FRANK BUTLER (1892 - 1977)
A Local Hero at Ypres

FRANK BUTLER was born in the Dell, Kingsclere in 1892, the youngest of twelve children. The family later lived at 6 Sunnyside from where he joined the army.

On 21 March 1912 he enlisted at Reading into the Royal Berkshire Regiment and subsequently joined the 1st Battalion. In those days the county regiments each had two battalions which rotated between service at home and throughout the British Empire and in normal times he would have expected to see a considerable amount of imperial service.

These were not normal times and Britain was already planning with Belgium and France on the measures to be taken in the event of the Germans mobilising against France. The guarantee of Belgian neutrality was the issue which caused Britain to enter the First World War.

The order was given to the British Army to mobilise on 4th August 1914 FRANK BUTLERwas then serving in B Company of the 1st Battalion and based at Aldershot.

The next few days were a flurry of activity as the reservists were called back to the colours and were equipped and assimilated into the fighting strength of the battalion. On 12 August they travelled by train to Southampton to embark on the SS Mellifont and the SS Ardmore for Rouen. On the same day, the German Army had completed mobilisation and was placing seven armies totalling 1.5 million men in position west of the Rhine. The German assault on France and Belgium began on 17 August.

From Rouen the battalion travelled by train to Venerolles where they spent a week in training before marching towards the Belgian frontier in company with the rest of the 6th Infantry Brigade, the 1st King's Royal Rifles, the 1st Kings (Liverpool) Regt, the 1st Royal Border Regt and the 2nd South Staffordshire Regt.

They crossed the Belgian Border on 23 August and entrenched at Villereille-le-Sec five miles SE of Mons. During the day their position was shelled for four hours. At 5 am the next day they were ordered to retire and were forced to abandon large amounts of equipment as their wagons had withdrawn once they were in position. After abandoning 80,000 rounds of ammunition they still had enough for every man to carry 300 rounds.

At 3 am on 25 August the battalion stood to in its bivouac at Bavai and covered the retreat of the rest of the brigade before retreating themselves to Venerolles. From there they continued to be moved from place to place, sleeping where they could find shelter and eventually on 9 September advancing through Charly Sur Marne until they were held up at La Metz Ferme where they and the opposing German troops began entrenching.

On 7 Oct the Battalion War Diary comments that "all men now have greatcoats". The battalion had been forced to abandon their original stock of greatcoats to free the wagon carrying them in order to carry the wounded.

As the battlefront began to stabilise the allied governments decided to rationalise their organisation and the British units which had been thrown into action in support of the French on the Marne were withdrawn to join the remainder of the British Army occupying the line between the Belgians on the coast and the French army in the are a of Ypres. On 16 October they were moved by train through Abbeville and Calais to Hazebruck from where they marched to Ypres. The British were planning an attack into Belgium but this was pre-empted by a massive German attack on 20 October and the battalion found themselves in action again this time holding a position along the Zennebeke - Becelaire Road east of Ypres. When the fighting died down they were withdrawn into reserve on 19 Nov.

There now began a pattern which was to last throughout the war, of time spent in the trenches followed by a spell in reserve. Whilst in reserve they assimilated drafts of new troops and spent time in training, re-equipping and re-clothing the troops. It was a time for hot baths, washing clothes and having some fun with concerts, football matches and boxing tournaments all being recorded in the war diary.
The battalion was back in the line for Christmas Day when every man received a Christmas Card from the King and Queen (they had been inspected by the King whilst in reserve). They did not participate in the famous Christmas Truce and spent the day sapping (trench building) towards the German lines.

FRANK BUTLER had shown himself as a brave and zealous soldier and is specifically mentioned for his expertise at patrolling in front of the trenches and his skill in locating the enemy snipers. On 20 Feb. 1915 he was part of a storming party drawn from B Coy. From the Battalion War Diary we learn that:

" B Coy joined an assault on the part of the German Trenches known as the Ducks Back - to ascertain if any mining was taking place (on both sides huge efforts were made to tunnel under No Mans Land and endeavour to blow up the other trenches). The storming party consisted of 1 officer and 30 men, the support party of 1 and 20 with a reserve party of 1 and 60.

5pm bombardment of enemy trenches began

5.20 pm the range was lengthened (the fire was concentrated to the rear of the enemy trenches. The assault began and the storming party reached the trench with few casualties although their officer was badly wounded. They moved along the German trench shooting and bombing whilst a Royal Engineer officer checked for evidence of mining activity. As no evidence was found, at 5.40 pm the order was given to retire. "

After another spell in reserve the battalion once again found themselves in the trenches in time to celebrate Tofrek Day on 22 March. This commemorates the battle following which Queen Victoria bestowed the honour "Royal" on the Regiment. More practically they built a new communications trench to the rear which they named "Berkshire Rd". Visitors to the Regimental Museum in Salisbury can see one of the signboards from this trench.

