First World War Project
William BUTCHER (of Doddington)
b. 1889 (in his 1907 papers)
Private, Service Number L/8476
The Society reviewed this casualty (2020) because of an unresolved question-mark over his connection with Doddington when associated with another William Butcher.
As a result, the earlier record has been deleted and replaced with the following record for "our" William Butcher, with clear connections with Kingsdown/Doddington.
His younger brother Horace died at the Somme, but in 1916 and is Remembered on the Selling Memorial in St Mary the Virgin Church.
William's mother Louisa Matilda Butcher was living at 28 Frederick Street, Sittingbourne at the close of World War One. But, we know from William's military records that he was a farm labourer living in Selling at the time of his enlistment into the Buffs in 1907, aged 18 years. His birthplace shows as (sic) "Kingstown, Parish of Doddington".
William was part of a large family with two mothers - firstly, Mary Ann Francis (née Hartup - herself a very young widow) and, secondly, Louisa Matilda (née Cheeseman) who lived until 1931 aged 69 years old.
The 1901 Census shows William's father (44), also named William, and mother Louisa Matilda (39) are living in Lower Ensign's Cottages, Chilham, Kent. His father was a Farm Labourer whose movement can be tracked through his children's birthplaces:
- to William's first wife - James (20, b. Upchurch), Louisa (19, domestic servant, b. Fulham, London), Thomas (18, farm labourer b. Upchurch - "infirmity from childhood"), Bessie (16, domestic servant, b. Upchurch), - to Louisa (Lucy) Matilda - Edward (14, "odd boy on farm/agricultural", b. Upchurch), Annie (12, b. Upchurch), William (11, b. Kingsdown), Elizabeth (9, b.Farleigh), Horace (6, b. Kingsdown - also a WW1 casualty), Ellen (4, Kingsdown), Emma (2, Selling), and Albert (9 months, Chilham). One additional son is listed in 1911 - David (b. Chilham, 1903) - a brickmaker (Smeed, Dean and Costa, Sittingbourne) who enlisted on 26th July 1919 giving a false age of 18 year 164 days - so he was discharged in October. By 1911, Louisa was widowed and states she bore 12 children, 11 surviving. See the family tree below.
Unusually, William's Register of Soldiers' Effects is highly detailed. The distribution of William's Effects of £13 2s. + £5 Gratuity were very listed as:
- Mother Louisa M Butcher (Gratuity of £5 + £2 3s 8d and, at the request of William's brother Horace, his share of 19s 10d). Horace was to die at the Front too (1916).
- Siblings who received £1 1s 10d were:
- Brother Albert
- Sisters Annie, Elizabeth, Ellen, and Emily.
- Half-brothers James and Thomas
- Half-sister Bessie Humphreys
- Brother Albert
- Sister-in-law Edith A. £1 3s 10d at the request of Brother Edward
William was posthumously awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory Medals [See Appendix 1]
Military Records for William Butcher
These records confirm that William was a farm labourer, born in (sic) "Kingstown, near Doddington."
Unusually, the records describe William as he appeared on enlistment and after a "gymnastic course":-
Height: 5' 8¾" and 5' 9¼"; Weight: 124 lbs and 140 lbs; Fully expanded chest: 35" and 35½"; Range of Expansion: 2½" and 1".
William was fresh-faced with grey eyes and dark brown hair. However, his distinguishing marks were 5 scars on right leg, shoulders scar and near right eye.
His service was calculated from 25th March 1907 at Canterbury into "D" Company of The Buffs. He was posted into 1st Battalion on 13th July 1907 at Dover and 2nd Battalion. On 10th September 1910 William boarded the "SS Rohilla" (later used as an ill-fated hospital ship that ran aground 14th October 1914 with the loss of 83 lives) bound for Singapore where he remained until 31st January 1913. During this period, it appears William was in the "Mounted Infantry" between 1st October 1908 until 5th January 1909. The 1911 Census confirms William's location as "H" Company, 2nd Battalion, The Buffs - Tanglin Barracks, Singapore.
From Singapore, 2nd Battalion, The Buffs, departed aboard the R.I.M.S Northbrook on 25th January 1913 bound for India. William arrive in India on 31st January 1913 where he stayed in Cannanore (Kannur today) until 15th November 1914 when he boards the SS Ultonia on 16th November bound for Home where he remained until 16th January 1915. After 62 days at Home, William joined the British Expeidtionary Force on 17th January 1915 and 107 days later he was Killed in Action. In total, William served his country for 8 years and 40 days.
