Silas Arnold BUCKLE MM

BUCKLE, Silas Arnold

Service Number: 5968
Enlisted: 12 July 1915
Last Rank: Lance Corporal
Last Unit: 46th Infantry Battalion
Born: Scotsburn, Victoria, Australia, 24 October 1894
Home Town: Buninyong, Ballarat North, Victoria
Schooling: Bullarook Primary School, Victoria, Australia
Occupation: Labourer
Died: War service, Alvie, Victoria, Australia, 2 April 1922, aged 27 years
Cemetery: Colac General Cemetery
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World War 1 Service

12 Jul 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 5968, 5th Infantry Battalion
28 Jul 1916: Involvement Private, SN 5968, 5th Infantry Battalion
28 Jul 1916: Embarked Private, SN 5968, 5th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Themistocles, Melbourne
23 Sep 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Private, 39th Infantry Battalion
29 May 1917: Transferred AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, 46th Infantry Battalion, also promoted acting Corporal
7 Sep 1917: Promoted AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, 46th Infantry Battalion, Also was LCpl 29/1/1917 and acting Cpl 25/5/1917 but reverted to ranks
15 Oct 1917: Wounded AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, SN 5968, 46th Infantry Battalion, 1st Passchendaele, SW right foot
11 Jul 1918: Wounded AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, SN 5968, 46th Infantry Battalion, SW to right wrist and leg (severe). Right leg was amputated at thigh. Awarded MM for his bravery in action of this wounding.
14 Mar 1919: Honoured Military Medal, The 46th Battalion was in the frontline at Sailly-le-Sec, northeast of Corbie, on the night of 10-11 July 1918, when Silas Buckle performed perhaps his single most heroic exploit. The engineers and infantry had been tasked with re-wiring the entire line, however, the enemy artillery quickly targeted the men, causing a number of casualties. Silas had been attached as a stretcher-bearer to one of the parties when a barrage was put down. As he was dressing the wounded, another shell blast sent red-hot shrapnel flying through the air. Silas was hit by a shell splinter that smashed his right leg. Despite suffering from multiple fractures and being in incredible pain, he continued to attend to the others who had been wounded. Eventually he collapsed from loss of blood and had to be carried back to the trench.
23 Mar 1921: Discharged AIF WW1, Lance Corporal, SN 5968, 46th Infantry Battalion, MU - leg amputated at thigh during action at Sailly-le-Sac

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Biography contributed by Evan Evans

Ballarat & District in the Great War

LCpl Silas Arnold Buckle MM

One of the unspoken inequities of the Great War was that the official death toll had a limit set. In Australia, those who survived the fighting, but whose health was irretrievably damaged, needed to have died before the 31 March 1921 or they were not included on the Nation’s Roll of Honour. As the years passed men continued to die – many never having left the confines of their hospitals after returning home. They suffered in silence and were then forgotten. One of those silent war dead was a young man from Ballarat and district, Silas Buckle.

Born at Scotsburn on the 24 October 1894, Arnall Silas Albert Buckle was the third son of farmer, Arnall Silas Alvin Buckle, from Mount Duneed, and Tasmanian-born, Fanny Rosa Smith. The family had lived at Scotsburn for several years before moving to Bullarook. It was there that young Silas received his primary school education.

Despite the military fervour that was being embraced around the country, there were many areas zoned as exempt due to the long distances to available drill halls and a lack of physical transport. As a result, Silas did not receive any military training. As will later be seen, it certainly didn’t limit him when it came to the performance of his duties.

In the years leading up to the war, Silas worked as a general farm labourer around the district, helping his father and older brothers. This outdoor life made him fit and strong and accustomed him to the wet conditions that so often prevail in the potato growing areas around Bullarook.

The historic Landing at Gallipoli was the inspiration and impetus for many a young Australian to volunteer, especially during the massive enlistment drive of July 1915. Silas, although slightly underage, enlisted at Ballarat on 12 July. His mother, Rosa Buckle, signed a simple note to grant her consent,

‘I am quite willing for my son Silas Arnall Buckle to serve in the Australian Expeditionary Force’

At just three months short of his 21st birthday, Silas was a slight young man. He was just 5-feet 7-inches tall, but could expand his chest to 35½-inches. He was darkly good-looking, with brown eyes and dark brown hair.

Silas’ movements were slowed somewhat over the intervening months – he was finally assigned to the Australian Army Medical Corps at Ballarat on 15 October, and spent time working at the Clearing Hospital in the Broadmeadows Camp.

