Albert Edward Butler

Albert was born in the hamlet of Lilley, near Wantage in 1896, the fifth son of Joshua and Elizabeth Butler.  Joshua was a woodman by trade, like many of his family, and originally hailed from nearby Beedon, where the Butlers had lived for generations. 

Joshua’s family moved around the Beedon – Farnborough - Lilley area for some time, before coming to Welford Parish in about 1899.

In 1901 they were living in one of the pair of cottages which stood just outside Wickham on the Baydon Road known as Nicknocks (now demolished), and which at that time were part of the Glebe Farm.  They later moved on to Weston. 

The 1911 census shows Albert living at home at Weston, age 14, with his occupation given as ‘ploughboy on farm’.  The Butler family – parents, mother-in-law, six sons and three daughters – occupied four rooms.

At the outbreak of war, Albert was living in Froxfield, at number 14 New Buildings.  He enlisted at Reading very early in the war – he first appears on the Welford parish Roll of Honour in September 1914 – and became a Rifleman with the 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC), service number 11761.

Four of Albert’s brothers were also to serve in the war, three of them – John, Thomas and Arthur – with the Royal Berkshire Regiment, and Ben with the transport service.  At least two of them, John and Thomas, were badly wounded, but all survived the war.  We do not know why Albert chose to join a different Regiment from his brothers; however, another Weston man, Alfred Dean (q.v.), also joined the KRRC (1st Battalion) with service number 11787, so perhaps it was a case of friends joining up together.

Albert arrived in France on 29th November 1914.  At this time his Battalion were stationed behind the lines at Hazebrouck, recovering from their involvement in the fighting at Gheluvelt during the First Battle of Ypres which had reduced them to a mere 150 men.  Here, as part of 2nd Brigade, they trained, refitted, and received drafts of replacements, Albert amongst them.   

On 20th December the Brigade received orders to proceed the following morning to an unknown destination.  After an early parade they travelled by bus to Zelobes, then marched the last few miles to Le Touret, near Béthune.  Part of the Indian Corps had been driven out of their trenches here, and the Brigade were entrusted with the task of retaking them.

The attack was to be carried out by the 1st North Lancashires, supported by the 1st Northamptonshires.  Albert’s Battalion went into billets in the Rue du Bois, in close support. 

The attack was successful, and two Companies of the 2nd KRRC were sent to extend the right of the line and link up with the 2nd Royal Sussex.  However, next morning a German bombing attack drove the North Lancashires out with heavy casualties, and the two Companies of Albert’s Battalion were forced to dig themselves in on the right of a new line, about 800 yards behind the trenches retaken by the North Lancashires.  The rest of the Battalion were moved into billets in the Rue d’Epinette.

They remained in these positions until 23rd December when they were relieved by the 4th Guards Brigade, and spent Christmas in billets just behind the lines at Essars.

On Boxing Day 1914 the Battalion marched back into the front line at Cambrin, still in the Béthune area, where for the next few weeks they found themselves involved in brutal trench warfare, with attacks and counter-attacks taking place back and forth across the lines in appalling weather conditions, with small gains and losses of ground at the expense of heavily casualties.

At some point during this period, Albert was badly wounded and removed to one of the many hospitals in the BEF Base Area at Boulogne.  He died of his wounds there on Friday 29th January 1915.

The Newbury Weekly News later reported that Albert ‘went to the front a short time after his enlistment, and died of wounds received immediately after arriving at the trenches.’

We do not know the exact circumstances of Albert’s wounding, but it is an acknowledged fact that new arrivals in the front line invariably suffered a disproportionate number of casualties compared to their more experienced comrades, as they had not yet developed the knowledge of trench life to improve their chances of survival against enemy bombardment, sniping and other dangers.  Many would have died without ever seeing the enemy.

Albert is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, where nearly 6,000 Great War casualties, the great majority being those who died at the Base Hospitals, are commemorated.  A private inscription has been added to the headstone, a verse from a 19th-century hymn:

Peace perfect peace

With loved ones far away

In Jesu’s keeping

We are safe, and they

He is remembered on the War Memorials at both Welford and Froxfield.