Thursday, 3 June 2010

Norman Buckingham 1918 - 2010

Capt George Brodrick taking a high pheasant with his keeper Norman Buckingham in a superb photo (Country Life)

Norman Buckingham, one of the country's greatest gamekeepers, died in Hampshire on 30th May 2010 aged 92.

He was for many years keeper to Capt George Brodrick of Eastwell in Kent. Capt Brodrick moved to the Dunley estate in Hampshire 1979, and Norman moved there with him, managing the shooting (which had been established by my step-grandfather, Sir Alfred Herbert) and helping to look after Mrs Brodrick after Capt Brodrick died.

Norman Buckingham at home at Dunley in 2009

He was a legendary keeper and a great character with a fund of amazing stories. And he himself was a great shot. In the 1930's, he once shot 26 snipe with 26 cartridges and his father, who was also a gamekeeper, told him that nobody would ever perform that remarkable feat of marksmanship again.

Norman's obituary, written mainly by his widow Rita, gives a good picture of his very full life:
Norman died in Basingstoke and North Hants Hospital on 30th May 2010. He was born in Winterbourne Monkton, a small village near Swindon. The youngest of seven, he enjoyed a country childhood with complete freedom to roam and explore the glorious Wiltshire downland, which sadly few children have today. His father was a head gamekeeper, so he was well versed in gamekeeping, shooting, training gun dogs etc. However the pay did not satisfy the young Norman and in 1939 he applied to join the police force. As he was also in the territorials he was immediately called up when World War II started. The young gentleman farmer who was employing him at the time was eager to join up himself, so he pulled a few strings and got Norman out of the army, much to his disgust, to run the farm. That was not to be the end of his involvement in military matters.

Although officially a member of his local home guard unit, he was trained in the art of guerilla war for Churchill's secret army. These were fit young men in reserved occupations, and in the event of an invasion, would have been faced with fighting to the death (it was estimated that their life expectancy would have been about two weeks). Many years later a personal letter from George VI was found by his wife and framed before it was lost forever.

After the war, Norman decided to be a herdsman specialising in Guernsey cattle. He moved to Ham, Berks, where he met Ellie who was to become his first wife. They later moved to Twyford where their son David was born. Norman spent many years working and exhibiting Guernseys for wealthy landowners. He used to rrelate with relish the hialrious exploits he and his fellow herdsmen got on to at the shows!

He started at Eastwell Park, Kent, in 1958 for Capt George Brodrick. They were to form a friendship lasting the rest of their lives. Eastwell was a large estate of 7000 acres and in 1979 Capt Brodrick retired and asked Norman and his wife to move to Dunley Manor, where they both enjoyed shooting and fishing to the full. Norman also looked after the grounds and was a general factotum.

Sadly Ellie died in 1983 and Norman spent five years on his own. His little fox terrier Julie was a great comfort to him at this time. Rita and Reg Constable had been great friends with Ellie and Norman for many years in Kent. Reg died in 1984. The friends had always kept in touch and after some years Norman and Rita decided to enter into a relationship and later married. They were to spend twenty happy years together and went on many memorable holidays, including two cruises, which Norman enjoyed immensely.

Although he had several serious health problems in his mid 80s, he was as tough as old boots and led a fully active life until the last few months.

He has left a huge gap in the lives of all who knew him with his inexhaustible store of jokes and songs. He was a man who many people were drawn to and loved and will be sadly missed but never forgotten.

From Hill & Valley, the parish magazine for Hurstbourne Priors, Longparish and St Mary Bourne and Woodcott. July 2010