PRIVATE JAMES FREDERICK BUCKLAND
14TH NOVEMBER 1916 AGE 22
BURIED: WARLENCOURT BRITISH CEMETERY, FRANCE
Private Buckland's inscription is a reminder of a forgotten episode from the earliest days of the war. In September 1914, at Britain's request, the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force invaded the island of New Britain, part of German New Guinea, in order to take out a strategically important wireless station at Rabaul, which would otherwise have been of great value to the German East Asiatic Squadron. The successful struggle, known as the Battle of Bita Paka, was the Australian's first military engagement of the war. According to his inscription, Private Buckland was part of this Force.
As a member of the 19th Battalion Australian Infantry, many of whose members had also been part of this Force, Buckland served in Gallipoli from 21 August to 19 December 1915 and then in France until his death in November 1916 during the battle of Flers. Conditions by now on the Somme battlefields were truly appalling and it was the attackers who had the worst of it. Any gains the Australians made was into a devastated landscape whereas the defenders were withdrawing into relatively untouched territory. After this, 'Almost as bad as Flers' became the yardstick against which the Australians would measure conditions.
It was in these conditions that Private Buckland went missing on 14 November. An Australian Red Cross file records his family's attempt to find out what had happened to him - and the difficulties of doing so.
"He is in hospital in England. I am certain of this. Men in the Bn. have heard from him."
Private Cox 26.2.17
"Private Griggs ... told me in Nov. last that he had seen Buckland killed. He was blown up in a trench at Flers.".
Private Williamson 8.6.17
"I saw Buckland at Weymouth about six weeks ago, in the Westham camp. He had an arm off ..." Cooper E. 10.9.17
However, six months earlier, on 3 March 1917, the Australians had captured a frontline German trench and removed a wallet from the body of an otherwise unidentifiable Australian soldier. The wallet belonged to James Buckland and a week later was handed to his brother, Private CM Buckland. The body was buried as James Frederick Buckland but as late as October 1919 there's a letter in the Red Cross file showing that they were still checking: "No trace in Germany".