Researched and written by Anne Wright
Lt F W A Buckell
the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment),
att. 8th Battalion
Killed in action, 21.3.1918
At 42 years of age, Francis William Ashton Buckell is one of the three oldest men commemorated on the Weybridge Memorial as a fatality of the First World War. Before his military service he had been an architect who, certainly from 1911 onwards, lived at Seaton House in Church Street, Weybridge. He shared this home with his brother, Clyde Westmore Ashton Buckell, a dentist. Only two years separated the brothers and they had been pupils together at Haileybury College in Hertfordshire.
They were both born in Chichester, Sussex to Dr Leonard Buckell (1820-1899) a General Practitioner, and his wife Mary Augusta, nee Ashton, formerly Duke (1838-1911). Their marriage, which was a second marriage for both, took place on 31 October 1872, in Chichester. Francis, the second of their three children was born on 20 May 1875 and baptised at All Saints’ Church, in the town on 24 June 1875. Besides his two full siblings Francis also had half-siblings from his parents’ previous marriages. In 1881, still in Chichester, he was part of a large household which included his parents, six siblings and six domestic staff. By 1906 Francis had become an architect and in that year travelled to Canada and in 1907 to the USA.
The 3/4th Queen’s Battalion (Royal West Surrey Regiment) was formed at Windsor in June 1915. They did not go to France until August 1917, as part of the 62nd Brigade in the 21st Division. Francis had only re-joined his battalion on 4 August having been wounded on 21 June 1917. They were in trenches south-east of Polygon Wood (near Ypres) on 3 October and involved in heavy fighting the next day when 52 were killed. He was still on the Roll of Officers on 31 October. On the first day of 1918 they were at Heudecourt, 13 km north-east of Peronne. In February the battalion was disbanded; the number of battalions in an infantry brigade was reduced from four to three and undermanned battalions were broken up. Seven officers and 145 other ranks of the 3/4th Battalion transferred to the 8th Battalion between 5-16 February. However, Francis was not one of those named officers but his Commonwealth War Graves Commission record acknowledges that he was attached to the 8th Battalion. His Campaign Medals Card records that he was reported missing on 21 March 1918 and he must have later been presumed to have died on that date; his body was not recovered.
The 21st was the first day of the German Spring Offensive and if Francis was with the 8th Battalion he would have been involved in the heroic defence of the village of Le Veguier (east of Peronne). It was a day of thick mist, heavy enemy bombardment, heavy fighting and much confusion. The Germans started a bombardment at 4.40 am which continued for 8 hours, their infantry moved forward at 10.30 am and the front companies of the 8th were cut off from their comrades as the Germans worked around both flanks and cut the wire under cover of the fog. Those holding the village were then subjected to heavy frontal and flank attacks but they kept the enemy back with Lewis gun and rifle fire. The Germans renewed their bombardment in the evening and it lasted all night. The 8th Battalion held on for the whole day and were only ordered to retreat on 22 March when their situation became impossible. Seventy of their number was lost on that day; just 12 have known graves.
Francis is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial (Panels 14 & 15) in the village of that name, 6 km north-east of Albert. Over 14,000 other casualties of the Spring Offensive share this Memorial. Sadly, Francis’ brother Clyde survived him by only three months; he died in Weybridge on 21 June. Their full sister Mary Noel Ashton Scott maintained the family link with Weybridge until her death there in 1958.
Adele Buckell’s Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
England, Select Births and Christenings, 1588-1975, www.ancestry.co.uk
England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, www.ancestry.co.uk