Captain Francis Buckley: From WW1 Army Officer to Archaeologist

If you were asked to find a connection between Prehistoric Archaeology and the First World War, I am sure it would take a little thought with such a considerable time difference between these two historical periods. However, I was fortunate enough to meet a gentleman a few weeks ago who was interested in our Prehistoric Lithics Collection, a small collection of which has been donated by a Captain Francis Buckley (seen below in Figure 1). I must admit, having still to fully explore our Archaeology Collections here at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery, I had not heard of this name Buckley previously. As with many of the collections at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery, objects have come from all over the world and have been acquired under a wide range of circumstances. I have not uncovered details as to why or how these lithics may have been deposited at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery, perhaps this may come to light with further research.

Figure 1 Portrait of Francis Buckley taken circa 1930s (Courtesy of Gallery Oldham)















What do we know about Francis Buckley’s early life?

We have a 1921 Census record for Buckley which records him as living in Greenfield, Saddleworth, Yorkshire and described as ‘not occupied for a living’ (Figure 2). Francis’s name appears on other records, but is interestingly crossed out. It is recorded above his son George Buckley, with whom we know that he served during the Second World War.

Figure 2 1921 Census Record for Francis Buckley of Greenfield, Saddleworth










We know that Francis Buckley was born in 1881 into a family of barristers. In 1905, at the age of 24 years,  Francis decided to follow in the family profession also training as a barrister. Ten years later, the family were deeply impacted by the affects of the First World War. It was a time of great sadness with the deaths of both Francis’s father, shortly followed by his eldest brother Richard. The death of Richard left Francis as inheritor of the family’s £91,571 estate, a millionaire in today’s money. At this time, Francis was a member of the Lincoln’s Inn Officer Training Corps, his enlistment into the Army having been initially delayed as a result of his poor eyesight.

When conflict meets archaeology

In May 1915, the German sinking of the Lusitania appalled Francis so much that he enlisted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 3rd line Battalion of the 7th Northumberland Fusiliers (Territorials). Francis went on to serve in some of the bloodiest battles of the First World War including the Somme. It is during this service that he developed an interest in archaeological finds, particularly Prehistoric lithics, easily disturbed as a result of the wide spread ground disturbance from heavy shelling. In January 1916, Francis travelled to France where he saw action in the major Western Front engagements — Ypres, the Somme, Arras, and Passchendaele. He was even mentioned in The London Gazette of 22nd May, 1917, for a Dispatch by General Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, dated 9th April 1917.

So what sparked this archaeological interest for Francis? If we look back at the nature of the military training undertaken by Francis in his role as a ‘grenadier’ or bombing officer with responsibility for fusing and coordinating the use of hand grenades, we can see some of the technical surveying and recording skills that he is likely to have acquired and which could quite easily have been transferred to his pursuit of archaeology. Within his role, Francis would have drawn panoramic sketch maps locating enemy positions for British artillery bombardment, and recording enemy movements in field notebooks.

Records suggest that Francis is believed to have first discovered archaeology in November 1917, when he and his commanding officer, Lieutenant-General G.R.B. Spain, identified several early flint implements and arrow-heads about Serques. For a period of two years between 1916-1918, Francis’s archaeological practice became increasingly closely intertwined with his military role. For example, during the inspection of shell-holes, he would also excavate flint artefacts. As with many soldiers, the material culture that they recovered became imbued with personal and sometimes life-changing experiences of war. Francis’s field notes record how he exchanged archaeological finds with fellow comrades, in 1918 whilst at Adam O.P, he gave one lithic artefact to Private J King, evidence that in the midst of the chaos and slaughter of the battlefield, archaeology was still at the forefront of his mind. He was obviously a man with a sense of duty as following the end of the First World War, Francis signed up to fight again this time in the Second World War, and was accompanied by his son George. Although he served in two World Wars, his thoughts on conflict are quite eye opening, commenting in particular on the ‘waste of lives, waste of effort and waste of ammunition’.

What do we know about the Francis Buckley lithics in the collections at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery?

We have a selection of 12 Prehistoric tools that have been donated to the museum having been originally excavated by Captain Francis Buckley. They are predominantly from sites in the area around Marsden, Southwest Yorkshire including Warcock Hill. These items were donated to Warrington Museum and Art Gallery in September 1932.

The lithics are as follows:

  • 5 pointed blades (excavated from Warcock Hill, Marsden, Southwest Yorkshire)
  • Proximal end of a large microlith (excavated from Warcock Hill, Marsden, Southwest Yorkshire)
  • 2 crude sub-triangular microliths (barbs) (excavated from Warcock Hill, Marsden, Southwest Yorkshire)
  • 5 micro burins (excavated from Warcock Hill, Marsden, Southwest Yorkshire)
  • 4 rounded scrapers (excavated from Warcock Hill, Marsden, Southwest Yorkshire) (Figure 3)
  • 2 end scrapers (now called truncated fales typically Middle Mesolithic) (excavated from various sites near Marsden, Southwest Yorkshire)
  • 5 barbs (excavated from various sites near Marsden, Southwest Yorkshire)
  • 3 knives (excavated from various sites near Marsden, Southwest Yorkshire)
  • 3 micro burin (excavated from various sites near Marsden, Southwest Yorkshire)
  • Small round scraper (excavated from various sites near Marsden, Southwest Yorkshire)
  • Burin (excavated from various sites near Marsden, Southwest Yorkshire) (Figure 4)
  • 3 points (excavated from various sites near Marsden, Southwest Yorkshire) (Figure 5)

