(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5 am the next day they were ordered to retire and were forced to abandon large amounts of equipment as their wagons had withdrawn once they were in position.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
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.
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!
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
is a very prominent local name, both in Kingsclere itself and
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.
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.