An expat soldier from Buxton who lost his life 50 years ago while serving with the Australian army in Vietnam is to be finally laid to rest in his home town next week.
But with only one living relative, an appeal has been issued for the local community to turn out and pay its respects to Gunner Thomas William Checkley on his final journey, to give him the send-off he deserves.
Born in Buxton in 1938, Thomas emigrated to Australia in 1965 and just one year later joined the Royal Australian Artillery. He died while on active service after falling from a vehicle returning from Vũng Tàu in Vietnam on August 5, 1966, aged just 28.
Thomas’ body was interred at Terendak Military Cemetery in Malaysia, but his remains have now been repatriated as part Operation Reunite, an initiative organised through the Australian government and the largest of its kind the country has seen.
In total, the remains of 33 soldiers who were buried in military cemeteries in Malaysia and Singapore have been returned to Australia, and Thomas’ have been brought home to Buxton - where his sister Yvonne still lives - for burial at Buxton Cemetery next Monday, July 11.
David Smith, of Mellor & Smith Funeral Directors, said: “Thomas may not have died while serving in the British Army, but this Buxton man still lost his life during conflict and we should pay tribute to his sacrifice.
“I think it would be nice to get as many people there as we can. So anyone who remembers him from years gone by and even those who don’t know him but want to pay the respects are welcome - I’d really like to see a good turnout.”
The Rev Carl Edwards is expected to lead the graveside service, which will be attended by Thomas’ surviving family along with officials from the Australian Defence Staff and members of the Royal British Legion (RBL).
Robert Nicol, secretary of the RBL Buxton branch, said: “He was a son of the town and he should be buried with military honours, regardless of where he fought for he grew up in Buxton.”
Robert said the Legion would now be looking to get his name added to the town’s war memorial. He added: “This man gave his life while fighting and no-one should be forgotten not even in death so it will be an honour to be at his service, and I call on other servicemen and women to stand with me.”
The burial will take place at Buxton Cemetery on Monday July 11, at 1pm.
Australian govt tributes
Terendak cemetery is located within a Malaysian Army Base and due to security restrictions there can be no visitors.
An Australian department of veteran affairs spokesman said: “We are honoured to have been able to ensure Gunner Thomas Checkley will now be able to be laid to rest in his hometown of Buxton.”
Minister of defence Marise Payne said: “I hope today will bring some solace and closure.”