Frederick Sizmur Buckland is remembered in Summerstown and Mitcham. Chris Burge’s special guest blog is the most comprehensive account of the war experience of a Summerstown182 soldier that has been written to date.
Sunday July 16, 1893 was a happy day for the Buckland family, as their one month old son was baptised ‘Frederick Sizmur Buckland’ at St. Nicolas Church, Tooting. To his parents, Bertie Edward and Jemima Jane (nee Oulds), Frederick was a special blessing as only the year before they had lost their infant son Leonard. Vant Road, Tooting, was Frederick’s first home, close to the Mitre Pub and the ‘Tooting Pump’.
Before the turn of the century, Tooting still had an atmosphere that was more village than suburb. There would be much change in the decades before the Great War. Houses replaced open spaces and the vast Totterdown Estate would be built between 1901 and 1911, bringing an influx of new residents. One of the first electric tram services would come to Tooting in 1903, a cheap and popular form of transport that fostered the growth of suburban life – work and home need not be close by. Mitcham Road became a centre for increasing numbers of shops and businesses and the former landmark of the Methodist Central Hall was built in 1909. In 1911 a huge crowd turned out at Tooting Broadway to see the official unveiling of a statue to King Edward VII. It had been paid for by public subscription.
But the Bucklands had decided to leave the bustle of Tooting, and by 1911 had been living in Summerstown for around ten years, first in Huntspill Street and then at 44 Wimbledon Road. They lived on the doorstep of St. Mary’s Church, where several of their children were baptised. At birth Frederick was one of four children, but there had been many additions to the family over the intervening years and by 1911 Frederick was one of ten siblings with ages ranging from 24 to the newly born. The family group would certainly make an impression at St. Mary’s Sunday services.
Frederick’s older brother, Francis George, was the first of Bertie and Jemima’s childern to marry. It was the summer of 1913, just a year before the outbreak of war, when he married Ruby May Cordrey who lived in Southfields. They would later live in Garratt Lane and Mitcham. By the outbreak of the War, the Buckland family had moved again and where now living at 75 Marlborough Road, Colliers Wood. This would be their home until about 1930. They would probably have described themselves as ‘comfortable’. Frederick’s father had been in constant employment for over 30 years as a skilled craftsman, working as a gold and silver embosser and modeller since being apprenticed as a ‘silver chaser’ by the age of fourteen. The War would bring new challenges and heartache to the Buckland family. Bertie Edward and Jemima would worry that their three eldest sons, Francis George aged 25, Clifford Harold aged 23, and Frederick now 21, could all be dragged into this war. Frederick, like so many others, answered the call for volunteers in 1914.
Frederick’s Army service records did not survive the London Blitz of WW2, but significant information can be gained from the records of servicemen with Army numbers close to Frederick’s, along with other sources. Frederick’s Army number, 47076, corresponds to a group of Londoners that volunteered at the beginning of December 1914 at various locations in the City and elsewhere. They were all men who served in Brigades of the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) that would from part of the 21st Division in one of Lord Kitchener’s New Armies which was given the ‘triple seven insignia’.
For example: 47015 a/Bmdr (later serj.) Ernest Shepherd MM, from Edmonton, volunteered on 2 Dec 1914, served in C/97th and D/96th Brigade RFA, wounded in 1917. 47031 Drv. Henry John Gutteridge, a carman from Hornsey, volunteered on 2 Dec 1914, served in C/97th and D/96th Brigade RFA, discharged unfit with Silver War Badge 01-May-1918, wounded in an accident. 47056 Drv. Sidney Arthur Peeke, a boiler tester from the Old Kent Road, volunteered on 2 Dec 1914, served in C/97th Brigade RFA. 47065 Drv. Alfred William Shuttleworth, a gardener from North Finchley, volunteered on 2 Dec 1914, served in C/97th Brigade RFA, lost a leg in the War. 47117 Sgt. George William Yenson MM, from East Ham, volunteered in early Dec 14, served in 97th and 94th Brigade RFA, discharged unfit 14-Feb-1919 with Silver War Badge).
