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Horace Edwin Samuel Buckwell


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Died : 1 June 1940


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The only man from Ringmer to die with the Senior Service during the Second World War was Horace Edwin Samuel Buckwell. He was the son of Stephen Charles and Clara Buckwell who lived at 8 Fairlight Bungalows, having moved there from Rushey Green, Ringmer well before the War. He is described as having been a farm worker prior to joining the Navy.

Horace was born in 1902 and was the oldest of four brothers, one of whom at least, Sapper W.A. Buckwell, also served in His Majesty's Forces. It seems likely that to have achieved the rating of Stoker Petty Officer (SPO), Horace would have been either in regular service or many years with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. His photograph indicates the existence of a medal which is most probably the [Royal] Naval Long Service & Good Conduct Medal. He was married to Winifred and they lived at Kirby Cross in Essex.

It was not to the supposed glamour of a battleship or indeed any similar warship that Horace Buckwell was posted. His world revolved around the activities of the 'Saint' class rescue tug H.M.S. St. Fagan. She was formerly a fleet tug fitted for ocean service and pre-war used to tow targets for the 'big' ships to shoot at. With the advent of the War these vessels were assigned the task of recovering damaged merchantmen and warships and towing them to a friendly port. The Saint class were built in 1919, displaced 860 tons, had a complement of 30 and mounted one 12 pounder anti-aircraft gun for defence. They were very sturdy but hardly fast having a top speed of twelve knots. horacebuckwellshipa
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Following the entrapment of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk towards the end of May 1940, a conglomeration of some 850 British vessels of every shape and size sailed to the rescue. Most were small craft manned by civilians and they, together with naval ships such as the St. Fagan, plucked around 338,000 men (including 112,000 French and Belgian soldiers) from the beaches. It was the greatest rescue operation of a trapped army ever known. The Germans did everything they could to prevent the evacuation and the Luftwaffe repeatedly bombed and strafed the ships and men waiting to board them. This intensity of aerial activity resulted from Hitler halting the Panzer Divisions advance from the south. The tanks were kept out of the fray between 26th and 28th May in order that Göring could show off the prowess of his air force. Had the German armour fought on during those three days many fewer Allied servicemen would have escaped. On 1st June 1940 whilst off the beach at Dunkirk the St. Fagan was struck by a bomb and sunk. SPO Buckwell (number PK 59570) perished in the attack and he is commemorated on the Royal Navy Memorial at Portsmouth. This was erected 'In honour of the Navy and to the abiding memory of those ranks and ratings of this port who laid down their lives in the defence of the Empire and have no known grave than the sea…' Tragically one of St. Fagan's sister ships, the St. Abbs, was also lost the same day whilst on a similar mission.
Adapted from Valiant Hearts of Ringmer by Geoff Bridger: Ammonite Press, 1993