John Buxton (ornithologist)

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Edward John Mawby Buxton, (16 December 1912 – 11 December 1989) was a scholar, university teacher, poet and an ornithologist who played a significant part in the development of ornithology in Britain in the years immediately after World War II.[1]

John Buxton was born in Bramhall, Cheshire, and educated at Yarlet Hall, Malvern College, and New College, Oxford. Before the war he visited Norway several times and gave lectures on English Literature at Oslo University. He also went on digging expeditions to Palestine and Ireland. He was Warden at Skokholm Bird Observatory in 1939 with his wife, Marjorie (Ronald Lockley's sister), conducting research and bird ringing.[2]

Second World War[edit]

At the outbreak of war he was reading for his Ph.D. at Oxford. He volunteered for the Navy, but when a special appeal came from the War Office for men with certain language qualifications he responded to that. After little over two months at an infantry OCTU he was posted, as an Intelligence Officer, to the 1st Independent Company (later to become the 1st Commandos) [3] to Norway and was taken prisoner early in May 1940.[4] In July he reached Prisoners of War Camp, Oflag VII C/H in Laufen Castle.

At this camp, the prisoners organised a 'University' and Buxton gave lectures in English and helped in the work of the library. His love of the countryside and of birds, apparent in his poetry, was a constant solace in camp life and bird-watching was, for him and several of his fellow prisoners, Peter Conder, John Barrett and George Waterston, one of the keenest of their few pleasures.[5] They were brought together in Oflag VIB near Warburg [6] and later in Oflag VIIB at Eichstatt.,[7]

Westward was written in prison camp. It was of particular interest that prisoners should be able to carry on their literary work and for it eventually to reach England.

John managed, from his prison camp, to get in touch with Erwin Stresemann, who sent him rings to use in the camp and some useful literature, including the scarce first volume of Niethammer’s Handbuch der Deutschen Vogelkunde, now in the Alexander Library at Oxford.


In 1946 he became Vice Warden of Skomer Field Study Centre and as a member of West Wales Field Studies Council played a key part in establishing the original Bird Observatory committee.[8]

His life to retirement in 1979 was spent as Emeritus Fellow of New College Oxford as lecturer in English Literature.[9][10]


Buxton, John. The Pilgrimage (1936)

Buxton, John. Judas (1938)

Buxton, John. Westward (1942) Jonathan Cape Ltd

Buxton, John. Such Liberty (1944)

Buxton, John. Atropos and other poems, (1946) MacMillan & Co Ltd

Buxton, John. A Marriage Song for The Princess Elizabeth (1947) MacMillan & Co Ltd

Lockley, R.M. & Buxton, John. (1950). Island of Skomer. Staples Press.

Buxton, John (1950). The Redstart. New Naturalist

Buxton, John (1954). Sir Philip Sidney and the English Renaissance.

Buxton, John (1963). Elizabethan Taste. MacMillan & Co Ltd.

Buxton, John (1967). A Tradition of Poetry. MacMillan & Co Ltd


  1. ^ D. W. Snow. "Obituaries : John Buxton." IBIS 132 (International Journal of Avian Science, British Ornithologists' Union). 1990. pp. 621-622.
  2. ^ Shearwaters, p182 Lockley, R M
  3. ^ Five Years to Liberty. Pentland Press. 1994
  4. ^ Letters from Skokholm, R M Lockley; 143,
  5. ^ Atropos, flyleaf
  6. ^ Niemann, Derek. Birds in a Cage p 79
  7. ^ Mark Cocker. Crow Country. Vintage p178-181, 203-204
  8. ^ Island of Skomer, Lockley R M and Buxton, J
  9. ^ The Book Collector, vol 40, no 1. Spring 1991, New College Library
  10. ^ New College Record 1989