September 17 – Archbishop who was airborne at Arnhem

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1974 – President and Mrs Childers with Most Rev Alan Buchanan, Archbishop of Dublin, and Fr PJ Murphy.

Alan Buchanan was a Church of Ireland cleric who served as a chaplain in Italy and in Operation Market Garden.

Born on 28/02/1905 in Fintona, he was educated at Portora Royal School and Trinity College, Dublin. In 1931 he was ordained. Buchanan was with the Church of Ireland Mission in East Belfast until 1937 after which he was rector of a number of parishes at St Cedma Inver and St Mary, Belfast and St Comgall, Bangor.

On 202/01/1942 Buchanan was commissioned as Royal Army Chaplain (218713) and on 18/08/1943 he joined the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment. He served with them in Sicily where he was taken prisoner by Italians.

The authors of “By Land, Sea and Air” wrote about him in an incident. ”The Italian officer spoke very good English and told them they were POWs. However, Buchanan suggested that it would be more sensible for the Italians to surrender as they were surrounded by British troops, which had landed all over the island. The Italian officer talked it over with his men and agreed to surrender, provided that they would nog be harmed. After disarming the Italians, the party left to find their obective. Buchanan had no idea where to go and after walking for some time came under fire from some British troops who fired a few rounds at the group; probably because they thought that they were a party of Italian soldiers with British prisoners, given the ratio of Italian to British troops. Buchanan managed to warn them and stop firing, letting them know that they were actually British troops with Italian prisoners.”

On 17/09/1944 Buchanan landed with the first units of his battalion, the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment, on Landingzone-S, at Reijerskamp near Wolfheze

Buchanan attached himself to B Company and went on a long night march with them to Arnhem’s western outskirts. During the march they suffered repeated attacks resulting in minor skirmishes. Time and again Buchanan entered the line of fire to help the wounded and the dying.

On 19 September Buchanan and Captain Brian Brownscombe, the battalion Medical Officer, set up a Regimental Aid Post (RAP) in the cellars of Arnhem’s municipal museum. As well as tending some 20 wounded, Buchanan took part in the actual fighting. He ordered No 7 Platoon A Company to occupy the house directly opposite the museum; and when the Germans threatened to take over the museum’s eastern side, he managed to warn the troops who had gathered in a narrow gully west of the museum to withdraw.

On 20 September he left the wounded in the care of a medical orderly and tried to make contact with Captain Brownscombe, whom he wanted to help in dealing with the heavy number of casualties. Buchanan wrote about this in a letter to Major Cain in 1945: “When I met the CO and you later that morning, I had left twenty wounded in the front house (Museum) in charge of a medical orderly. I felt it was my job to stick by the Battalion at all costs until the battle was decided. But when I got back to the next house there were still men wounded. ‘Basher’ Brownscombe was with them, but he was dressing one of them and, as the rest seemed rather defenceless, I stayed on with them and was captured a few minutes later. I always felt since that I should have stuck to the first decision and left the wounded in charge of the medical orderlies. If I had been with you throughout the week at Oosterbeek I would have been much happier. I intended to try to evacuate the twenty wounded from the first house, but I saw a steady barrage from mortars and tanks outside, while they were comparatively safe inside. So I thought that the fairest thing to them was to leave them were they were.” (By Land, Sea and Air. Page 118)

While Buchanan was working the make-shift Regimental Aid Post fell into enemy hands. Buchanan stayed with the wounded and was soon captured and taken to the railway station some 500 yards east of the museum. He was allowed to return to St Elizabeth Hospital, which at that time lay firmly in German hands.

Until 27 September he was able to visit the wounded in St Elizabeth’s and the Municipal Hospital some way further north. Afterwards he was taken to Apeldoorn and ended up at the King William III barracks. After 26 October he worked at the St Joseph’s Foundation, a psychiatric hospital at Apeldoorn.

On 13 April 1945, Buchanan was taken to Heemstede. Here the head of the German medical services in Holland used his services when discussing with the Canadians the position of the German sick and wounded after the final surrender.

After the liberation, Buchanan resumed his post as Rector of St. Mary’s, on the Crumlin Road in Belfast. In 1945 he visited the former battlefields and was involved in the creation of Oosterbeek’s Military Cemetery.

On 20 /09/1945 Buchanan was awarded a Mentioned in Despatches for his actions in Arnhem. Three padres were KIA in the early hours of the invasion: Padre Parry (7th Para Bat), Padre Harris (1st Canadian Para) and Padre Kay (8th Para).

Buchanan was Bishop of Clogher from 1958 to 1969 when he became Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland. In 1977 failing health forced him to step down. Buchanan died in Castleknock, Ireland. He is buried in Donacavey Cemetery, Fintona.

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