Lest We Forget: Harry Buckley
5th June 2020
I paid tribute to the late Harry Buckley in a Private Member's Statement to Parliament this week.
Harry, as many of you know, was among our most decorated and respected ex-servicemen, who passed away last month to illness.
Here's the full text of the tribute:
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (16:54:25): Along with many in the Lake Macquarie community, I was saddened by the recent passing of Harry Buckley. Harry was not only a fascinating and much?loved member of my community but he was also one of our region's most decorated and respected ex-servicemen. Born in 1926, he joined the merchant navy at the age of 14, spent three months of his life shipwrecked on a lonely Pacific atoll, later led a construction squadron at Woomera rocket range and went on to have a very distinguished career in our defence services with stints in Malaya, Vietnam and North Borneo. Harry received citations from the United States and Vietnam and boasted a chest full of medals and citations he earned along the way. One of them recognised his service within the most decorated unit of the Australian Army, the AATTV, or Australian Army Training Team Vietnam.
I acknowledge only a small part of Harry's achievements. I thank Daniel Sloan, the current president of South Lake Macquarie RSL sub-Branch at Morisset for his assistance in preparing this list. Harry began his career at 14 as an assistant purser and cargo supervisor in the merchant navy. During World War II he became shipwrecked aboard an inter?island merchant vessel,Jon Bolton. He spent three months perched on a lonely atoll with the rest of the ship's crew, presumed dead at sea, until eventually rescued. As Japanese forces threatened in 1942, Harry was promoted. At the age of 16 he found himself aboardDesikoko, which was attached to the US Army Small Ships section. It was used to supply ammunition and rations to troops near New Guinea. That ship was later bombed by the Japanese but Harry and the crew made it back to Cairns and, eventually, to Sydney. In Harry's own words:
I was discharged from the merchant navy. I was now on my own, feeling very lost in this city, but never gave up.
Harry lied about his age and joined the Civil Construction Corps, served in Darwin and then with the Australian regular army in 1947. From there he forged a career as a field engineer, joined the School of Military Engineering and was posted to the Royal Construction Squadron at Woomera rocket range. His promotion and service record there was astounding. On Vietnam Veterans' Day in 2007, Brigadier Frank Cross, AM, honoured Harry and stated:
Within one year of joining the army, Harry had completed his recruit training, his trade qualifications as a carpenter and joiner, his military field engineer training and was promoted to Corporal, section commander. Three years later he was promoted to Sergeant and, in time, Warrant Officer Class 1, serving eight years in that rank before retiring after 30 years of service.
Harry's time included service with the most decorated unit of the army, the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam. He was by all accounts an extraordinary leader but, as Brigadier Cross also noted, he was also a man of quiet confidence, intelligence and enthusiasm, with a ready sense of humour and a charismatic touch with people. On Anzac Day and at all other commemorations at Morisset and elsewhere, Harry's service was proudly reflected in the medals and citations he wore. As Brigadier Cross noted:
Very, very few have so many. Few who served in Vietnam wear citations from the US and what was then the South Vietnamese government.
Harry's service did not stop when he retired. He joined the RSL in 1965 and dedicated his time and knowledge to other veterans and their causes. At the South Lake Macquarie RSL sub?Branch, Harry held positions as a committee member, vice?president, president and trustee. He was also Vice?President and President of Hunter Valley District Council of sub?Branches and became a mentor to many in younger generations. Among them was Daniel Sloan, the current President of the South Lake Macquarie RSL sub?Branch. Dan said that Harry approached him a few years ago, just before his ninetieth birthday, to announce that ill health required him to "hang up the boots and retire" from his active role. His retirement was reluctantly accepted, but not before the sub?branch appointed him its honorary patron.
I had the pleasure of meeting Harry on a number of occasions. He was an extraordinary man with an extraordinary history of service to his country and his community. I am privileged to have met Harry Buckley and to be able to acknowledge his service in Parliament today. I know that the Premier and members of this House will join me in passing our very best regards to Harry's family and friends, particularly those within the RSL. We salute and thank Warrant Officer Class One Harry Buckley. Lest we forget.