In cities and memorials around the world, we wait in the chill before dawn to honour our dead. It is dark and the sky is hopefully clear and full of stars. Where we stand is peppered by candles and an eerie silence endures. As the first rays of light break over the horizon we stop to remember them, not just the fallen of Gallipoli but other men and women who have lost their lives for our country in the hundred years since.
Jeremiah Buckley was one such man, my great-great-great uncle. Unlike so many of the Anzacs he wasn’t a young man but almost 30 when he enlisted. I’m a bit confused by his age as according to a number of sources he was either 29 or 33 when he died, however on his enlistment papers his declared age is 29. He’s unlikely to have been naïve having served in the Shanghai Light Horse, China, for two and a half years. I assume he was an adventurer because he’d already travelled so widely but what drove him to enlist is probably the same thing that drove all young men – honour and mateship. Jeremiah enlisted in April 2015 and was dead on the fields of Lone Pine within six months. Known to his family and mates as Sam, we have no letters to draw on just random papers and family stories. He was encouraged to travel, hence the visit to China, and he’d intended to go to Ireland to visit the homeland before war intervened.
Jeremiah was not the only member of the family who was killed during the First World War, his young nephew, John Joseph Buckley, enlisted during ‘The Men from Snowy River’ recruitment march in the Monaro region of NSW in January 1916. Originating in Delegate, the group started as a band of 30, by the time they’d travelled through Nimmitabel, Cooma, Bredbo, Michelago, Queanbeyan, Bungendore and Tarago arriving in Goulburn they were 113 strong. Jack joined the march in Nimmitabel, a tiny little town in New South Wales.
Jack, as he was commonly known, was a Lewis Gunner. On 3 September 1918, about two miles from Peronne, as he was carrying his gun into action he was shot in the head by machine gun fire and succumbed to his wounds later that day. Although only 22 years old, Jack had been awarded the Military Medal for earlier actions during the second Battle of Bullecourt in May 1917 and is now buried in the Military Cemetery at Daours near Amiens.
Both men have a place on the honour roll at the Australian War Memorial and have ignited a deep fascination in me to know more. In a day of letters, many of which never made it home during the war, it’s hard to understand what went through their minds, how they coped with the conditions, if they had a special girl back in Australia and if they knew they were unlikely to make it home. I can only imagine and base my understanding on the letters of other young men. I have much more to find out, lots of research has already been done by other family members but now I’m looking for something more personal. A sense of who they were, if they had hopes and dreams for their future or if they couldn’t see beyond the battles they found themselves in.
Pride isn’t an emotion we speak of easily but I’m proud to have such brave men in my ancestry. Like so many Australians and New Zealanders today, I remember them and pray for the men and women serving today.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
For the fallen by Laurence Binyon (1869–1943)
Sources: monaropioneers.com.au, Australian War Memorial online archives