Continuing our series on war heroes buried in the Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries, David Platt and Michael Martin have written this account of the life of Commander Buckle
Located in the Brockley section of the Cemetery is the headstone of Archibald Walter Buckle. He rose from a private to command the Anson Battalion in the Royal Naval Division (RND). He was the only officer to be awarded the DSO with three bars; he was recommended for the Victoria Cross, was wounded three times and mentioned in dispatches five times. Winston Churchill referred to Buckle as one of the `salamanders born in the furnace,' who survived `to lead, to command, and to preserve the sacred continuity.'
Archibald Buckle, a school teacher by profession, joined the RNVR in 1908, and at the outbreak of war was a Petty Officer. He cut short his honeymoon, returning to London on the 4th August 1914, responding to the call up of Royal Naval reservists. When the mobilisation was completed the Admiralty found it had a huge surplus of Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves, this after manning the fleet and shore establishments to maximum capacity. Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, decided to form them into two naval brigades which, together with the Brigade of Marines, would make up the Naval Division. The First Brigade comprised of the battalions Benow, Collingwood, Hawke and Drake; the Second Brigade comprising the battalions of Howe, Hood, Anson and Nelson. Buckle joined the ill fated expedition to defend Antwerp as part of the Drake Battalion, and on his return was he was commissioned as Temporary Sub-Lieutenant in December 1914
The invasion of Turkey through Gallipoli, was the idea of Winston
Churchill, the ultimate aim was to knock the Turks out of the war by threatening their capital, Constantinople. When the attempt to smash the central defences of the Dardanelles by naval means failed on 18 March, a military force was assembled and plans were made to capture the shoreline of the Gallipoli Peninsula and so allow the naval campaign to be resumed. It was decided to use the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corp), the 29th Division and the RN Division to achieve this, although other Army divisions were added to the fray later in the campaign.
Buckle was promoted to a Lieutenant in March 1915 and transferred to the Anson Battalion, and there followed a trying period for him, but extremely useful to the Division. Draft after draft of officers and men departed for Gallipoli, but time after time Buckle was retained because of his value in the training of officers and men. Like a hound straining at the leash, he longed to take his part in what he felt to be his job in the line and he had many arguments with those in authority in which Buckle was bound to come off second best. It was not until 1916 that his chance came at last and he went to France.
After the evacuation from Gallipoli the Army asked that the Royal Naval Division be disbanded but Parliament refused this request. However, the Army won the right to command the division and in April 1916 transferred the Division from the Admiralty to the War Office (Army). The War Office then decided to transfer the RN Division to the Western Front. It was at this time that the Army re-designated the RN Division the 63rd Division. In addition the
Division’s three brigades were re-designated the 188th, 189th and the 190th.
The 63rd (RN Division) was not immediately committed to the Battle of the Somme that opened on 1 July 1916. The division found itself in a support role up to the beginning of November 1916. However, the division took losses
right from the start of their deployment. During this period the Army attempted to insert control over the RN Division but were resisted by an “esprit-de-corps” that the Army never overcame. The division maintained its traditions, even to the use of ships’ bells, and the men regarded themselves as Naval Service first and foremost, even though they had to wear khaki and carry a rifle instead of being at sea. To bring the RN Division under control the Army Command appointed Major General Shute in 1916 and immediately on his arrival he ordered the RN element to wear Army rank insignia. The RN Division obeyed to the letter and wore the Army rank insignia on one arm and the Navy rank insignia on the other.
On the 13 November 1916 the 63rd (RN) Division was moved along the Ancre River in an attempt to give the lagging Somme offensive another push. On that day the division attacked at Beaumont-Hamel and their losses were fearful, although they did make gains and captured Beaucourt. This offensive continued through to 15 November 1916, by which time the division was exhausted.
The division remained on the Ancre for the remainder of the year and were still there in January 1917 when they were involved in costly operations along the river from 20 January to 27 February 1917. Buckle was involved in these struggles on the Somme, and in one incident his “old Burberry which he was wearing was riddled by bullets, and he sustained not a scratch”. In March 1917 he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander.
In April 1917 the 189th and 190th Brigades went into action around Gavrelle in the Battle of Arras. Buckle again proved his worth and firmly established his position as a redoubtable military leader. It was noted “How well one remembers his coolness in organising the men when practically every officer had been lost.” Although Buckle's prowess was recommended for recognition during this engagement, he did not receive any honours, although his undoubted gift for leadership was displayed, and this laid the foundations for his future promotion and success. The division experienced heavy losses around Gavrelle and spent the next months on this sector defending the gains made.
