Dick decided that the man must not be forgotten and over the next few years managed to prize a few pieces of information which proved to be crucial in the search.

William, who came from the East Grinstead area, had three children each born in the area of a Coldstream Guards Barracks and his brother, Ernest, was also a Coldstream Guardsman. At this time however none of the rest of his family were known.

Fifteen years ago Dick started putting bits and pieces together. In pre Internet days the time scale for research was much slower, Census returns were checked, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission contacted and William's records were found. The records for Guardsmen were, luckily, kept in the Guards own store and although very limited were not damaged or destoryed by bombing in World War 2, as were 80% of the other army records. From these records Dick built up the basic structure of their life for this period.

William had left the Guards in 1913 to work for Westminster Council and the family livied near to the Guards barracks in Peabody Buildings, Pimlico. William was re called in August 1914, he sailed to France and caught up with the 1st Battalion at Mons. He fought during the retreat, the Battle of The Marne, and then, on the morning of the 14th September attacked the Chemin Des Dames above the river Aisne. This area was fought over for the rest of the war, both above ground and in the large caves underground. It was here that trench warfare started, when on this date, the opposing army's ground to a halt

From the information so far, we knew that William was wounded in the attack and that he died on the 16th September at the village of Troyon at the foot of the valley and buried in the churchyard. The village and church however were subsequently destroyed and the area so dangerous and badly damaged that the village was not rebuilt after the war. William's grave was destroyed but, as it was known that his body was in the vicinity, after the war a separate tombstone was placed for him a few hundred yards away at Vendresse Military Cemetery. By November 1914 the casualties had been so great that the Coldstream Guards had only 150 men and no officers left out of the one thousand who started at the end of August.

It was at this point that Dick's first stroke of luck showed itself. Talking to Stella, the widow, back in the 1960's, she had told him that in the 1930's a window cleaner had seen the photogragraph of William and his medals, which were on a plaque in the room, (this photo was later destroyed). He recognised William and said that he was with him when he was killed! The story which she related to Dick, but which none of the rest of the family knew, was that William was wounded, taken to Troyon church, which was used as a field hospital and there died by "masonry falling on him". After the war, Ernest, who fought about 4 miles away, said that he had been killed by a clean shot to the head, so this change came as quite a shock.
The war diary of the Coldstream Guards was destroyed a few weeks later at Ypres when they were overrun, so Dick started searching all of the diaries of the battalions who fought in the same area. From these a picture of the events was built up. The final piece of the jigsaw came to light when found a letter from Lt.Colonel Ponsonby, the C.O. of the 1st Battalion. He was wounded in the same attack and said that when the Coldstream Guards were attacking the sugar factory at Cerny on the Chemin Des Dames, about fifty of them had reached the wall when shellfire brought the chimney down on them killing or wounding most. We knew that it was only the wounded from this area who were lucky enough to be withdrawn to Vendresse and Troyon so we now had a place for the "falling masonry".
Dick and Carole spent several years finding old post cards of the area doing "before and after" photos of the villages, but we regretted not having a photo of William.
Dick decided to write to the East Grinstead local newspaper (where William had grown up) asking if any readers had any knowledge of the family. The next week, a letter with photos arrived from an unknown cousin. One picture of Ernest being married, in his front line uniform, on the 1 year anniversary of the death of William (he was home on leave) and another on of William in his uniform. This had been given to the cousin by a nephew of two "Deacon" brothers who had lived near William as boys. It seem that they had all joined the army together in about 1907 and been killed at about the same time, one of them being one of the 300 killed or missing guardsmen in the same attack.
The information was all put together in book form and Dick, Carole and Valerie, Carole's sister, went once more to France and held a memorial ceremony. We were greatly helped by the local village of Vendresse and the museum "Caverne du Dragon".

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