William George Buck is a member of Mitcham’s “Out in the cold” group. He died after discharge on 24th November 1918, knowing the war had come to an end. Unless his death can be shown to be caused by or exacerbated by his service, he may never gain official recognition. This is his story.
William George Buck was born in 1892 to parents Arthur George and Mary Harriet (nee Abrehart), the youngest of seven known siblings. William, like his parents, spent the majority of his life in Mitcham. By the outbreak of War the family had lived for 30 years in Aberdeen Road, close to the Merton Abbey works and surrounded by many of Mitcham’s varnish works. After William’s father, a house painter and decorator, had died in 1908, William and his two unmarried sisters continued to live with, and support, their widowed mother who was then 56. All three siblings worked in local factories, William as a “fancy box maker” constructing packaging.
William Buck had not rushed to volunteer early in the War, perhaps thinking of his family obligations. But after “National Registration” in the summer of 1915, and talk of future conscription, William volunteered under the Derby Scheme. He attested at Wimbledon on 26th February 1916 and was mobilised on 20th May 1916, and was first posted to the 27th Royal Fusiliers.
Twenty three year old William was a slight figure at 5ft 2inches and 112 pounds, with a dark complexion. After the short months of basic training, William was sent to France on 3rd October 1916, where as Pte. 17777 he joined the 6th Bn. Royal West Kent Regiment (Queen’s Own), nicknamed “Dawson’s Battalion” after its charismatic commander W.R.A. Dawson (8 times wounded, 6 times Mentioned in Despatches and won 4 DSOs. Severely wounded on 23 Oct 1918 he died from his last wounds on 3 Dec 1918, aged 28.)
William joined after the ranks of 6th Bn. had been seriously depleted on 3rd July 1916 , suffering severe casualties at Ovillers on the Somme – 375 of 617 in action. In 1917 the battalion moved north to the Arras sector as part of 37th Brigade in the 12th Division. On 3 May 1917 it was in action at Arras – 11 Officers & 250 other ranks become casualties. On 18 Jul 1917 – at Monchy – 2 small parties of men of the Battalion hold an important section of trench until relieved – remarkably they all received a medal – 2 DSOs, 2 MCs, 2 DCMs & 18 MMs.
It’s around this time that William is badly injured with wounds to the face, left arm, and right thigh. Dangerously ill, he is evacuated to the UK by 26/07/1917. After many months, William made at least a partial recovery, but was no longer fit to serve and was discharged at Hounslow on 13/02/1918. William Buck was described as a “an honest and sober man of very good character, disabled by wounds“. He was subsequently awarded a Silver War Badge and pension.
Whatever physical and mental scars William bore, he was left to cope with any lasting disabilities. Despite any facial disfigurement he returned to civilian life, finding work in one of the neighbouring Varnish factories, perhaps with his old employer. Any feelings of relief and hope the Buck family had at War’s end where soon turned to grief. William had succumbed to illness late in 1918, he died just 13 days after the November 1918 Armistice. William Buck was buried on the 30th November at Church Road Cemetery, Mitcham, in area Y, grave no. 87. His trade/occupation was recorded as “Varnish Worker”.
His part in the War has never been officially recognised. William has no entry in the CWGC register. His family ensured his name was added to the Mitcham War Memorial, and to the roll of honour in nearby Christ Church, where it is simply inscribed as “BUCK W.”
Footnote: William’s mother Mary Harriet passed away in 1920 and was buried on 4th October 1920 at Church Road Cemetery. She had lived just long enough to see her son’s name on Mitcham’s memorials. Other family members remained living in Aberdeen Road for at least the next twenty years.