Figure 3 Four rounded scrapers from Warrington Museum and Art Gallery (Francis Buckley Lithics Collection)













Figure 4 Flint burin from Warrington Museum and Art Gallery (Francis Buckley Lithic Collection)














Figure 5 Three flint points from Warrington Museum and Art Gallery (Francis Buckley Collection)













Returning from the Battlefield

Upon returning from his military duties during the First World War, Francis set about mapping the presence of early people in the Pennines and discovered many Mesolithic (mid Stone Age) finds. During what became known as his ‘flinting trips’, he was said to look like a tramp, his tools slung over his shoulder in an old sack and his old overcoat wrapped round him as protection against the elements on expeditions which could see him walking up to 30 miles in a day. Keen to spread his knowledge to other people, Francis distributed his collections to other museums in Oldham and Huddersfield. It was not just early archaeology that captivated Francis’s interests, he was in fact an authority on a remarkably wide range of other historical subjects, from medieval East Asian antiquities and Chinese ceramics to 18th century English glass and porcelain.

Other Museum Collections in the North West

Our extended research has identified that there are a number of collections of Prehistoric archaeological finds recovered by Francis at Manchester Museum and National Museums Liverpool, to name just a few institutions. In total, National Museums Liverpool have 2247 lithics mostly microliths, about half of these being from a later donation in 1950 from Mrs Buckley which also includes some antiquities and ethnographic items (Figure 6). A letter written from the then Director of Liverpool Museum to Captain Francis Buckley thanks Francis for donating some of his lithics to the museum, particularly the type specimens, stating how valuable they have been in helping top rebuild the collections following damage caused as a result of the Second World War (Figure 7). Francis’s archive of archaeological excavations and surveying notebooks are held at Kirklees Museums and Galleries (Tolson Museum), and we are grateful for them allowing us to use some scans from the notebooks in this blog (Figure 8).

Figure 6 End Scraper from Stack End, Marsden, donated by Captain Francis Buckley in 1944 to Liverpool Museum (Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool)

















Figure 7 Letter from the Director of Liverpool Museum Dr Douglas A. Allan to Captain Francis Buckley (dated 13th November 1944) (Courtesy of National Museums Liverpool)

Figure 8 Left: A facsimile of one of Buckley’s 1918 intelligence work panoramas reproduced in his memoir. Right: An illustration by Buckley showing his application of the technique for archaeological recording, dated to the 1920s, recording the Mesolithic site of March Hill (©Kirklees Museums and Galleries (Tolson Museum))


This short look at the inspiring story of Francis Buckley tells a story of a man of great strength, commitment and determination, whose fascination and courage to throw himself into learning new practices and knowledge, to an extent allowed him to create a new life after the horrendous wartime experiences of his early years. In total, Francis Buckley published 28 papers, books and pamphlets charting his archaeological discoveries. These contained observations from 12 years of lithic collecting and classifying, and were invaluable records of Francis’s findings. The well-known British archaeologist Grahame Clark identified Francis Buckley in 1992 as a “pioneer” who “set standards that in his own day were outstanding.” (Clark 1992).

Publications published by Francis Buckley include:

Buckley, F. (ed.) (1919a). War History of the Seventh Northumberland Fusiliers in France and Flanders. Grierson, Newcastle.

Buckley, F. (1919–22). Finds of Flint Implements in The Red Line Trenches At Coigneux, 1918. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia 3: 380–388.

Buckley, F. (1920). Q6A and Other Places. Recollections of 1916, 1917, 1918. Spottiswoode Ballantyne, London.

Buckley, F. (1924). A Microlithic Industry of the Pennine Chain: Related to the Tardenoise of Belgium. Privately printed pamphlet. Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.

Buckley, F. (n.d.a) Unpublished notebook with “1918” on flyleaf. John Gilks Archive, Saddleworth Museum and Art Gallery, Saddleworth, UK.

Buckley, F. (n.d.b). Unpublished correspondence dated “12 March 1924.” Francis Buckley Archive, Tolson Museum, Huddersfield, UK.


Griffiths, S., Saunders, N.J. Forged in Conflict: Francis Buckley, the First World War, and British Prehistory. Int J Histor Archaeol 25, 469–485 (2021).

Special thanks to Stephen Poole who initially highlighted the story of Francis Buckley to us during a research visit to draw and analyse our collection of lithic tools collected by Francis Buckley. Thank you also to Gallery Oldham, Manchester Museum, Tolson Museum and National Museums Liverpool for providing us with information and digital copies of the Francis Buckley material in their collections.


Researched and written by Hannah White (Collections Assistant at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery)