Hugh Ramsay Butler was known as ‘Rowdy’ to family and friends and ‘Hughie’ to his army mates. He was born on Floraville station near Burketown in Queensland’s Gulf Country on 14 September 1893. As a child he moved with his family to ‘Fringford’ on the Murray River near Cardwell, Queensland. He enlisted at Townsville in January 1916 and by late July had arrived in France. For a few days in October he was an acting corporal before reverting to a private and joining the 47th Battalion in the field. Five weeks later he was killed in action at Gueudecourt near Flers.
The diary entry of his mother, May Butler, on Thursday 21 December 1916 simply reads: ‘A sad day – word of Rowd’s death’. A few weeks later she received a letter from his company sergeant, John Schultz, offering sympathy and reassurance about her son’s last actions. He wrote:
On the night of the 27th November we were relieved in the front line just beyond Gueudecourt, and were making our way up the Valley which was being shelled, when within few hundred yards of the Chalk Pit some very high-explosive shells caught us...Four or five were wounded, among them was Hughie’s mate, No 210 Kiely, R J of Mossman. Then there was a lull. Hughie lifted Kiely and was carrying him when the next shells crashed...I was able to see at once that Hughie had gone to a greater and noble life.
He concluded, ‘Well may you be proud of Hughie’.
Hugh’s bereft mother believed that her son was entitled to the promotion and wrote several times to Base Records, Melbourne, urging the military to record his rank as ‘Provisional’ corporal as it meant so much to her. A note she added to the margin of one letter reads ‘He fought for his country. I am fighting for him’. Her requests were refused and, exasperated by what she described as ‘peculiar’ military laws, she asked that his rank be omitted from his headstone.
His headstone in Bulls Road Cemetery, Flers, bears the inscription ‘Pte Hugh R Butler, 1628 47th Bn, Australian Inf, Killed in action, 28th November 1916’, along with the words chosen by his mother: ‘He gave his life for his country. Died as he lived, brave, honest and true’.
Service record of Hugh Ramsey Butler, 1628:
Tully street names: signs of history, Helen Pedley, Tully, 2010.
Australians on the Western Front 1914–1918: