b. 10/10/1892 Alloa, Clackmannanshire, Scotland. d. 22/03/1918 Marteville, Somme, France.
John Crawford Buchan (1892-1918) was born 10 October 1892 at Alloa, Clackmannanshire. He was the third son of David Buchan, the editor and publisher of The Alloa Advertiser, and Margaret McGregor Crawford Buchan, of 5 Kellie Place, Alloa. His siblings were Margaret Ann, David, Robert, Jessie, Norman William and Francis Hall.
After leaving Alloa Academy in 1910, John was apprenticed to Charles Thomson, the Town Clerk, with a view to entering the legal profession. However, the pull of the printers’ ink in his bloodstream proved to be too strong and he moved to his father’s paper in 1912.
Apparently a colourful character – a Journalist, Mountaineer, Linguist, Musician and last, but most certainly not least, a Ventriloquist – he loved writing and provided articles on climbing and the outdoors to the national daily The Scotsman in addition to his everyday work at the Advertiser. A keen sportsman, he played rugby and even skied in the Ochil Hills on the northern fringe of the county. In his holidays he worked at the Scottish YMCA Summer Camp which suggests that he belonged to that band of ‘muscular Christians’, so many of whom went on to become junior officers and, too often, fatalities. While at school, John had discovered that he had a gift for languages and so, taking this together with his keen interest in outdoor pursuits, it was not surprising to find him in Switzerland in the fateful summer of 1914. Resident in the Alpine resort of Leysin, he found himself cut off from home when war broke out. Fortunately, he was able to earn a crust as an interpreter/clerk in a local hotel where he remained for a year until he received the papers necessary for him to journey home via France.
Immediately upon reaching London he volunteered for the Army and was assigned after basic training to the Royal Army Medical Corps to prepare hospitals in order that they would be ready to receive the expected flood of wounded. After two months of this work, his abilities were presumably recognised and he was commissioned with the rank of Second Lieutenant in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, the 7th Battalion of which drew its recruits mainly from Clackmannanshire. By September, 1917, he was ready and embarked for France on what would unfortunately prove to be a one-way ticket.
On 21st March 1918, John Crawford Buchan found himself on the outskirts of the village of Marteville on the Upper Somme where he and his men were about to bear the brunt of the ‘Kaiserschlacht’. Also known as Operation Michael or the Spring Offensive, this ‘Kaiser’s Battle’ was the brutal blitzkrieg launched by the Germans in a last desperate attempt to smash the Allies before the Americans arrived in force. When fighting with his platoon in the forward position of the battle zone, 2nd Lt. Buchan, although wounded early in the day, insisted on remaining with his men, and continually visited all his posts, encouraging and cheering his men in spite of most severe shell fire, from which his platoon was suffering heavy casualties. Later, when the enemy were creeping closer, and heavy machine-gun fire was raking his position, 2nd Lt. Buchan, with utter disregard of his personal safety, continued to visit his posts, and though still further injured accidentally, he continued to encourage his men and visit his posts. Eventually, when he saw the enemy had practically surrounded his command, he collected his platoon and prepared to fight his way back to the supporting line. At this point the enemy, who had crept round his right flank, rushed towards him, shouting out ‘Surrender.’ ‘To hell with surrender,’ he replied, and shooting the foremost of the enemy, he finally repelled this advance with his platoon. He then fought his way back to the supporting line of the forward position, where he held out till dusk. At dusk he fell back as ordered, but in spite of his injuries again refused to go to the aid post, saying his place was beside his men. Owing to the unexpected withdrawal of troops on the left flank it was impossible to send orders to 2nd Lt. Buchan to withdraw, as he was already cut off, and he was last seen holding out against overwhelming odds.
He was taken prisoner by the Germans but died of his wounds on 22nd March 1918, age 25, and is buried in Roisel Communal Cemetery Extension. This even greater accolade came from one of his men. “He never asked us to do what he would not do himself.” Two of his brothers were also killed in the Great War. His VC was gazetted on 2nd May 1918 and was presented his father, David, by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 3rd March 1920. His medals are held by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum, Stirling Castle, Scotland, having been donated by his niece, Mrs J Fowler, in early 2001.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ARGYLL&SUTHERLAND HIGHLANDERS MUSEUM, STIRLING
BURIAL PLACE: ROISEL CEMETERY, ROISEL, THE SOMME, FRANCE.
PLOT II, ROW I, GRAVE 6
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map
Moira Benny – VC Stone in Alloa, Scotland.
Andy Wright – Medal Group at Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Museum, Stirling.