The Division was transferred to Belgium in preparation for the next big push which was the Third Battle of Ypres or Passchendaele Between 26th October to 5th November 1917 the RN Division was committed to the battle. When Third Ypres had run its course the RN Division were transferred to the Cambrai sector to refit for another deployment to the Ypres front. When the division was there the Cambrai front imploded and the RN Division was sent forward to help normalise the situation. It was here they experienced heavy losses.
When 1918 began the Germans were back behind the Hindenburg Line and had soaked up everything the Allied High Command had thrown at them except for a salient punched through their lines at Cambrai. In March 1918 Buckle was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, DSO. This was a high award for meritorious or distinguished service rather than an act of gallantry, although in many cases during 1914-1918 it is not easy to discriminate between these two reasons for granting an award; in fact in some cases it appears that a DSO was awarded when perhaps a full recommendation for a VC could not be justified or corroborated.
The RN Division was still up on the Cambrai Sector in March
1918 when the front collapsed when the Germans launched their Spring
Offensive. The offensive carried all before it but it met heavy resistance all
the way. The RN Division battalions were present at the bitter defences of St-
Quentin and First Bapaume. Finally the RN Division found itself back on the
Ancre River on 5 April 1918, where they had been more than a year before,
and defending that line against the massive assaults made by the German
Buckle won the 1st of his three Bars for this DSO. The London Gazzette citation reads:
T./Lt.-Cmdr. Archibald . Walter Buckle,
D.S.O., R.N.D., R.N.V.R.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of a battalion. He
repelled the enemy's attack, organised a counter-attack, and drove the enemy com-
' pletely out of the menaced area. It was largely due to his courage, initiative and
leadership that this important success was obtained.
The German attack faltered in front of Albert. The RN Division were in the Battle of Albert (21-23 August 1918) and Second Arras (26th August to 3rd September 1918) that turned the tide against the Germans and it was from here that the period of the war called the Advance to Victory began. In August Buckle won this second Bar:
AWARDED A SECOND BAB TO DISTINGUISHED SERVICE OBDEB.
T./Comdr. Archibald Walter Buckle,D.S.O., Anson Bn., R.N.D., R.N.V.R.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When the progress of the brigade at
a critical moment was checked by machinegun fire, he went forward himself with his
battalion staff, reorganised his battalion and led it forward on to commanding ground,
seriously threatening the enemy's retreat. The success of the operation was largely due
to his courage and fine leadership.
The RN Division was in action at the battle and subsequent crossing of the Canal du Nord between 27 September and 1 October 1918 and the division captured Niergnies, near Cambrai, on 8 October 1918, where Buckle won his third Bar. The enemy counter-attacked in force, seven captured British tanks were moving forward against the British line. For a time the situation was doubtful, but Commander Buckle and Commander Pollock (of the Hood Battalion) restored the situation, each personally putting one tank out of action, by turning on it a captured anti-tank rifle and a captured field gun respectively.
Commander A W Buckle, DSO, RNVR : 1919
Three weeks before Easter 1927 he scratched his arm while mending a car. The injury turned into a boil and despite being hospitalized (against his will) it turned septic and ‘eventually the poison crept into his old war wounds and his bones.’ He died aged just 38, on 6 May 1927.
Full military honours were accorded the deceased hero, the coffin being conveyed from the house in 33 Crescent-way, Brockley, to the Church on a gun carriage drawn by six horses with outriders. The coffin which was covered with the Union Jack also bore the Commander's sword and five medals. A number of the deceased's comrades in the Anson Battalion walked beside the coffin and the boys of the Rotherhithe Nautical School, where he was Headmaster formed a guard of honour in the church grounds.
A friend said he “sometimes appeared staccato and abrupt, not over tactful to outside appearances. But it was a tactlessness born of a love of directness, hatred of pretence or of veneer. For to Buckle sham of any sort was like a red rag to a bull, and second as a provocative only to injustice.”
His medals are in the keeping of the IWM
The National Archive (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ )
Imperial War Museum (http://london.iwm.org.uk/)
The London Gazette ( http://www.gazettes-online.co.uk/ )
Naval Forces and Merchant Navy War Graves (www.rnmnwargraves.org.uk/ )