The family of a Royal Marine who died in the First World War have spoken of their happiness after the identification of his grave, which had been marked as ‘unknown’ since his death.
Private Walter Buckley died on the last day of the First World War in Belgium, and his family were told there had been no remains to bury. Consequently, there was no grave for them to visit; the only official tribute was a name on a mass memorial in France.
However, after some detective work by his nephew, Mr Walter Evans, a report from a military historian, the assistance of his former MP Dan Rogerson, and the MOD’s Joint Casualty & Compassionate Centre (JCCC) in Gloucestershire, it has been confirmed the unnamed grave contains his uncle’s remains and this now bears all his details.
A moving ceremony of rededication was conducted at the grave this week at Tournai Communal Allied Cemetery, Belgium. The full details of Private Walter George Buckley, Royal Marine Light Infantry, are now on the headstone. He was killed on 10th November 1918, whilst serving with the Anson Battalion. 13 of his family travelled from Devon to Belgium to attend the Service. Many of the family have Service connections and one of the great nephews is currently serving in the British Army.
Mr Evans, of Launceston, in Cornwall (named after his uncle), said he had mixed feelings about the service: “It’s a really happy moment after so long. My uncle was an unknown soldier for 98 years and it’s a happy ending that his family can go to the grave and see his name there, knowing he has been officially identified.’’
He added: “The rededication service was very fitting and for me, very emotional and overwhelming. . The family was very moved that there were 15 veteran standard bearers from Belgian who attended. They were treating this as a band of brothers, which means a lot because otherwise they didn’t know who he was. We all agreed this was a special occasion. We’re also grateful to the Mayor of Tournai for the lovely reception after the ceremony.’’
Mr Evans’ mother, Dorothy, was Private Buckley’s sister. Mr Evans added: “But it’s a big shame that this event has come so late. For so long his family have always been told that he was blown to bits and that’s why there is no grave to visit. Most sadly this has come too late for his mother and brothers and my mother.’’
Royal Naval Chaplain Rev Tim Wilkinson, of the Royal Marines Training Centre in Lympstone, Devon, conducted the ceremony and a Royal Navy officer from the British Embassy in the Netherlands attended. A Royal Navy Bugler sounded the Last Post/Reveille. The local mayor was present and hosted a reception in the town hall following the service.
Buckley was originally buried as an ‘unknown seaman’ but an official identification case was submitted to the JCCC and after consultation with the Marine Historical branch was duly accepted.
Walter Buckley joined the Royal Marines (following in his father’s footsteps) in Plymouth on 31 May 1915. He gave his age on enlistment as 18 (although he was in fact 15) and enlisted for a term of 12 years, his mother, Mary was recorded as his next of kin. Prior to enlistment he was a baker and also worked in the Forum Cinema as an usher. It was at this time that it is believed that he was given a white-coloured feather which, during the First World War was a symbol or mark of perceived cowardice. In order to demonstrate his strength of character and prove his allegiance, he joined the Royal Marines.
According to Pte Buckley’s service records he was posted to Royal Naval Division Infantry base depot in Calais on 24 Jul 1918 and from here on 1 September 1918 he joined Anson Battalion.
The summary of operations states that orders were received at 08:30 Hours on 10 November 1918 for Anson Bttn to attack enemy positions with support from The First London Regiment and The Royal Irish Regiment. During this attack four officers and six soldiers were killed as they were advancing to the south of Mons.
Sue Raftree from MOD’s JCCC, said: “We are very pleased to be able to rededicate the headstone of Private Walter Buckley. The bravery and dedication shown by such a young man to contribute to the war effort, is amazing. The service on 3 Aug will be a fitting tribute to his sacrifice and JCCC are delighted so many of his family will be present”.
The new headstone bearing his name with the personal inscription of “To live in the hearts those we leave behind is not to die” will be provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), who will now care for his final resting place in perpetuity.
The JCCC based at Imjin Barracks, Gloucester, is part of the Defence Business Services and provides a compassionate casework worldwide. The commemorations team identifies and buries remains of recently discovered Service personnel killed in historic campaigns from WW1 onwards. They consider evidence submitted relating to the identity of previously ‘unknown’ buried service personnel. Whilst neither the MoD nor CWGC will allow exhumation of an existing grave to facilitate identification, if clear and convincing evidence can be submitted to prove an identity, a replacement headstone commemorating the individual by name will be placed over the grave bearing the individual’s details and a personal inscription chosen by the family. JCCC Commemorations will then arrange a rededication service held with military honours at the graveside.