On 2 April (Good Friday) the battalion received orders that it would be withdrawn from their trenches during the night. The Royal Engineers had been mining the German trench and were ready to explode it. Plans were put in hand to make the Germans anticipate an assault and have large numbers of men standing to in the mined trench. This included lots of random rifle fire. From the battalion war diary:


"As soon as it was dark B Coy found two men (one being Frank Butler) who volunteered to cut the enemy's wire entanglements in front of their trenches. These men were given a Bangalore Torpedo each. These articles are tubes about six feet long and 4 inches in diameter filled with an extremely powerful explosive and the method of deploying them is to push the pointed end into the wire and by means of a self-igniter to explode the torpedo.
This was successfully accomplished about 9.20 pm"


The mine was later exploded. FRANK BUTLER described his exploit as 'like carrying chimney sweeping rods into battle'.

The area in which the battalion was operating was a deep salient east of Ypres. It could be attacked on three sides and rather than withdrawing to prepared lines which would have been easier to defend Sir John French determined to defend it at all costs. During 1915 the line wavered backwards and forwards at a very heavy cost in casualties which eventually totalled 60,000 in the second battle of Ypres.

On 15 May the battalion was involved in an assault near Richbourg. The attack began with an all day artillery barrage and at 11.30 that night the battalion moved silently over the parapet into No Mans Land. C Coy began the attack and were 200 yards from the enemy trenches before they were detected and subjected to heavy rifle and machine gun fire. The following companies were unable to avoid major casualties and although the trench was captured it was at the expense of 49 killed, 300 wounded and 77 missing. FRANK BUTLER suffered shrapnel wounds.

The London Gazette of 29 June 1915 carried the announcement that "Lance Corporal FRANK BUTLER of the First Battalion, the Royal Berkshire Regiment, had been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for conspicuous gallantry and untiring zeal in patrol work in front of the trenches, on several occasions locating, under a heavy fire, the enemy's snipers. On the night of 2nd and 3rd April he exploded a Bangalore Torpedo under the enemy's wire."

Frank was also selected by the Allied Command to receive the Russian Cross of St George. After more than a year of arduous service he came home on leave for Christmas 1915.

Dr Marples, a well-known resident of Kingsclere, had organised a subscription to honour the local hero and a reception was held in the Albert Hall on Boxing Day at which Frank was presented with a gold hunter watch. The balance of the funds was invested in his name in War Loan Stock.

Christmas 1915
Presented by admiring friends of Kingsclere to Cpl Frank Butler, DCM and Russian Order Cross of St George for conspicuous bravery in France during 1915

The 1st Royal Berks continued to see action throughout the remainder of the war with more wasteful assaults on the enemy defenses which grew stronger as the months passed. In 1917, the French Army was exhausted and suffering mutinies and once again the British were required to carry out a major attack to take pressure off their allies. This became the Passchendale campaign.

This campaign is renowned for the appalling conditions in which the British infantry lived and fought. During this campaign FRANK BUTLER was severely wounded in the legs and returned to the UK. He was discharged on pension from the army on 5 December 1917. Because of his DCM he received an additional 6d a day on his pension!

Frank Butler's Medals
The Distinguished Conduct Medal is on the left and the Russian Cross of St George is on the right.

In 1921 FRANK married Millicent Hutchins of Ashford Hill and in 1922 they moved into one of the first council houses in Kingsclere. He was a founder member of the Kingsclere British Legion Branch in 1922 and also joined the Newbury Branch of the Old Contemptibles. He was employed by Chivers, the Newbury builders, until the outbreak of the Second World War when he took up employment at the Thatcham Ordnance Depot. He worked there until finally retiring in 1962 at the age of 70.

He was not finished with violence when he left the army and in 1944 he was in the bar of the Crown when black American soldiers stationed at Sydmonton began shooting at the building and killed the landlady Mrs Napper. On this occasion discretion was the better part of valour and he dived under a table.

FRANK was summoned to be a witness at the trial of the American soldiers in Thatcham. The whole affair had been hushed up because of the imminence of D Day and he was sworn to secrecy. Up to the time of his death he never spoke of the outcome of the trial and took his secret to the grave.

With his wife Ruth, FRANK had five children and thirteen grand children. They were very active in the community, especially the Methodist Church. They also became foster parents. FRANK proudly attended the annual parade of the Old Contemptibles at Aldershot every year and remained a member of the British Legion throughout his life.

