Tuesday, 5 August 2008

George Butterworth in the Trenches.

"4.45 Lt Butterworth killed. " A terse one-line entry, hurriedly pencilled into a military notebook at dawn on August 5th 1916. And it goes on to another subject. This is the Somme, under bombardment.
Michael Barlow's biography "Whom the Gods Love" is an invaluable source and much of it is drawn from family letters and material at Cecil Sharp House. Curiously though, there's little on Butterworth's war record. Yet nearly everything about officers in that war is preserved. So I went to the War Office records at the National  Archives and hit a brick wall. No Lt. Butterworth! No wonder Barlow was stymied. But Butterworth won a Military Cross, a significant honour. No way that would not be recorded. So I read every single citation for summer at the Somme 1916 and there I found it, indexed under his third forename, Kaye. By accident or design, when he signed up his surname had been recorded as Kaye-Butterworth rather than Butterworth. Then I looked up the regimental war diary. These are notes written by an ADC to the commanding officer, often in pencil, sometimes covered in mud and once I found one stained with a dark liquid.... don't ask! These diaries are the raw material that record events as they happen, verbatim, no time for reflection. They get tidied up and sent to HQ for analysis. What you read in books is several stages down the line. War diaries are the real thing as it happens. I traced back to when Butterworth joined the unit, part of the 13th Durham Light Infantry. But there's lots more material, and a good historian, like a detective, "makes the connections". Here's a verbatim extract from the War Diary :
2.53 sent following message to Lt Butterworth at B Company "Send a strong bombing platoon up Munster Alley to hold and block". Note owing to our artillery shelling our front line Lt Butterworth cannot have received this message until after 3.45 am
3.40 received from Lt Clarke "we must have reinforcements at once...the men I have got are being kept there by revolvers". 3.41 gave Lt Batty message for Lt Butterworth to reinforce Munster Alley with one platoon at once.
4.19 Forward observation reported that our party at Munster Alley was being heavily bombed but we were apparently holding our own. 4.43 (Brigadier sent 25 men from another unit to relieve)
4.45 Lt Butterworth killed.
Casualties 5th August : Lt G S Kaye-Butterworth, Lt N A Target killed, 2nd Lt Rees
and Batty wounded. Other ranks : 4 killed. 18 wounded, 3 shell shock, 5 missing. (Note: Target featured in the Diary many times, an unfortunately named but charismatic fellow who had been awarded a Military Cross in June. He was much admired by the Brigadier and the man who wrote the diaries. Butterworth would have known him too.)


Evan Tucker said...

Oh wow, there's more. This is just splendid. Sorry to gush, I just think Butterworth might have been England's great lost musical voice.

Doundou Tchil said...

English William Shatners ! Fantastic ! Exactly ! Unfortunately most of the recordings of the songs are delivered in a pretentiously stuffy way, quite unsuitable to music about youth and purity, but maybe evoke a fake antique pre 1914 era. Rolfe Johnson and Maltmann are the best I think for capturing the idiom rather than the oldeworlde "image". Keenlyside, Roderick Williams have sung them too, live.