John Buckley VC

b. 24/05/1813 Stalybridge, Cheshire. d. 14/07/1876 Poplar, London.

John Buckley (1813-1876) was born in Cocker Hill, Stalybridge, Cheshire on 24th May 1813, the son of Thomas and Sarah Buckley. On John’s baptism records it states that his father was a labourer. He was baptised at St George’s Church in Stalybridge.

John Buckley VC

John gained work as a young boy in the mills of Stalybridge, firstly working at Harrison’s Mill and then Bayley’s Mill. When he was 18, he travelled to Manchester and joined the Bengal Artillery. Shortly afterwards he was sent to India in June 1832 as a gunner.

In India, he met and married Mary Ann Broadway in 1835. Living in Calcutta, the couple had three children but by 1845, tragedy had struck and Mary Ann and two of the children had died of disease. Buckley remarried in 1846, but in 1852, the only surviving child of his first marriage died, and in 1853, two sons from his second marriage also died.

Four years later, in 1857, Buckley and his second wife and three surviving children moved to Delhi where he was appointed Assistant Commissionary of Ordnance. He was employed at the Delhi Magazine, a storehouse of guns and ammunition. Later that year, the Indian Mutiny broke out against British rule and the mutineers soon reached Delhi. On 11th May 1857, Buckley and eight fellow soldiers found themselves defending the magazine against overwhelming numbers. Rather than let the ammunition to fall into enemy hands, they decided to blow up the building and themselves. Miraculously four of the men survived the explosion, though sadly George Willoughby was killed in action two days later. The other men, including Buckley would be later awarded the Victoria Cross. At the time, the Royal Warrant for the VC did not permit posthumous awards so only three VCs could be awarded.

Buckley was captured by the enemy and soon learnt that his entire family had been ruthlessly killed by the rebels. He had now lost two wives and all of his children, and begged his captors to die. They refused due to his bravery at the Delhi Magazine. He later escaped and re-joined the British Army. Buckley was part of the operations then that saw the capture of 150 of the rebels from the Delhi Magazine incident, and due to Buckley’s personal circumstances, he was present at the execution of the rebels. The rebels were strapped to the cannons and blown apart.

Buckley and the two other survivors of the Delhi Magazine (George Forrest and William Raynor) were gazetted for the VC on 18th June 1858, and two months later, Buckley was presented with the medal by Queen Victoria on Southsea Common, Portsmouth on 2nd August 1858. Buckley was back in England because, having been promoted to Lieutenant, he fell ill in India, and was granted two years leave. He returned to Stalybridge for a time, and having recuperated, returned to India in 1861, now promoted to Major. Major Buckley remained in the Army for a few more years, before retirement and he returned to England.

In later life, he lived in London, and on 14th July 1876, he passed away peacefully at his home, 213 East India Dock Road, Poplar, aged 63. He had fallen on hard times in later life, and was buried in an unmarked grave on common ground in the Tower Hamlets Cemetery. The cemetery is now a park, and for well over 100 years, his grave remained unmarked. In 2012, his unmarked grave was found by a local woman, Doreen Kendall, who lived in Bethnal Green. Following a campaign in the Manchester Evening News, the Victoria Cross Trust became involved, and a new headstone was erected on the site of Major Buckley’s grave. Buckley’s medals are held by the Royal Logistic Corps Museum, Deepcut Barracks, Camberley, Surrey.