Lieutenant Harry Butler
Harry was born on the 28th Sept 1886 and lived in 49 Azalea Road in Blackburn. He was baptised a month later at St. John’s Church which was in the centre of Blackburn.
His Dad was Thomas and his Mum was Emma and he had an elder brother Walter who was three years older.
Dad was a director and manager at the New Salford Brewery which was beside Eanam Wharf, and as breweries were big business then, like most of the middle classes they had a servant, Priscilla.
He probably went to St Silas’ CE Primary School, which had only opened in 1885.
They stayed at Azalea Road until they moved to Pleasington and lived at Springmount. A large imposing house which is actually two semis. In the other half were the Haydock family. Their son Edgar also died in WW1 on the first day of the Somme and is remembered on our war memorial. They soon moved next door to Whiteholme and it was here that Harry left to enlist.
The family were doing well and Harry’s brother Walter became a solicitor’s clerk at 17 and went on to be a solicitor.
However education was important to the family and Harry went to Manchester Grammar School from 1899 to 1903. He had an aptitude for engineering and electrics and after school took a three year course in electrical engineering at Manchester School of Technology. He then went on to work for various engineering companies in Manchester, Bolton and Preston. Having gained a lot of experience he went to work for Messrs. Dick, Kerr & Co., Preston, who made mainly electric trams and trains. By 1914 he had a senior position. He mainly worked on turbo generators, turbo alternators used on electric trams and railways. He was probably about one hundred years ahead of the modern electric trams.
When war broke out he enlisted on the 2nd September 1914 into the 18th battalion of the Kings Liverpool Regiment. He began his military training at Hooton Camp in Cheshire and when the Battalion moved to Knowsley he was given rapid promotion to the rank of Company Quartermaster Sargent.
A year after joining up he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and posted to the Yorkshire Regiment at Darlington in Co. Durham. He became a Training officer for PT and Bayonet Drill.
In July 16 he volunteered for the Royal Flying Corps and was sent for flight training to Oxford. He won his ‘wings’ some four months later. He could fly the plane but was then sent to Tadcaster on several courses to learn how to use machine guns and flying tactics. On the 6th December, he arrived in France and joined 70 Squadron flying Sopworth 1 ½ Strutters. The plane was a biplane and had the pilot in front with a gunner behind him. They had a forward firing gun and the gunner had a Lewis gun in the back cockpit which he could fire in all directions. The squadron was based near Chipilly which was in the Somme region of France. When you hear the Somme mentioned you can understand what lay in front of them.
He was soon in the thick of things and was promoted to Lieutenant on the 30th December 1916.
The squadron was in the thick of the aerial fighting and he was wounded on the 30th January 17. He managed to return to base but the damaged plane flipped over while landing and he was in a casualty clearing station for a couple of days. He was given a little reprieve as he was sent on another machine gun course.
On the 14th February he rejoined his squadron. There was a lot of land fighting going on in his area, and as their Sopwiths were not very fast or agile they were mainly being used for reconnaissance flights.
On the 24th March the action hotted up on the Western Front with intense activity covering the battle front. At around 0630 in the morning, six Sopwith Strutters left on a reconnaissance mission over the Douai-Cambrai area. Around 0800 they ran into 12 aircraft from the German air force Jasta 5 squadron. The Strutters attempted to force their way back over the lines, some 10 miles away. In the ensuing 15 minute battle, the German squadron, Jasta 5, came off the better claiming two British aircraft downed to one German shot down. Lieutenant CR Peter & Lieutenant Bernard Balfour and Lieutenant Harry Butler and Air Mechanic AG MacMillan shot down Leutnant Renatus Theiller. Both aircraft were shot up and Peter and McMillan were both injured but got back to the lines. McMillan was sent home with his injuries and survived the war.
Despite the losses the next day, the 25th March, Harry’s flight of six aircraft was sent out again at dawn to reconnoitre Cambrai to determine the extent of the German withdrawal. One of the aircraft soon returned to base as they had engine trouble. The flight encounter nine German Fokkers from Jastas 5 and 6 and engaged them. One of the German pilots was Baron von Richthofen or the Red Baron. However the Fokker was a faster more manoeuvrable fighter plane and despite a stiff fight all five of the British planes were shot down with the loss of ten crew. Vitzfeldwebel Häussler from Jasta 5 claimed the lives of Harry and Lieutenant Leslie Archibald Norris who was the gunner that day.
He is also remembered on the family headstone in Hoghton Parish Church.