65065, “B” Battery, 173rd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery
Died 3 December 1917
Buried Grevillers British Cemetery
William Buttle was nearly 10 years younger than his brother Frederick. He was born on 2 December 1891 at Howstead, and christened at Otterford on 6 March 1892. He started school at Brown Down in September 1895, leaving in December 1904. For further background to the family, see Fred Buttle’s entry. In 1911 William was living at Road Farm, Buckland St Mary, working as a farm labourer for a well-known local personality, farmer and dealer W D Berry.
When his parents moved to Thornfalcon in 1914, he moved with them, working for Mrs Greenway, of Lower Farm. He was still with them at Church Lane Cottage when he enlisted. As The Courier reported after his death: “he had won regard as a faithful workman, and generally by all who knew him, for his upright personal qualities”.
William Buttle’s Service Records have survived, so we know more than usual about his Army career. The only problem is that these records have been damaged by fire and water (in the Blitz in 1942) and are not easy to read. We also have two photographs, one taken, I believe, when he enlisted, which shows him looking a little raw and nervous. The second, which I believe could have been taken when he came home on leave late in 1916, shows (I think) a more assured and mature young man.
His Attestation Form shows us that he enlisted in Taunton on 16th January 1915. This was two months after Fred had been killed. Was he spurred into volunteering because of this – there was no compulsion (other than a well-publicised moral one) at this stage. What did his parents think? He gave his occupation as Cowman. On the 18th he was transferred to No 3 Depot, RFA at Hilsea, Portsmouth, being posted to the 13th Reserve Battery of the RFA as a Driver. More often at this stage of the War men joined their local regiments. His grandfather, who died before he was born, had served as a Gunner with the Royal Marines Artillery. Driver of course meant not that he was driving a vehicle, but in charge of or riding the horses that pulled the guns.
He was 5’5″, weighed 134 lbs, had a chest measurement of 38″, with an expansion of 3″, his physical development noted as good. He had a scar on his right cheek and upper lip. In April he was vaccinated, and in May inoculated twice against enteric fever.
On 2nd February he was posted as Driver to the 24th DAC.
‘The 24th Divisional Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery served with the 24th Division [which] was established in September 1914 as part of Kitchener’s Third New Army and began to assemble in the area of Shoreham. The division suffered from a lack of equipment and a lack of trained officers and NCOs to command the volunteers. In late June 1915 they moved to Aldershot for final training and they proceeded to France at the end of August. The Division concentrated in the area between Etaples and St Pol on 4 September and a few days later marched across France into the reserve for the British assault at Loos, going into action on the 26th of September and suffering heavy losses. In 1916 they suffered in the German gas attack at Wulverghem and then moved to The Somme seeing action in The Battle of Delville Wood and The Battle of Guillemont.’ – The War Time Memories Project, online.
William left for France with the 24th on 4th September 1915. ‘The whole Division’s first experience was truly appalling. Having been in France for only a few days, lengthy forced marches brought it into the reserve for the British assault at Loos. GHQ planning left it too far behind to be a useful reinforcement on the first day, but it was sent into action on 26 September totally inexperienced and already exhausted, whereupon it suffered over 4178 casualties for very little gain.’ – from The Long Long Trail, online.
The Divisional Ammunition Columns had the responsibility of supplying munitions to their section of the Division, and also of providing waggons to move military equipment about. So William, a country boy, was well suited to this job. Reading the 24th DAC’s War Diary from 1916 it would seem they were at as much risk from stampeding horses and mules as from hostile gunfire: death and injury to both men and animals are reported.
On a more mundane note, on 3rd October 1915 he was in trouble: ‘Improper Conduct on Parade’, sentenced to 2 days Confined to Barracks. Then again on 30th October: ‘Leaving rifle on wagon’; that earned him 7 days CB from the same officer, Captain Cameron Smith.
In a series of RFA reorganisations he was posted to the 36th DAC on 12 August, 1916, to the 154th Brigade on the 14th and finally to 173rd Brigade, part of the 36th Division, on the 12 September 1916. On the 24th November he was mustered Gunner, though by 19 September 1917 he was mustered as Driver again. On 12 December 1916 he was ‘Granted leave to UK with Ration Allowance’, returning on the 22nd. He was awarded a pay increase of 3d a day on 16th January 1917, just two years from his original enlistment.
