Ben Buckland tombstone

In a quiet corner of Isleworth Cemetery is a 1st World War headstone marking the grave of Private Benjamin George Buckland of the 46th Australian Infantry Battalion. He was the son of William and Marion Buckland from Long Galley, Victoria in Australia and he was the holder of the Military Medal…

4th Southern Hospital

“During the operations West of BELLENGLISE on 18/19 September 1918. For bravery and devotion to duty as a runner. He carried messages from front line during the attack through heavy enemy barrage fire. He also crossed machine gun swept area to take information to flank companies. He continued to carry on until utterly exhausted. His grit and determination were very noticeable.”

MAJOR-GENERALSINCLAIR-MACLAGAN – Commanding 4th Australian Division.

But grit and determination were not enough to save Private Buckland. Later that month he was invalided out of Bellenglise and brought back to the UK. He died ‘of sickness’ on 25th October 1918 in the 4th Southern Military Hospital in Plymouth aged 27. Now he is buried in Isleworth Cemetery.

Ben Buckley CU Text

Any death in any war must be appallingly painful for the surviving family and friends but Buckland’s passing is particularly poignant. So far from home, so close to the end of the War and so greatly missed by his parents and family. No familiar “Peace Perfect Peace” epitaph for Benjamin George Buckland or “At Rest”. Just a simple written acceptance of the loss of a loved son and brother who died so far from home… “Never forgotten, dear Ben.”

Australian soldiers

Buckland’s headstone is much the same as hundreds of thousands of others in 23,000 locations in 154 countries all around the world. A stone carrying the name of the fallen, the rank and service number, the date of death, the insignia of the regiment and in Ben’s case, a cross. For an extra 3½d a word — an optional last thought from a loved one. The only difference is Ben’s headstone looks brand new because it is. His original and heavily eroded stone was replaced in 2012.

When the Commonwealth War Graves Commission was set up in 1917 to care for the graves of the fallen it established 4 basic principles which it retains to this day:

  • Each of the dead should be commemorated by name on the headstone or memorial.
  • Headstones and memorials should be permanent.
  • Headstones should be uniform.
  • There should be no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed.

The CWGC takes the principle about headstones being permanent very seriously indeed and is constantly repairing and replacing decaying monuments…

“All the staff are here because they want to be here, because we all believe it’s right and fitting and the work that we do is totally correct. We’re honouring those who fell. We’re engraving names into stone which is quite a permanent thing. The First World War changed humanity completely. It changed the UK, it changed Europe, and it will never be repeated. We must honour them.”

Mike Diaz, former manager of the CWGC headstone workshop in France.

CWGC Inspectors

A recent survey of 470,000 headstones, found that about 50,000 1st and 2nd World War stones were in need of replacement. To ensure that visitors were greeted by perfect headstones, the CWGC’s production workshop in France upped its production levels by some 345%, from 6,000 per year to 22,000.

In the past the headstones were mainly engraved by hand but now they use a computerised machine called an Incisograph that can cut up to 10 headstones a day. The Commission is also attends to the problem of eroding and illegible text…

incisograph cutting text

“Military and personal inscriptions should be legible from a distance of two paces from the headstone, and the badge should be recognisable from a distance of two paces and legible from one pace. Monumental inscriptions should be capable of being read in reasonable light conditions, with normal vision, and at a reasonable viewing distance by persons who care to pause and reflect.”

Sir Fabian Ware – man who created CWGC

Eroded text is usually re-engraved on site by a visiting mason using a distinctive and particular cut…

“Everyone else engraves at 45 degrees, it’s a standard cut. We engrave at 60 degrees. As you look at a headstone, generally you stand about 6ft away out of respect, and so as you scan the rows you are actually at 45 degrees therefore there would be no shadow, so at 60 degrees there is, and you can read what it says. We’re the only organisation that engraves at 60 as far as I’m aware.”

Mike Diaz, former manager of the CWGC headstone factory in France

Dear Ben

So if you have a moment do go and visit Ben Buckland’s grave. I doubt if anyone goes to see him these days – if anyone ever did – and he deserves a tip of the hat. Take the path that runs down one side of the cemetery parallel and adjacent to the road. The headstone is about 30 yards from the main lodge and close to the boundary hedge. You can’t miss it. It glows in the sun as new – because it is.

The North St Margarets Residents Association, the NSMRA, has just completed a series of events to mark the First World War and its effect on their community. The trilogy started with an evening of World War 1 songs and poetry followed by a walk around the neighbourhood visiting the homes of those who died in battle. Last month we visited Isleworth Cemetery and the graves of those who were wounded in France but died at home.

— from Martyn Day