Reginald Langdon Buller

Reginald Langdon Buller, Civil Servant, Naval Officer and Vigneron was born in Geelong, Victoria on 30 May 1894 the only son of Frederick Thomas Buller (Civil Servant) and Mary Graham Buller (nee Anderson). He was educated at Essendon State School and St Thomas’ (Church of England) Grammar School, Essendon. Buller was also a naval cadet and later a member of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve.

According to family lore he was born with a love of the sea and wanted to go to sea under sail but this ambition was thwarted by his father who obtained him a position as a Clerk 4th class is the Victorian Public Service. When war broke out in August 1914, Buller was a Leading Seaman in the RAN Reserve and sought a commission in the expeditionary force then being formed for operations in German New Guinea. He was accepted with the rank of Midshipman on 28 August 1914 and sailed with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF) in the troopship Berrima shortly after.

Buller landed at Rabaul with the ANMEF on 11 September 1914 and was involved in the fighting that day. His main task was to act as a runner taking messages from the advancing troops back to the main landing point and then escorting reinforcements forward to the front line. For his bravery and devotion to duty he was subsequently awarded a Mention in Dispatches which was gazetted in January 1916. He remained serving in Rabaul as part of the occupation force, after the German surrender, and was promoted to Acting Sub Lieutenant in November 1914. Photographs of him at the time show him to be a tall and solidly built young man.

After his return to Australia in early 1915 he accepted a commission, in May, in the newly created Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train which was formed from naval reservists; many of who had served in German New Guinea. The unit embarked in Melbourne, in the troopship Port Macquarie, on 3 June 1915 for service on the Western Front but was diverted to Gallipoli in August 1915. The Bridging Train served at Suvla Bay from August – December 1915 during which time Buller had command of the units steam tug Daphne which was used for unloading stores lighters.

In January 1916, after the evacuation from Gallipoli, the RAN Bridging Train was dispatched to the Suez Canal to operate the swing bridges on the canal which allowed ships to pass along the canal when the bridges were ‘broken’ and then troops to cross over when the bridges were ‘re-made’. This was vital but exhausting and dull work. Buller was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant in March 1916 and commanded one of the Bridging Train detachments on the canal. The unit was disbanded in March 1917 and the men either transferred to the Australian Imperial Force or returned to Australia for transfer to the Navy. Reginald Buller returned to Melbourne, in the troopship Bulla, in early July 1917. The promise to allow the returning men to transfer to the Navy was not honoured and they were demobilised in late July.

Group portrait of Australian Navy and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF) Officers at German New Guinea. Back row (in background), left to right: Gunner Young RAN; unidentified native; unidentified native. Middle row (standing): Midshipman William, Royal Australian Naval Reserve (RANR); Midshipman Cocks, RANR; Signal Boatswain Hunter RAN; Sub-Lieutenant Webber RANR; Lieutenant Marsden CMF; Lt Godby, CMF; Sub Lt Buller RANR; Midshipman Sage RANR; Lt Read RANR. Front row (sitting): Captain Flood, Australian Army Medical Corps; Lt Gillam RANR; Lieutenant Commander L. S. Bracegirdle DSO, RAN, Commanding Officer (HMAS Penguin tally band); Dr Runge; Paymaster Lieutenant Commander Livesay, Royal Navy. AWM A02241


Buller returned his job in the Public Service and resided with his parents at Moonee Ponds and during 1918 he worked as a civil servant at Largs Bay in South Australia. He remained an officer in the RAN Reserve although his rank reverted to Sub-Lieutenant and he was not promoted to Lieutenant until July 1919. He was placed on the RAN Reserve retired list in December 1920 and later promoted to Lieutenant Commander on the retired list in July 1927. Buller put his naval service behind him and chose not to claim his war medals until ordered to do so by the Director of Naval Auxiliary Services in 1931!

Reginald Buller had been engaged to Jean Elizabeth Spence, only a few weeks before he embarked for overseas service in June 1915, and they were finally married at Moonee Ponds, by license with Presbyterian rights, on 31 August 1918. They were to have three children (Jean born in 1919, Margaret in 1922 and Richard in 1926).

In 1920 Buller decided to leave the Public Service, which he detested, and spent six months working at a winery in Mildura for minimum wages of eight shilling per day. Following this he decided to start his own winery and despite lots of well meaning advice not to do so purchased 170 acres at Rutherglen. He named his property Calliope in honour of the Royal Navy warship which had survived the cyclone at Samoa in 1889 and was the subject of A.B. (Banjo) Patterson’s Ballad of the Calliope.

Despite some initial difficulties, including the complete destruction of his second crop of grapes by hail, Buller’s winery weathered the storms and by the mid 1930s was producing high quality wines specialising in fortified wines. The family, however, was dealt another blow when Jean Buller died from Hodgkin’s disease in January 1937; she was buried at the New Melbourne General Cemetery in Fawkner. Reginald Buller was now left with three children to raise and a winery to run.

On 13 December 1941, after the entry of Japan into the war, Reginald Buller rejoined the Navy as a Lieutenant in the RAN Reserve. He served briefly at Navy Office in Melbourne before being dispatched to the shore depot HMAS Torrens in South Australia where he served from January 1942 – May 1943 as the Staff Officer for Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship training. While serving in Adelaide he married Marjorie Ethel Joyce Whitford but there were to be no children from this second marriage.

Buller served briefly at the amphibious training school HMAS Assault, at Port Stephens during May-August 1943, as the assistant beach master putting into practice skills he had last used at Suvla Bay in 1915. He then served at HMAS Cerberus until demobilised in July 1944, aged 50, and returned to his winery at Rutherglen.

In 1951, Reginald Buller bought a second winery at Beverford near Swan Hill, some 350 kilometres west of Rutherglen with the idea of ‘drought proofing’ his business by taking advantage of irrigation which was not available at Rutherglen. Gradually he passed the running of the wineries over to his son Richard and in 1966 retired to Melbourne where he resided in Croydon.

Reginald Buller, who had been suffering from peripheral vascular disease for some years, died suddenly from a Myocardial Infarction at Heidelberg on 18 October 1968. He was cremated at Fawkner Crematorium three days later. Buller was survived by his three children and his wife from his second marriage.

Contact Greg Swinden about this article.

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