Guest blogger, Ancestry.co.uk member and AncestryUK Facebook fan Rob Arguile is currently a student at the university of Hertfordshire, studying for a degree in Geography. He has been researching his family history since he was 17 years old and discovered a story of inspiration and sadness. This post is a tribute from Rob to his great grandfather, John William Buckley.
John William Buckley was born on the 23rd October 1887 in Healey near Rochdale, Lancashire to John and Martha Buckley (née Downs). John, his father, was a stonemason and his mother stayed at home. He was the youngest of 6 children and the only boy.
In 1891 he lived at 98 Market Street, Rochdale with his parents and siblings. At this time his siblings, like most from Rochdale, were involved with the cotton trade working in the factories for low wages and in a dangerous environment. After leaving school at 12, John was entered straight into the factory where he worked as a cotton doffer in 1901 and cotton card room jobber in 1911.
On the 4th August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany – 18 days later John married his fiancée, Mary Emma Shepherd, in Rochdale Parish Church. Emma gave birth to their first and only child Jack, on 22nd January 1915. In December that year John was attested for service, while conscription wasn’t enforced he enlisted anyway, as was his duty.
Two years went by and in 1917 John William Buckley got the letter and was called up. He joined the Royal Field and Horse Artillery and was sent to Mesopotamia to fight the Turkish, allied with the German Empire. This was the one of the furthest places the British army sent people away from home. Like Gallipoli, conditions in Mesopotamia defy description. Extreme temperatures (120 degrees F was common); arid desert and regular flooding; flies, mosquitoes and other vermin: all led to appalling levels of sickness and death through disease. Under these incredible conditions units fell short of officers and men and all too often the reinforcements were half-trained and ill-equipped. Medical arrangements were quite shocking with wounded men spending up to two weeks on boats before reaching any kind of hospital. These factors, plus of course the unexpectedly determined Turkish resistance, contributed to high casualty rates.
John’s experience with horses grew over his time in the war. Before the war he enjoyed country walks around the fields of his home. He learned to ride well and care for the horses, which were extremely important to the service. In the Royal Field Artillery, John also learned to operate the larger artillery which was used in battles such as Tikrit (1917) and Kahn Bagdadi (1918). After the war ended in 1918, John remained in Mesopotamia for another 2 years until he was discharged 2nd February 1920.
After the war John returned home after experiencing the horrors of the war which would remain with him for his life. He shied away from telling what he saw to others and became a quiet character. The war had affected him deeply and though he wore his medals proudly he never forgot what they represented. By the end of the WWII, John’s son Jack had moved to Birmingham to work as a butcher in a Co-Op where he would meet his future wife Mary. John and Emma enjoyed playing bowls at a competitive level; they won a glass trophy during this time. In 1949 Emma died aged 62, John was left alone.
Over the next few years John became a very quiet and depressed man. He wore his medals proudly on Remembrance Day and never forgot those who died during the war. During the later years of his life he would spend time at the bowling green or going for a walk. He left the cotton trade to become a labourer and finally a wagon greaser. To the end of his life he was convinced he had cancer and with this troubled thought and depression he made a choice to prematurely end his own life. He was found by a neighbour on the morning of 18th May 1961, aged 73.
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About Brian Gallagher
Brian is the International Social Media Specialist for Ancestry, working closely with our United Kingdom, Sweden, German and Australian teams.