After several months at Broadmeadows, Silas was finally posted to the 19th allocation of reinforcements destined for the 5th Infantry Battalion on 26 June 1916. A final medical examination on 26 July preceded embarkation the following day. He sailed from Port Melbourne onboard HMAT Themistocles over 12-months after enlisting.

The Themistocles docked at Plymouth on 11 September and Silas marched into the 2nd Training Battalion at Lark Hill Camp.

After a further number of months delayed in England, Silas eventually sailed for France on 22 May 1917. He had by this time been re-assigned to reinforcements for the 46th Infantry Battalion.

Before marching out of the 4th Australian Divisional Base Depot at Étaples on 20 June, Silas was promoted briefly to the rank of acting corporal. He joined the 46th Battalion two days later in the midst of battle in the Messines sector, where it seems he reverted to the ranks.

Shortly before going into action in the Ypres Salient, Silas was appointed to the rank of lance-corporal.

The 46th Battalion was in the line at Zonnebeke on the night of 29-30 September; when the company was being relieved several men were caught by shellfire and badly wounded. Silas, who was acting as a stretcher-bearer, stayed behind to attend to their wounds. The position was described as being exceedingly dangerous, and Silas was under constant shell and machine-gun fire. He remained with them until the last man was removed to the regimental aid post. It was acknowledged that he had inspired the men with much confidence and saved many lives as a consequence.

His work was singled out in a recommendation for a Congratulatory Card from the Commander-in-Chief by Lieutenant-Colonel H. K. Denham DSO. However, there was no indication that Silas ever received formal congratulations.

On 12 October, the 46th Battalion was once again in the line at Zonnebeke, this time as support to an attack by the 47th and 48th Battalions. Silas continued to perform in such a manner as to bring further credit upon himself. He was working as a stretcher-bearer alongside Private John Martin, a big, loud Irishman from Donegal. As always, the stretcher-bearers were under constant fire and faced incredible danger as they tended to the wounded.

At one point the pair observed movement coming from a shell hole some 100 yards in front of their line. The position was in full view of the enemy, but Martin managed to make his way out and discovered the shell hole contained three wounded Australians. He tended to their wounds whilst being constantly sniped by the enemy. Silas joined him with a stretcher party, and they managed to extract the trio under incessant rifle and machine-gun fire.

During the retrieval, Silas suffered a gunshot wound to his right foot. Fortunately, it was not severe and, after a period in the 3rd Canadian General Hospital in Boulogne, and then at the nearby 7th Convalescent Depot, Silas returned to the 46th on 2 November. This time the battalion was in billets at Coyecques in Northern France.

Just to prove that Silas Buckle was capable of being the stereotypical Australian soldier, on 29 November he found himself in a spot of bother. Having absented himself from duty without leave to do so, Silas “tied one on” and got himself royally drunk. Given that his unit was still in billets (divided between the French villages of Bourseville and Woignarue) the charge was not as serious as it could have been. It also seems that his previous good record may have resulted in a lesser punishment, and Silas was just severely reprimanded by the General Officer Commanding.

The 46th Battalion was in the frontline at Sailly-le-Sec, northeast of Corbie, on the night of 10-11 July 1918, when Silas Buckle performed perhaps his single most heroic exploit. The engineers and infantry had been tasked with re-wiring the entire line, however, the enemy artillery quickly targeted the men, causing a number of casualties. Silas had been attached as a stretcher-bearer to one of the parties when a barrage was put down. As he was dressing the wounded, another shell blast sent red-hot shrapnel flying through the air. Silas was hit by a shell splinter that smashed his right leg. Despite suffering from multiple fractures and being in incredible pain, he continued to attend to the others who had been wounded. Eventually he collapsed from loss of blood and had to be carried back to the trench.

After being admitted to the 4th Australian Field Ambulance, where he was assessed, Silas was immediately transferred to the 47th Casualty Clearing Station. There it was confirmed that his tibia, patella and femur were all fractured. Combined with open wounds, the risk of infection was too great, and the decision was made to amputate his leg above the knee.

Three days later, on 14 July, Silas was placed upon an ambulance train and transferred to the 16th General Hospital in Le Treport. Due to his precarious state, he was rested before completing repatriation to England. On 26 July, he was carried onto the Hospital Ship Western Australia and the following day he was admitted to the Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol.

On 16 August, Silas was transferred to the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital in Southall. When his stump was inspected by the doctors, it was found to be in a very dirty condition, with a good deal of discharge; it was not healing.

An X-ray the following day showed that a thin, flat sequestrum [piece of dead bone] had formed on the end of the stump. A further amputation was performed, leaving just 9-inches of stump. From that point it seemed that Silas began to improve and, on 23 September, he was well enough to begin a 12-day furlough.