Frederick Buckland served in the ‘C’ battery of the 97th Brigade RFA (This became ‘D’ battery of the 96th Brigade in a re-organisation recorded in the Brigade’s War Diary of 1916). At this time RFA Brigades were organised in four batteries ‘A’ to ‘D’, each with six guns. In the case of the 97th Brigade, all the batteries operated howitzers, while the 96th and other 21st Division RFA Brigades operated 18-pounders. Manned by six men, and horse drawn, the howitzer had a maximum range of a little over 4 miles, firing a 35lb shell that would take roughly 30 seconds to reach its target. While shells were first either high explosive or shrapnel, both smoke and gas shells would be developed for the 4.5 howitzer during the war.
By December 1914 the War was already bogged down, and after a desperate defence of Ypres the winter would bring a halt to major operations for the BEF. In the spring of 1915 there would be yet more fierce fighting in the Ypres Salient, with an ever growing need for men and guns. It was clear now that it would not be a short war.
Frederick Buckland, and the other civilian volunteers of his RFA Brigade, faced a nine month training period, often arduous and often tedious. In this short time they were expected to master all aspects of artillery work: horses, wagons, limbers and guns, ammunition handling, observation, signalling and manoeuvres. And there was always the marching. In the early days, with little or no equipment, the men practised drill on dummy guns, it was not until the final weeks before departing for France that Frederick’s Brigade would be fully equipped with guns and horses. By now the 97th Brigade RFA of the 21st Division were at the sprawling Witley Camp, near Godalming in Surrey. A frenzy of activity for both officers and men brought Frederick’s Brigade to War readiness and they crossed the channel from Southampton to Le Harve on 10th September 1915 in three boats. If the ‘1915 Star’ medal rolls show his current rank when he first went overseas, Frederick Buckland must have been very proficient, as he had already been promoted to sergeant and would be No.1 of his gun detachment.
After just two weeks in France, and with no trench or battle experience, both the 21st and 24th Divisions were thrown into the second day of the battle of Loos, a major British offensive, on the 26th September 1915. This would be a horrendous baptism of fire for the infantry of both Divisions. Tasked with a frontal assault in daylight without the cover of gas or smoke, the troops attacked the second German line, a series of well prepared trenches which lay behind thick belts of barbed wire that remained uncut. The ground was mostly open and flat, offering little cover and already strewn with the dead and dying of the previous day. At hill 70 they were attacking uphill. Frederick’s battery, and the other divisional artillery offered what support they could, but were mostly firing at ill-defined targets. There was a lack of proper trench maps, officers sent forward to reconnoitre were sniped at and the artillery was not able to provide close support for the attacking troops. The 21st Divisions infantry were simply cut down by machine gun and rifle fire, which for some units came from three sides and even from behind. Of the two division, there had been twelve battalions making the attack, in all close to 10,000 men. In the three hours or so, of that day’s action, the casualties were reckoned to be 385 officers and 7861 men. The men of Kitchener’s New Army had paid a heavy price.
Frederick’s battery commander Captain G.E. Heath and 2nd Lt. R. St. G. Brooks were both killed when retiring from a forward position in front of Loos, they were caught by machine gun fire, and five NCOs were wounded that day. Frederick’s battery continued to engage the enemy as best they could over the next two days, themselves coming under repeated heavy shell fire. Further casualties were sustained by the battery on the 28th, including a group of six telephonists who were either all killed or wounded by enemy shell fire. The Battle of Loos would not end until 14th October 1914, but Frederick’s battery was withdrawn on the 1st of October and moved to the Armentieres sector were they remained until the spring of 1916.
Back in Britain, few of the general public were aware of the disaster at Loos until alerted by the casualty lists and the rumours that circulated some weeks after the event. Whether the Buckland family received any news of the reality of the front is unknown, but there were rumblings about the need to introduce conscription as the number of volunteers decreased and the war dragged on. The Derby Scheme (properly called the Group Scheme) was introduced by Lord Derby in the Autumn of 1915 and offered a compromise.
‘Men aged 18 to 40 were informed that under the scheme they could continue to enlist voluntarily or attest with an obligation to come if called up later on. The War Office notified the public that voluntary enlistment would soon cease and that the last day of registration would be 15 December 1915’.
