18 SEP 1918: World War I and Sergeant Maurice Vincent Buckley, DCM, 13th Battalion, originally from Hawthorn, Victoria, earns the Victoria Cross at Le Verguier. Buckley was born at Upper Hawthorn, Melbourne, Australia, to Timothy Buckley, brickmaker, and his wife Agnes, née Sexton.
His father was a native of Cork, Ireland; his mother was Victorian-born. Maurice Buckley was educated at the Christian Brothers’ School in Abbotsford.
He joined the 13th Light Horse Regiment on 18 December 1914 shortly after the outbreak of the First World War at Warrnambool, Victoria, but found himself discharged in September the following year “declared a deserter, 20 March 1916, and struck off strength”.
On 6 May 1916 he enlisted again, this time in Sydney, using the name Gerald Sexton — his brother’s first name and his mother’s maiden name. He was sent to France in early 1917 where he fought on the Western Front.
Following the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal he was promoted to sergeant in August 1918 and involved in the advance on the Hindenburg Line.
He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 18 September 1918, at Le Verguier near St. Quentin. His unit was advancing under cover of a creeping barrage but was held up by German machine gun posts. Buckley attacked them with his Lewis gun section and captured 30 German prisoners of war.
When the advance was again held up by machine-gun fire, Sergeant Buckley, supported by another platoon, put the enemy guns out of action. Later, he again showed conspicuous initiative in capturing hostile posts and machine-guns.
According to the citation, he was “to the fore dealing with enemy machine-guns, rushing enemy posts, and performing great feats of bravery and endurance without faltering or for a moment taking cover.
By September, the offensive had reached the forward outposts of the Hindenburg Line. On September 18, Sexton’s battalion was ordered to take Le Verguier. Thomas White was a captain in the 13th. His battalion history, The Fighting 13th, is part biography-part hagiography, glowing in its assessment of the Allied men.
Despite White’s breathless prose, the facts of Sexton’s actions that day are compelling reading. Leading the charge across a ridge towards the town, Sexton ran at three machinegun posts alone, firing his Lewis gun from his hip, and jumped into German trenches, one of which yielded 30 prisoners, including a battalion commander.
White recalls: “All agree that Sexton’s fearless figure was again, an inspiration. Two machineguns on his right and one on his left again held up his company. A platoon was lying, or kneeling, firing at the left gun. But this did not suit Sexton, who calmly stood up to get a better target, and silenced the gun.
He certainly was leading a charmed life, for the other guns were still pouring lead into the platoon and around him, the spiteful pinging and the thudding into the ground of bodies making all seek shelter. All except Sexton.
He remained standing up and firing into the guns until he put both out of action. The platoon rose and rushed ahead after Sexton, when another trench of Huns bobbed their heads and rifles up, and fired rapidly. Sexton, nearest to them, instantly jumped into the trench, killed all slow at “kamerading” and sent back five more prisoners.
Surely this was enough for one day for anyone. Not for Sexton. His officers had advised him over and over again to take less risk. “You’ve only got to die once,” was his reply. He would rush three more machinegun posts.
By day’s end, some reports say, he had captured more than 100 German prisoners and likely killed half that number again. Sexton was recommended for the Victoria Cross. “And surely no VC was ever better merited,” White wrote.
The London Gazette carried the news. To Sexton, Sergeant G. would be awarded the Victoria Cross “for most conspicuous bravery”.
The award of the VC was originally gazetted under the pseudonym Gerald Sexton, but he had disclosed his real identity by the time that it was given to him by King George V at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on 29 May 1919 and was discharged in December 1919. He was severely injured in a riding accident at Boolarra, Gippsland on 15 January 1921, and died on 27 January, aged 29. Ten Victoria Cross recipients were pallbearers at his funeral. He is buried at Brighton Cemetery in Melbourne. He was unmarried.
His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia. Medals: Victoria Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal. Photo: Sgt Maurice Buckley, VC, DCM and colleagues. More; http://ow.ly/Skmir