Researched and written by Anne Wright
Able Seaman J W Buss, RN
John William Buss was born on 5 May 1892 in Paddington, London to Frederick Arthur Buss (b.c.1868), a native of Weybridge, and his first wife Jane. At the time of his son’s birth Frederick was a coachman, resident at Leinster Stables. John was baptised on 3 July 1892 at Christ Church, Paddington. The family moved to Weybridge between 1892 and 1899, where in due course he became a pupil of St James’ School (Baker Street); a Jane Buss died in the Chertsey registration area in 1897 aged 29 and may well have been John’s mother. His father remarried in 1899 to Alice Lucas, a widow. The marriage took place at Oatlands. John’s family expanded with the addition of three Lucas step siblings and his father and Alice went on to have at least six children. In 1901 the family lived in Grove Road behind the Jolly Farmer public house and by 1911 their address was 2, Fir Grove Cottages in New Road.
John was not at the family home in 1911. He was lodging at 21, Fair Row, Chatham in Kent because on his 18th birthday in 1910 he had joined the Royal Navy for a period of twelve years. He was five feet five inches tall had brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. John described his occupation as a shop boy. He served on many ships including HMS Berwick (1909), two stints on HMS Formidable (1911 & 1912) and HMS Cornwallis (1914). John’s ship when he married Alice Mott on 12 June 1915 at St. Peter’s Church, Hersham was HMS Actaeon. Alice was the same age as John and had been born in Hersham. Her family home was at 8, Green Lane. At the time of their marriage the couple’s fathers, Charles Mott and Frederick Buss were, respectively, a labourer and a decorator.
John joined his final ship, HMS Fandango, a minesweeper, on 15 April 1919. Fandango was one of 20 Royal Navy ships that formed part of the North Russian Expedition in the final months and of the First World War until October 1919 because of the ramifications of the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in October 1917. The Expedition’s objectives were to protect Allied supplies in Archangel and Murmansk and to rescue the Czech Legion, trapped in Russia after fighting on the Eastern Front. Fandango’s role was to provide transportation on and mine clearing of the River Dvina. At 8.50am on 21 June 1919 she dropped anchor close to HMS Pegasus. The following day Fandango set off up river towing other craft. On 3 July she struck a mine laid upstream of a rock. Besides John, at least five others of the crew of about twenty-five were killed; Fandango sank. Her sister ship, Sword Dance, had perished a few days earlier.
The North Russian Expedition was not able to link-up with anti-Bolshevik forces and the supplies in Archangel and Murmansk had already been moved up the River Dvina by the Bolsheviks. So the retreat to the coast began in April 1919 and the Expedition had returned home by October. John William Buss is commemorated on Chatham Naval Memorial (32) with over eight thousand other naval casualties of the First World War. In total over forty thousand naval personnel died in the conflict.
John’s widow Alice remarried, to Henry Sutton, in the Chertsey registration district, in 1923. Her first husband was one of the last fatalities from the men of Weybridge who went to war and are remembered on the town’s Memorial.
London, England, Church of England Births & Baptisms, 1813-1917, www.ancestry.co.uk
Memorial to the Masters and Old Boys of St James’ School, Weybridge, Who Fell in the Great War of 1914-1918, St James’ Church
RN Gunboats, Minelayers and Monitors in North Russia, 1919, www.gwpda.org/naval/rnmls001.htm
Surrey, England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1937, www.ancestry.co.uk
The London Gazette (Second Supplement), 18 May 1920
UK. RN Registers of Seamen’s Services, 1853-1928, www.ancestry.co.uk
North Russian Expeditionary Force 1919, Scrapbook Diary, Photographs, Mementos, www.naval-history.net/WW1z05NorthRussia.htm