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William Henry Butland (1890-1916)

William Henry Butland, American-born second lieutenant, 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry

William Henry Butland was the son of Captain George Butland, a master mariner in the Mercantile Marine, and Zipporah (nee Mallett). They were both born in Plymouth, Devon, and married there in 1885. Later that same year, they emigrated to America. By 1890, they were living in Norfolk, Virginia, USA, as William was born on 1 June. A brother, George, was born in 1892, and a third brother, John Mallett, in 1894.

Zipporah died in March 1895 and is buried in Norfolk, Virginia. By 1900, George [senior] had remarried, to Regina Bontkes, and was living in Shanghai, China. They had a son, Charles, born in 1900, and another, Betram, in 1906. William and George were studying at the Chefoo School in northern China, a Christian boarding school run by the China Inland Mission. The only indication as to what might have happened to John, is an entry in the 1900 US Census for a John M Butland at the New York Infant Asylum, in Westchester, New York.

After school, William trained in Shanghai and London to become an architect and civil engineer. When war broke out in 1914, he was working in Cornwall supervising bridge building programmes. He was engaged to Margot Crowter of West Norwood, London.

William joined up on 5 January 1915 at the age of 24, serving as a private in the 28th London Regiment (Artists Rifles). His medical record on enlistment indicates that he was of good health, medium height, and well-built. Two weeks after enlisting William was promoted to lance corporal, and then to corporal a week later.
William embarked for France in August 1915 and was commissioned to second lieutenant with 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, in November of that year. He suffered a gunshot wound to the abdomen on 31 January, 1916 and was admitted to a casualty clearing station in Abeele, Belgium where he died the same day, aged 25. He had been recommended for mention in despatches shortly before his death. William’s father and stepmother were living in Shanghai at this time, and received notice of William’s injuries and death.

Several letters written by Captain Butland, held in his son’s service record, reveal not only his grief but also his concern for his son’s fiancé. He was anxious that any money due to his son be shared between Margot, and William’s brother George. He was very insistent in ensuring that Margot’s brother-in-law, Mr Thomas Davis, be granted power of attorney in order to accomplish this. The total sum amounted to £58.14.6 and was released in July 1916. Captain Butland stated very clearly in one letter that he regarded Margot as his daughter-in-law, “she belonged to Willie in my eyes, just the same as if he had married her”. Captain Butland also wanted her to have first choice of his son’s effects. These included typical military items such as regimental buttons, shoulder straps, a torch, cap and badge, identity disc, and a photo case with a photo. William’s father was delighted to receive a final letter they had written to their son, and a photo of themselves which William had carried with him. These were the mementos of their son which they had asked for. He is buried at Lijssenthoek Cemetery, Belgium.

Several moving letters from William’s father also show how his health was affected by the death of his son. He had chronic indigestion for months and had a number of medical examinations which revealed no underlying problem. In addition he wrote a letter to the War Office offering his services as a master mariner, willing to work in transportation if he could be of use. There is no record of any reply from the War Office. Sadly, William’s brother, George, was killed in 1918, serving with the York and Lancaster Regiment, a further blow to the surviving members of the family.

This information was derived from the officers service records, held at The National Archives, Kew, London: WO 339/48484
Also used: Find a Grave, Ancestry

Birth date: 1-Jun-1890

Death date: 31-Jan-1916

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: Norfolk, Virginia, USA
11, Thurlstone Road, West Norwood, London, SE.
Fernwood Avenue, Streatham, London

Education: Chefoo School, China
Admitted as a student of the Institute of Engineers, April 1912
Rutherford College

Organisation membership: Institute of Civil Engineers

Employment: Architect and Civil Engineer

Family: Parents: George Butland, Zipporah (nee Mallett)
Step mother: Regina M (nee Bontkes)
Siblings: George, John, Charles, Bertram

Military service:

5-Aug-1915 Attested, private 3102, 28th London Regiment (Artists Rifles)
30-Jan-1915 Promoted to corporal
7-Nov-1915 Commissioned to second lieutenant with 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry

Medal(s): British War Medal
1915 Star
Victory Medal

Memorial(s): Burial: Lijssenthoek military cemetery in Belgium.
Roll of Honour, Institute of Civil Engineers, Great George Street, London.

Gender: Male

Contributed by Vivienne Lowe | Mel Brown