FRANK BUTLER reached the end of his distinguished life in hospital at the age of 85 on 8 Sept 1977

THE BUTLER FAMILY

Butler is a very prominent local name, both in Kingsclere itself and in other surrounding communities. It has been suggested that the family originated in Ireland and that the original residents came here as horse dealers and settled.
Thomas Butler was born in Tadley and married Sarah Rabbit of Ashford Hill. On first marrying, they lived in the Dell, Kingsclere where they are recorded in the 1881 Census as having three children. They subsequently had a total of thirteen children of whom Frank was the youngest. By the time Frank enlisted the family were living at Sunnyside and many of the older children had already left home.
On leaving school (in those days at the age of thirteen) Frank worked on a farm with his father. He enlisted in the Royal Berkshire Regiment in 1912 and it appears that on enlistment he lied about his age; this caused problems when it came to claiming his pension.
In 1922, Frank married Millicent Ruth Hutchins, the daughter of Matilda and Harry Hutchins of Ashford Hill. Ruth had worked as a munitions worker on Newbury Race Course during the First World War.
Frank had suffered considerably as a result of his war experiences and for the first two years after he came home he was unable to go upstairs to sleep. Like many other returned soldiers he had problems gaining employment and was out of work for the first two years of marriage.
To help out, Ruth took in washing and ironing, especially for Nurse Corneby, the District Nurse, caring for her uniforms, collars, cuffs and aprons. She also washed shirts for Mr Corneby who worked in Reading. With no machines or electric irons she frequently worked to two or three in the morning.
As well as their own five children, Frank and Ruth fostered other children and took in evacuees from Southampton during the Second World War.
Many people thought Ruth an incredible woman, not least for nursing her son Everett Richard to a full life. He weighed only three pounds at birth and was wrapped in cotton wool and placed in a shoe box. There were no incubators in those days and his nursing care was to be bathed in olive oil. Such a tiny baby was an object of great interest and Dr Pellow had to order no more visits from interested neighbours to prevent infection and stop him becoming a peep show.
Everett survived and married Morfydd (Gwen) Pritchard. They had five children and still live happily in Coppice Rd. (written in 2001)

 

The Retreat from Mons, the Race for the Sea and the First and Second Ypres

Britain had long guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium and since 1904 had an understanding with France (the Entente Cordiale) which had led to the development of plans for action in the event of a German attack.
Germany for its part had long had plans for attacking France which involved mobilising its army quickly and deploying them over road and rail communications designed specifically for such an attack.
The attack which started in 1914 modified these plans to include a sweeping attack to the north of Paris through Belgium and the war began on 4 Aug with the invasion of that country. France immediately attacked in an attempt to recover Alsace-Lorraine.
The German attack through Belgium encountered an unexpected degree of resistance from the Belgian Army and von Moltke decided to concentrate his resources against the French army to the south.
Meanwhile, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was rapidly mobilising and embarking for France where they were thrown into the line on the Franco-Belgian frontier near Mons.
Here they were attacked by a large German army on the 23 Aug. The BEF comprising two divisions of professional troops was able to inflict heavy casualties on the Germans attacking en masse. A rate of rifle fire of fifteen rounds a minute convinced the Germans that they were marching against machine guns.
Nonetheless, the Germans had an overwhelming advantage in artillery and the British Army was forced to carry out a fighting retreat during which they continued to inflict heavy casualties. With their French allies they made a stand on the River Marne and then drove the German army back to strong defensive positions on the River Aisne which became part of the trench system which ultimately stretched from the Channel to the Swiss Border.
This fighting retreat and stand by the British Expeditionary force, earned the comment from the Kaiser that the German Army had been held by Britain's contemptible little army and the survivors for ever afterwards called themselves "the Old Contemptibles"
Both sides then began an outflanking manoeuvre towards the Channel and the British proposed to take over the line in the Aisne Region of France on the Belgian border. They moved at the beginning of October just in time for the first battle of Ypres.

First Ypres
On 20 October 1914 the Germans began a massive assault on the British defences north and east of Ypres. Using new volunteer regiments they again attacked en masse only to see many of their troops slaughtered by the rapid rifle fire of the British infantry. The attacks continued with heavy casualties on both sides until 22 November when both sides began digging in for the winter. This battle was known as the First Ypres.

Second Ypres
On 22 April 1915, the German army launched a major attack on then Ypres salient using gas for the first time in the war. This was later to rebound upon them. The battle which followed was described as "a particularly brutal and savage one, fought in anger and without compassion or quarter". It lasted until 25 May and the 1st Batn. Royal Berkshire's "butchers bill" for the 15th May indicates the high rate of attrition suffered by the British army.