This may have been the spur for Frederick’s older brother Ciifford Harold Buckland to volunteer. On 8th November 1915 he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps in West London, but for reasons unknown he was discharged in a matter of days and there is no other record of him serving in the armed forces. Ultimately the Derby Scheme showed that there were too few volunteers to fill the ranks and conscription soon followed. The Military Service Bill was introduced in January 1916, providing for the conscription of single men aged 18–41. Every single man and childless widower between 18 and 41 was offered three choices: 1) Enlist at once. 2) Attest at once under Derby’s system. 3) Or on 2 March 1916 be automatically deemed to have enlisted. In May 1916 the bill was extended to married men.
Now parents Bertie Edward and Jemima would see another son go to war, as Francis George Buckland was called up in the third week of May 1916. He was among a small number of men from the Tooting area assigned to one of the Royal Garrison Artillery’s Siege Batteries, who manned the heavy guns on the Western Front.
In Northern France, Frederick’s howitzer battery moved to Dernancourt, just south of Albert. In May 1916 the 96th Battery was positioned at Bercodel, a little to the east of Albert. Around 15th May Orders were received from GHQ for a re-organisation, Frederick’s howitzer battery, c/97, was to be interchanged with ‘D’ battery of the 96th Brigade. Batteries of the 96th Brigade would spend much of May improving their positions, and especially the field telephone communications. It was obvious this was the build up to a ‘Big Push’ on the Somme.
Gunners of the Royal Field Artillery, have a cigarette break at a 4.5 inch howitzer emplacement at Thiepval in September 1916. Note the ready 4.5 inch shells, with No 101 Fuses.
Frederick’s battery moved to its final position close to Becord by mid June, within shelling distance of the German trench system just north of Fricourt. All the while ammunition was transported by lorries and the light railway built to run from Albert as far as Becord Wood, before being manhandled up to the batteries.
For Frederick and the men of ‘D’ battery, the battle of the Somme began at 4.30am on the 24th June 1916. The bombardment of German positions continued day and night. The gunners worked to a strict timetable which emphasised wire cutting in the first two days, before the destruction of trenches. The weather had deteriorated and the attack planned for 29th was postponed. The bombardment was extended until the 30th of June causing the artillery difficulty in adjusting rates of fire to rounds used. Observation was proving to be very difficult and reports from patrols gave a mixed picture of the success of cutting the German wire. On the night of 30th reports reached the 21st Division that machine guns were active from Fricourt Village. The high command had placed great optimism in a bombardment that would destroy the German line and its defenders, opposition was expected to be light. The reality would be very different for the attacking infantry.
After a final crescendo in the proceeding 30 minutes, the guns feel briefly and eerily silent at zero hour, 7.30am on 1st July. Frederick’s battery followed a strict timetable lifting to new targets roughly every 30 minutes, supposedly ahead of the advance made by the infantry of the 63rd Brigade. It was clear by 10am that the infantry could not get further than Lozenge Wood. On the morning of 2nd, Lt. Arthur Cecil Colmer, of ‘A’ bty, was killed while assisting men in no man’s land. Late in the day the 96th RFA batteries responded to an SOS signal from Lozenge Wood at 11pm neutralising an enemy counter attack.
The infantry of the 21st Division had in fact suffered terrible losses on the 1st July 1916. The official casualties suffered by 10th West Yorks attacking just north of Fricourt were the highest in the British Army for a single day throughout the war – 22 officers and 688 other ranks. Only one officer remained alive at the end of the day, and he was wounded. The 21st Division suffered 4256 casualties (making it the seventh worst-hit Division out of 16 used on the day).
The enemy abandoned Fricourt Village and Wood on the 2nd July, and elements of the 63rd Infantry Brigade held parts of ‘Crucifix Trench’ and ‘Fricourt Farm’. It was thanks to the battery’s forward observation officer, and his men, that any information at all was relayed back to both the local artillery and infantry commands. On the 3rd July, Frederick’s howitzer battery shelled Shelter and Birch Tree Woods in support of the infantry. Lt. Michelle Amoroso of ‘D’ bty. was killed that morning, caught up with the infantry near Railway Alley. After a costly fight, with local commanders using their own initiative, both objectives were taken. Bottom Wood was taken by units of the 17th Division on the same day. Frederick’s battery continued shelling German positions as the fight extended north of Bottom Wood at the Quadrangle and Acid Drop Alley. On the 12th of July, Frederick’s Howitzer battery moved at night to the valley east of Bottom Wood. Preparations were being made for an assault by the 21st Division on Bazentin-Le-Petit planned for the 14th July. The troops had assembled in no man’s land at night. The attack was proceeded by a 30 minute hurricane bombardment commenced at 3.20am, followed by a barrage that crept forward of the attacking infantry. By mid-morning all of the 21st Division’s objectives were secured with relatively light casualties.
