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Poignant service will remember Vietnam War victim who came home to Dundee

Lance Corporal Robert Buchan.
Lance Corporal Robert Buchan.

A memorial service will be held at Birkhill Cemetery next month for a Dundee soldier killed in action during the Vietnam War.

Lance corporal Robert Buchan, known as Robbie, was gunned down by the Viet Cong while serving with the Australian Army in the Nui May Tau Mountains in the Phuoc Tuy province on December 11 1969. He was only 22.

Now a memorial service is to take place at his parents’ grave – where his ashes are interred – after an Australian military historian asked the Tay Valley Family History Society if they knew where his ashes had been scattered.

Although born in Dundee in 1947, L/Cpl Buchan moved to Australia with his family when he was four.

The Buchans returned to Scotland to live in the Carse of Gowrie and L/Cpl Buchan studied agriculture before finding a job in dairy in Errol.

However, in 1966 he decided to return to Australia and worked for two years on a farm in Gidgegannup, Western Australia.

In 1968 he enlisted in the Australian Regular Army and was sent to Vietnam after basic training in May the following year.

He had been leading his platoon when a scout signalled an enemy bunker 15 metres ahead.

L/Cpl Buchan stopped his platoon and sent a second scout to investigate.

The enemy opened fire and he was hit with small arms fire in the chest.

Historians say his decision to halt his platoon saved the lives of his men.

L/Cpl Buchan’s was body was shipped to RAAF Butterworth in Malaysia, where he was cremated.

L/Cpl Buchans funeral in Malaysia.
L/Cpl Buchan’s funeral in Malaysia.

His ashes were returned to his parents Robert and Jane, who were living at Craigdallie near Inchture.

His father told reporters after his son’s death: “‘He sent home ‘signing on’ papers two years ago and little did I think I would be signing his life away.”

L/Cpl Buchan’s name is on the Australian War Memorial and a photo of him being given the last rites by a Catholic priest from New Zealand is one of the few images captured showing the death of an Australian soldier in Vietnam.

The New Zealand Army Roman Catholic padre, Chaplain Ray Stachurski, administering the last rites to L/Cpl Buchan.
The New Zealand Army Roman Catholic padre, Chaplain Ray Stachurski, administering the last rites to L/Cpl Buchan.

Known as Jock to his comrades, he is also commemorated at the Garden of Remembrance at the Perth War Cemetery in Western Australia.

There is also  a Robert “Jock” Buchan Memorial Track at the Vietnam War Era Memorial Compound in Toogoom, Queensland.

L/Cpl Buchan’s parents died in 1998 and 2002 respectively and their son’s ashes are now interred in their grave at Birkhill cemetery.

The Buchan family headstone at Birkhill Cemetery.
The Buchan family headstone at Birkhill Cemetery.

Lieutenant Colonel Fred Fairhead from Australia intends to pay his respects at the site when in Scotland next month and will travel to the graveside ceremony on August 5.

He had written to the Tay Valley Historical Society and they were able to tell him that L/Cpl Buchan’s ashes had been buried alongside his parents.

Helen Beat from the Tay Valley History Society said: “The family went out to Australia but came home again and then Robbie went back to Australia later.

“We got an email from Colonel Fairhead asking if we knew where his ashes had been scattered and one of our members was able to find out they had been buried with his parents but we don’t know if there are any living relatives.”

The service will take place at noon on August 5.

Nearly 500 Australian soldiers were killed in Vietnam and more than 3,000 were injured.

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