The excitement of the ending of the war was added to by news that Silas had been decorated with the Military Medal for his work at Sailly-le-Sec. The official citation commended his ‘supreme devotion to duty, coolness and magnificent courage [that] were a means of saving several men’s lives.’

However, it wasn’t long before Silas’ health took a dramatic turn for the worse. On 20 February 1919, he was admitted to the 2nd Auxiliary Hospital in Southall dangerously ill with pleurisy. It seems that the injury to his leg was also still far from reconciled.

His mother was informed that Silas was in a grave condition, and progress reports were very slow in coming through. By the time he had been removed from the dangerously ill list, nearly three weeks had elapsed. On 12 March, he was marked as convalescent and out of immediate danger.

Unfortunately, the underlying cause of his sudden illness was eventually discovered. Silas was suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis, for which at that time there was no effective treatment. Many seemingly healthy young men fell victim to tuberculosis as the number of cases soared during the war years. The tuberculosis pathogen, which can lie dormant for many years following a healed primary infection, can suddenly re-emerge when something triggers the infection. Conditions in the trenches were perfect for spreading what was the most dominant chronic infections disease of the first half of the 20th Century. Over-crowding, poor nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, the constant strain of battle fatigue, plus the general misery of standing in mud, freezing cold and wet through, led to many developing an active secondary TB infection. This was quickly passed from soldier to soldier, and it proved particularly virulent, attacking the lungs and other major organs.

At that stage the best treatment was considered to be a warm climate, good food, fresh air and plenty of rest. So it was that Silas was repatriated home to Australia as soon as was practicable. He sailed from Devonport on 19 April 1919 onboard the transport Marathon.

After arriving in Melbourne on 7 June, Silas was taken to the MacLeod Sanatorium.

Whilst it was accepted that his illness and ongoing condition were due to war service, it was still decided to discharge Silas on 22 July. He was, however, well enough to attend a ceremony in Ballarat on 15 September, where the Governor General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, presented him with his Military Medal. Usually these ceremonies were held in Melbourne, so the uniqueness of this occasion was appreciated by all who attended. Sixteen medals were presented that day, with most of the recipients formed up in front of the Town Hall. Silas stood with his comrades as light rain fell…he watched as each man was honoured and listened as the cheers rang out and the Returned Soldiers and Orphanage Bands played the tunes they’d all come to love. It was a good day; a bittersweet day.

It wasn’t long before the tuberculosis worsened. By November 1920, Silas was completed disabled. He was losing weight, had trouble breathing and was in pain.

The following month he was admitted to the No11 Australian General Hospital in Caulfield suffering from “ear trouble”. He had suffered a break-out of the tuberculosis in his left ear that caused chronic otitis media with a persistent discharge.

Treatment continued over the next two months with little improvement. His hearing was soon dramatically impaired. It was noted on 25 February 1920, that the apices of both lungs also involved tuberculosis and he was coughing up blood.

By 30 March, Silas’ condition was ‘much improved,’ and he was discharged from hospital, but it was recommended that he be sent to a sanatorium. It seems apparent that Silas probably spent the remainder of his life at the MacLeod hospital.

When Silas’ condition suddenly deteriorated, he was removed to the Repatriation Ward at the Austin Hospital. His parents were informed of the dire nature of his condition and his mother raced to Melbourne. She arrived just too late… Silas died at 6pm on 2 April 1922. His body was removed to the Colac Cemetery for burial (his parents were by then living at Alvie). In September 1925, an application was lodged by the President of the RS&SILA, Colac, for the erection of a Departmental headstone over the grave. Because his death had been accepted by the Repatriation Commission as attributable to war service, the request was granted.

Silas Buckle, who had served with such selfless bravery, was ultimately another casualty of the Great War. But he died a year too late to receive the proper honour due to him. He had served four years in the army and was just 27 years of age when he died, with the last three years of his life spent within one hospital or another. And he was far from being the only one. Sadly, we will never really know how many were the silent sufferers, those who lived too long for memorialising, but whose effective lives remained on the battlefield.

John Strachan Buckler, who had served for nearly four years with the 5th Infantry Battalion, often wrote letters to the Melbourne newspapers, advocating for returned servicemen. The following piece struck a chord with me when I was researching this piece on Silas Buckle. It was written on ANZAC Day 1923:

‘…FORGET NOT THE LIVING
Sir,— Another Anzac Day has passed, and I wish that it had been spent in trying to help the living returned sailors and soldiers who are unemployed and destitute, in giving them better facilities for settlement on farms and in war service Homes. Let us hope that before another anniversary, comes ‘round the living will be remembered, as well as the noble dead…’

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