Frederick’s battery continued to shell various targets until relieved on 24th July, one month after the opening of the Somme bombardment. In the period between 24th June and 24th July 1916 Frederick’s RFA Brigade casualties were two officers killed, and nine wounded including one medical officer. Ten other ranks had been killed and 43 wounded. Among the dead who Frederick may have known were: 47068 Gnr. Alfred Leonard Towersey of ‘D’ battery from Camberwell, KIA on 6th July and 47037 Bmdr. Richard Charles Howard of ‘D’ battery, from Walworth, KIA on or since 6th July.
The 21st Division returned to the Somme in September in bad weather. On the 13th, Frederick’s howitzer battery was positioned in front of Bazentin-le-Grand and was initially attached to Corps Artillery for counter battery work. The 21st Division was to take part in a large-scale renewal of the Somme offensive on the Courcelette to Flers line. It was here that the Army would use its new secret weapon for the first time, the Tank! This phase of the Somme battle was to last from the 15th to 22nd September. Frederick’s battery was returned to divisional command on the 16th September. Very wet weather reduced operations on the 18th and 19th when only light enemy shelling was reported. The 96th RAF Brigade War diary for all of September 1916 consists of just one page. The casualties are listed as one officer killed and three wounded, other ranks 9 killed and 27 wounded.
47076 Sergeant Frederick Buckland’s war had come to an end. He was killed in action in unknown circumstances on 19th September 1916, somewhere near Bazentin-le-Grand, France. He was buried in the cemetery at Bottom Wood, just over a mile from where he died. Frederick’s remains would not be recovered until after the War, Bottom Wood was lost in the German Spring Offensive of 1918 and not recaptured until the last 100 days of the conflict. Frederick was re-buried in Dantzig Alley British Cemetery, Mametz.
Back home, Bertie and Jemima Buckland received the War Office communication of their son’s death, knowing Frederick’s older brother Francis was yet to go overseas. Any hope that the Somme offensive would bring the decisive breakthrough was beginning to dwindle, and no end was in sight.
When victory finally came in 1918, Frances George Buckland returned safely home to his wife and family. He had been promoted to sergeant and served in both 284th and 319th Siege Batteries, manning heavy guns on the Western Front. He was awarded a Criox de Guerre and the Military Medal for what is now some unknown act of valour that took place probably in the Spring of 1918.
Frederick’s parents ensured their son’s name was added to the Mitcham War Memorial and the Roll of honour in Christ Church near their home in Colliers Wood. Three of Frederick’s younger sisters were married in Christ Church in the years after the War, the name ‘Buckland, Frederick’ would serve as a reminder of the family’s loss. Bertie and Jemima ended their days in Colliers Wood and are both buried in the London Road Cemetery, Jemima on 28 February 1930 aged 62, and Bertie on 19 July 1932 aged 66. Francis George Buckland lived in Garratt Lane between 1919 and 1921 before moving to Lavender Avenue, Mitcham where he and his family stayed for many years. Clifford Harold Buckland, who married in 1919, stayed in the area until his death in 1962. Frederick’s younger brother Donald Edward also stayed in the area until his death in 1952. They are both buried in the London Road Cemetery.
But why should Frederick’s name appear on the St. Mary’s memorial? Frederick may have spent ten of his formative years in Summerstown, but the family had been living in Colliers Wood for almost a decade when the memorial was created in the current St Mary’s church. Two documents hint at a possible reason. The circumstances of Frederick’s birth suggest a bond as close as any mother’s with her son. It was his mother, Jemima, that Frederick chose to name as his sole legatee in his soldier’s will. But ten years earlier, on 31st May 1904 an unusual event took place at St.Mary’s Church, Jemima Jane Buckland was baptised as an adult. If St. Mary’s Church had a special meaning to Jemima Jane, then it was only natural she would wish to see her son remembered there too.
Photos marked IWM courtesy of Imperial War Museum, London