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