William's Military Record gives us some further understanding of the man and his experiences. From the Conduct Sheet, we see that William progressed to Class 1 (from 3) of pay by 1914. However, he was not above committing breaches of discipline that attracted fines and Confinement to barracks at Home and Overseas:-
29th June 1908 - ALDERSHOT: Dirty Parading - 3 days Confined to Barracks (CB)
27th August 1908 - ALDERSHOT: Irregular Conduct on guard - 7 days C.B.
2nd November 1909 - ALDERSHOT: Dirty on Parade, 8.40am. - 2 days C.B.
29th January 1910 - ALDERSHOT: Dirty berth - 2 days C.B.
28th October 1911 - SINGAPORE: Drunk and impropertly dressed in Town about 10.50pm - 8 days C.B.
17th May 1912 - SINGAPORE: Absent from parade at 6.30am - 3 days C.B.
2nd August 1913 - INDIA: Cannanore (Kannur today): I Breaking out of barracks after tattoo and remaining absent until apprehended at 11.45pm. II Drunk. Fined 2/6 and 7 days C.B.
12th November 1913 - INDIA: Cannanore (Kannur today): Drunk in barracks about 6.15pm. Fine 7/6 and 7 days C.B.
William was generally healthy with brief episodes of influenza (Canterbury) and tonsillitis (India).
During the same engagements, Teynham lost Leonard Terry and George Abraham Hall
Western Front on 3rd May 1915
Sadly, another local lad, George Abraham Hall of Teynham, fell the day before (2nd May). Earlier Diary accounts can be viewed in his story. This was a catastrophic engagement (22nd April - 4th May) for the 2nd Battalion, The Buffs, as the German's rained shells on the trenches from the cover of a nearby wood.
"May 3rd: From early dawn enemy commenced mortaring and shelling D4 and 5 and the new Support trench in a relentless and determined manner.
7.30am: Captain Houblon reported many casualties, his parapet blown in at many points and the situation critical. Soon after reports arrived from D1 and D3 that enemy were moving in force over from our right to our left and appeared to be massing behind houses in front of D5.
Enemy continued fierce shelling with crumps, high explosive shrapnel and whizbangs to which our artillery made little or no reply. It was a most nerve-racking and trying period for all troops concerned. A state of affairs existed which was almost intolerable.
3.30pm: Enemy opened rapid from several batteries of whiz bangs on to the remainder of the parapet of D4 and 5. The bombardment sounded like machine gun fire from field guns it was so rapid and incessant. A little later the enemy walked into D5, there being few if any left to resist them. Captain L Howard Smith, Lieut GR Howe with some 80 men of "C" Company had occupied the trench in this whole party is now missing and it is believed most of them were killed or wounded.
The Germans now occupied the woods behind D5, a movement which made D4 quite untenable and they were held up however by a small party of Buffs under 2/Lieut Backhouse (?) and a company of Royal Fusiliers under Capt Ford who gallantly held on to the new support trench despite fearsome enfilade fire from heavy howitzers and other artillery.
Captain Hablon and Lieut Sharp and remainder of "D" Company who were still holding D4 were now being enfiladed by Germans from D5 and taken in reverse from the wood. Captain Hablon therefore was compelled to retire along the trench line, a movement which was carried out steadily. The Germans were still pressing forward and soon occupied a portion of the new support trench where it joined D4. Our men and the enemy were now only a few yards apart, unfortunately the enemy were in greater numbers and far stronger situation. Many of the enemy were shot especially when they filed out of the wood in front of D5. In the retirement we also lost heavily.
The two last men in D4 were Company Sergeant Major Post and No.7852 Pte F Campbell both of "C" Company. These two bravely kept the enemy off while the others got away and were able eventually both to follow under very heavy fire.
5pm: Lieut. Sharp was wounded but was able with the survivors of Captain Hablon party to reach D3 and later to D1 held by Captain Barnard with "A" Company. When the musketry and machine gun fire opened in the wood, Major Power and Major Johnstone instantly decided to send up the support company to the ridge SW of the wood with the object of checking the enemy's advance and of reinforcing Capt Tod's (?) Company in the new support trench. The exact situation at the time was unknown. On the way up, Major Power was wounded in the chest.
From about 3.45pm to 6pm the enemy plastered, bombarded and searched the ridge with an inferno of artillery fire, but the Royal Fusiliers and a few of the 4th East Yorks stood their ground and the enemy showed no inclination to advance from the wood. Any movement our people hoped to hear our Artillery open, but hoped in vain. If only our guns could have got onto the wood, the enemy must have suffered heavily. As it was the contest was an unequal one. It was our infantry alone against the enemy's infantry in force and a most powerful combination of the enemy's artillery. Fortunately for us the attack of the enemy's infantry lacked push and determination.
