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Thomas George Buchanan - The Great War

Memories of his Great War as told to his grandson, John Hemry Collinson

Thomas George "Pop" Buchanan MB

as remembered by his Grandson John-Henry Collinson

Most relevant to anything I can remember about "Pop's" WW1 record is a conversation I had with him that was not about the war. He told me of the excitement when penicillin and other antibiotics first arrived. Up till then he told me medicine was something that mostly did not work.
What worked was nursing and sometimes surgery. It is against this pre-penicillin background that one has to see his wartime record.

He had been in the terriers (TA - Territorial Army) up till the outbreak of war. This was very much a political statement for someone from Belfast but he told me it was also the attraction of the horses - most TAs were attached to hunts and they also ran point to points and organised dances. (The social life had its attractions.) The small amount of money you got for being in the Territorials which had been an initial attraction was offset by the costs of uniform etc. Simply put the TA was something a certain type of person from a certain social milieu joined. When War broke out he was appointed to the temporary rank of Major. (See “Documents”). This seems, looking at the records, to have been a common promotion for all doctors. (The information in this paragraph arose when talking to him about Sassoon's three George Shearston books especially the first pre war one)

He served in Egypt and the Middle East. I once asked him if he had been relieved not to have been in the Trenches and he replied robustly along the lines of "Oh God yes. At the time we were all pleased and later when the truth came out I was just thankful. Besides you could not have your horses there. I was lucky. I did not know it then but I had a good war"

While stationed in Cairo he briefly met the King. One morning he had been outside an officer’s club/hotel/barracks having a quiet cigarette when he noticed a senior officer come out and do the same. "Good morning he said without properly looking at him and then noticing who it was snapped to attention and almost shouted "SIR". Good morning said the King waving at him to be at ease. Is that all you said to each other I asked. Yes he said we smoked for a little while in silence.

While in Cairo he climbed the Great Pyramid. It took longer than he thought and was caught out in the sun.

He was attached to the Royal Artillery. He was on (Allenby's?) march on Jerusalem. He had his horse shot away from under him and got separated from his unit. I think it was this incident that got him described as missing believed dead.

The story as I understand it is that his wife "Ju" who was living in Northern Ireland received a telegram saying that he was missing believed dead.
Two days later she received a telegram confirming his death. According to both him and my mother she immediately went out and bought herself some very attractive and expensive mourning clothes. The next day she received a message saying that he was still alive. His name appeared later on memorials in his old university and in Belfast cathedral commemorating the Great War dead. This was always a subject of great humour to him.

The horse that was shot was something of great sadness to him. In common with many soldiers he had brought his own mount with him and it was a particular favourite. He twice lost mounts during the campaign and he also told me that for a few weeks he was attached to a unit who were mounted on camels. It was a wild and painful ride he said to gallop on a camel until you got the knack. It was vastly different from riding a horse.. He told me that while with this unit they charged under fire some Turkish soldiers.

Watching David Lean's film "Lawrence of Arabia" on TV he told me that he had once seen Lawrence in the distance in Cairo. He also told me that he got to Jerusalem just as the Arab forces were leaving.

During the 1960s Billie met someone who said "The last time I saw Tom Buchanan was when he pulled me out of the Suez Canal after my boat capsized. He got into trouble because it was an offence to voluntarily go in the water; it was so filthy". During the seventies we twice tried to get the story out of Pop who merely said that a lot of people had gone in the water that day.

There is more he told me of his WW1. I just have to remember it.
John-Henry Collinson

Owner/SourceJohn-Henry Collinson
Linked toThomas George BUCHANAN

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