b. 20/11/1894 Leeds, Yorks. d. 25/03/1972 Leeds, Yorks.
William Boynton Butler (1894-1972) was born at 29 Back Stanley View, Armley, Leeds, Yorkshire on 20th November 1894. The name of his father was not recorded on his birth certificate. The man believed to be his father was William Ellis Boynton, a coal miner and later bricklayer’s labourer. He married Caroline Butler, a woollen weaver, in Leeds in 1894. William had five siblings, though one died as an infant.
William was educated at St Oswald’s School, Hunslet Carr, near Leeds, leaving in c. 1907. He was employed as a coal miner at No 2 Middleton Pit, near Leeds. William enlisted on 14th January 1915 as a bantam in 17th West Yorkshire, having been previously rejected due to his height. He was described as just over 5ft 2in tall and weighed just 110llbs. He went to France on 1st February 1916 and was admitted to 133rd Field Ambulance on 17th June (cause unknown). In April 1916, he was transferred to the newly formed 106th Trench Mortar Battery, and was promoted later that year to Lance Corporal. In January 1917 he attended the School of Mortars, returning to his unit on the 29th. He struggled with problems with his teeth, and also conjunctivitis in the eyes throughout the early summer of 1917.
On 6th August 1917, east of Lempire, France, he was in charge of a Stokes gun in trenches which were being heavily shelled. Suddenly one of the fly-off levers of a Stokes shell came off and fired the shell in the emplacement. Private Butler picked up the shell and jumped to the entrance of the emplacement, which at that moment a party of infantry were passing. He shouted to them to hurry past as the shell was going off, and turning round, placed himself between the party of men and the live shell and so held it till they were out of danger. He then threw the shell on to the parados, and took cover in the bottom of the trench. The shell exploded almost on leaving his hand, greatly damaging the trench. By extreme good luck Private Butler was confused only. Undoubtedly his great presence of mind and disregard of his own life saved the lives of the officer and men in the emplacement and the party which was passing at the time.
He was presented with the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 5th December 1917. On returning to Leeds, he was given a civic reception in the Town Hall. Wilfrid Edwards VC was also a guest. William then visited his old school, St Oswald’s, where he received a china clock and gold medal from the people of Leeds. In addition, £300 was invested on his behalf. He returned to France on 17th December and transferred to 15/17th West Yorkshire on 19th. Towards the end of the war, he transferred to the Corps Demobilisation Camp and returned to Britain on 15th December 1918 on MT Lydia. In June 1919 he was gazetted for the French Croix de Guerre for his gallantry as a despatch rider. He was discharged on 31st March 1920.
He married Clara Johnson in early 1920 at Hunslet. A daughter, Nellie Boynton Butler, was born the following year. William was a member of the VC Guard at the interment of the Unknown Warrior on 11th November 1920. He was employed as a spray painter by Leeds Corporation/North Eastern Gas Board, as was George Sanders VC and Wilfrid Edwards VC.
William and George both served in the Gas Board Home Guard in Leeds during the Second World War. William attended a number of significant occasions such as the VC Garden Party in 1920, VC Dinner at House of Lords 1929, the VC Centenary Celebrations in Hyde Park June 1956, and the funerals of John Raynes VC (1929), George Sanders (1950) and Albert Mountain (1967).
William died at Leeds General Infirmary on 25th March 1972 and was buried in Hunslet Cemetery. On his death certificate, he was described as a retired spray painter. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and the French Croix de Guerre. His medals are held by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IWM, LONDON.
WOODHOUSE HILL CEMETERY, LEEDS, WEST YORKSHIRE. SECTION 3, GRAVE 48
William Butler's medal group including his VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (Aug 2014).
War Illustrated, 5th January 1918
Hunslet War Memorial, Yorkshire (Alan Austin)
Leeds VC Memorial