In September 1916, the 173rd War Diary notes, amid a plethora of RFA reorganisations, the arrival of William’s Battery from the 154th Brigade: ‘B/154 Battery RFA – a complete six gun battery posted with the whole of its personnel, horses and equipment to B/173 thus completing the Brigade up to the new establishment moves. All Battery wagon lines moved to new locations.’ These batteries consisted of 18 pounder field guns, seen on the move in this picture. Once William was away from the DAC and with a Brigade as Gunner or Driver he was in more danger.
In the Autumn of 1917, a new offensive was planned near Cambrai, using tanks (still a very new weapon) and new use of technology for directing the guns. Secrecy was essential, so preparations had to be made unobtrusively. New gun platforms and weatherproof ammunition dumps were constructed; 700 rounds for each 18 pounder were brought up and Batteries moved up. Zero hour was 6.20am on November 20th. The attack was extremely successful – church bells were rung in England when the news came through – but then the Germans re-grouped and counter-attacked, the tanks failed, and Allied direction from above ran out of inspiration, despite the bravest of fighting. On November 30, between 7am and 7pm the Brigade fired approximately 12,000 rounds; B Battery (William’s) fired 3800 rounds and kept 6 guns in action throughout.
He was wounded on 2 December 1917 with gunshot wounds to his legs and right arm. Taken first to an Advanced Dressing Station, he was then taken to the 5th Field Ambulance (a medical unit, not a means of transport) and finally to the 3rd Casualty Clearing Station near Grevillers. The Casualty Clearing Stations were quite large, tented units, set some way back from the Front Line. He died of his wounds there on the 3rd. The records of the 3rd CCS survive, but are not much more informative than the abbreviated information in William’s Service Record.
The surviving documents then show officialdom going through all the necessary formalities to record William’s death, where he was buried, return his possessions to the family and get the correct acknowledgements from them that they have received everything: his personal possessions (July 1919), his 1914-1915 Star (July 1920), his British War Medal (November 1920), his Victory Medal (September 1921). How these delays – especially the 18 months before his personal possessions were returned – must have increased the pain. All the receipts are signed by his mother (his father was in fact illiterate). And what they never did get back was his Will; written on the page provided at the back of his Active Service Paybook, this was filed away by the Army, with many other personal documents, which have only just come to light now, in 2013. He left everything to his mother.
This is confirmed by the Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects. His back pay of £34.2.7 was authorised as going to his mother on March 13 1918; his War Gratuity of £13.10.0 went to her on December 3 1919.
On William’s CWGC listing he’s recorded as Gunner, and as being with “R” Battery, 173rd Brigade. In fact, although he had earlier that year been a Gunner, by his death he’d reverted to Driver. I believe “R” is a misreading of the letter on his Casualty form; there were four batteries in his Brigade, A,B,C & D – no R; William had been posted to B/173rd, and that’s what I believe is intended.
GUNNER WILLIAM BUTTLE KILLED – the sad news has reached his parents, Mr and Mrs Samuel Buttle, of Thornfalcon, and formerly of Buckland St Mary, of the death in action of their son, Gunner William Buttle, of the R.F.A. Mr and Mrs Buttle had already lost one son in the war, and sincere sympathy will be felt for them in this second mournful sacrifice on behalf of the country. Gunner Buttle, who had done nearly three years’ man service, sustained his mortal wounds on Sunday, December 2nd, his twenty-fourth birthday, probably in the heavy fighting in which the Germans sought to deprive us of the advantage of our victory before Cambrai. His injuries to the arms and legs were very grave, and he only lingered till next day. Among the missives received from him were several of quite recent date, the latest being a trench postcard written on the day when he was wounded. Previous to joining the Army, early in 1915, he was employed by Mrs Greenway, of Lower Farm, Thornfalcon, and he had won regard as a faithful workman, and generally by all who knew him, for his upright personal qualities. In sending deepest sympathy to his parents his officer writes: “If not now, than at least presently, it will help you to remember that he died fighting bravely, and has gone home to Him Who said, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’” – Taunton Courier, 17 Dec 1917
William is also commemorated on the Thornfalcon Memorial.
Our thanks to members of the Buttle family – especially Jean Carey, Angela Dicks and Trevor Whitlock – for their photographs and their memories, and thanks to Peter Naylor for putting us in touch with the family.