Things quieted down towards dusk, the enemy contenting himself with remaining where he was, enabling our retirement which was ordered for the night 3rd-4th May to be carried out quite steadily with a minimum of loss, all wounded men spare ammunition and tools being brought away.
4th May 1915: POPERINGHE: The remnants of the battalion moved back to a wood where it bivouacked."
A summary of losses was given in the Regimental Diary:-
"Casualties. 22nd April to 4th May
Officers Killed: 5. Colonel A.D.Geddes; Captain J. McB Ronald; Lieut E.H.U. Battenshaw; 2/Lieut C.W. Laing; 2/Lieut Featherstonhaugh Frampton.
Officers Wounded: 9. Major R.E. Power; Lieut A.D. Williams; Lieut J.B. Sharp; Lieut D.V. Thomas; 2/Lieut L.M.S. Essell; 2/Lieut E.B. Bailshouse; 2/Lieut R.M. Watson; 2/Lieut G. Seath; 2/Lieut S. Rivers.
Missing, reported Wounded: 3. Capt F.W. Tomlinson; Lieut G.R. Howe; 2/Lieut W.G. Jackson.
Missing: 2. Capt L. Howard Smith; Lieut A.L.D. Ryder.
The other rank casualties are most difficult to account for particularly in respect of the 150 men of the two drafts that arrived on 30th April and 1st May respectively. These men's names were not known. Also many men were buried in the trenches and it was impossible to obtain identity discs.
The following figures are approximate, it is certain however that many others have been killed, including the majority of the above mentioned drafts.
Killed: 67. Wounded: 259. Wounded and missing: 13. Missing: 363."
Additional Family Members
His Service Records have not survived. However, some subordinate records do shed some light.
Killed on 7th October 1916 in a failed Allied attack at the village of Gueudecourt, north-east of Flers and north-west of Lesboefs during the Battle of the Somme.
Horace has no known grave, so appears on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, Picardie, France. Pier and Face 5 D. He is also Remembered in Selling through their CHurch Memorial
Horace's Gratuity of £8 10s was given to his mother, Louisa, as sole legatee.
Record from the day Horace Died:
The War Diary is the only record to shed light on the fate of Horace. For the sake of completeness the Society has transcribed the War Diary for the day he died alongside 347 other ranks - killed wounded and missing. Horace's body was not found.
"GUEDECOURT. Very fine day. The following orders for attack were issued to Companies.
'OPERATION ORDER No.23 by Lt.Col T.G. COPE, D.S.O. Commanding 6th Battalion, the Buffs.
1. The General Advance of the Allies will be resumed on the 7th inst.
2. The 37th Infantry Brigade will carry out the attack on the German trenches in 2 Stages.
A. At Zero , the Infantry will advance and capture the line N.21.C.9.0. - N.20.D.8.7. - known as the Green Line.
B. At Zero + 20 minutes a further advance will be made to the final objective on the line N.21.b.6.0. - N.15.c.2.8. - the Brown Line.
3. The attack will be carried out as follows"
... in common with so many OPERATION ORDERS, there followed a detailed prediction of what would happen...but were not realised.
The Diary of the day records:
"Quiet morning. At 1.30pm the enemy opened up a heavy M.G. fire and shrapnel barrage on the front line.
At 1.45pm the attack commenced. Very heavy M.G. fire was opened, which held up C Company on the right. A & B companies reached the 1st objective with fairly heavy casualties, but on advancing from the first to the second objective were completely held up with M.G. fire. 20 men of A company succeeded in getting into touch with 61st Brigade and advanced with them.
The 1st objective was held till 12 midnight when the Battalion was relieved by the 6th Queens. The 6th R.W. Kent Regiment were held up on the left by M.G. fire; the 61st Brigade on the right attained their objective. On relief, the Battalion went back to bivouacs in LONGEUVAL VALLEY. The following casualties were suffered during the day. Officers Killed - 8 (Lieut Hatch, 2/Lt OMMANEY, 2/Lt NORRIE, 2/Lt ROUTLEY, 2/Lt Lott, 2/Lt HARNETT, 2/Lt MOSS, Capt. Pagen, R.A.M.C.. Wounded 12 - Lt-Col T.G. COPE, D.S.O., Lieut.CUMBERBATCH, Lieut BOND, Lt CHAPMAN, 2/Lt KIDD, 2/Lt WOOLRIDGE, 2/Lt TAYLOR, 2/Lt SPRINGAY-MASON, 2/Lt TURK, 2/Lt TAYLOR, 2/Lt JACOBS.
O.R. Killed, wounded and missing - 347. 4 prisoners were captured."
Horace was postumously awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal. [See Appendix 2].