The O'Leary Collection—Medals of The Royal Canadian Regiment

6891 Private Albert Buttery

1st Canadian Infantry Battalion

By: Capt (ret'd) Michael M. O'Leary, CD, The RCR
(British Army service from notes provided by The Keep Military Museum, Barrack Road, Dorchester)

Albert Buttery was born in 1859 to parents Robert and Clara. Buttery enlisted into the 1st Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment on 24 May 1884. A bricklayer by trade, he gave his age as 19 years and his place of birth as St. George's East, London. Albert identified his father, Robert, as his next of kin.

Deserting on the 20 Jul 1884, Albert returned on 23 Mar 1885 and was held awaiting trial until 23 April. He was tried for Desertion on 24 Apr 1885 at Portland, Dorset, found guilty, and confined from 24 Apr to 16 Jul 1885. He also forfeited all his service up to that date in regard to future awards for good conduct and and pay.

Returning to regimental service after his period of detention, Albert's service history is summarized as follows:—

In 1885, the situation in the Sudan had become critical with General Gordon beleaguered in Khartoum. The British Government was planning an advance up Berber from Suakin and the 1st Battalion Dorsets answered the call. The first draft from the Battalion left Portsmouth in March 1885, but got no further than Malta. Albert Buttery was in the third draft which was sent out in August 1885. The situation in Malta was peaceful enough that soon families were allowed to join the men, the general health of the troops was very poor with fever prevalent in Malta.

In December 1885, the Battalion was again ready for active service. The Mahdi's followers were descending the Nile in force and British troops hurried upstream to re-enforce the newly formed 'Frontier Field Force'. On 18 Dec 1885, the 1st Dorsets embarked on HMS Himalaya for Alexandria and on 28 Dec four companies started for the front. By railway, steamers and barges they went to Kench, but by 3 Jan 1886 it was too late. On 30 Dec 1885 the Dervishes had been defeated.

The Dorsets were left in support near Assouan, and moved to Shellal in early May. With warning temperatures, the men gradually became more sick. The Battalion moved again to Komomno for a change of air, but nothing worked and by June the Battalion was ordered to Cyprus from where they proceeded home, going to Portland.

The 1st Battalion remained at The Verne on Portland. By February 1888 the men's health had improved sufficiently for it to resume its foreign service tour. The Battalion again went to Malta, where it spent nearly 18 months. Again, fever struck. In July 1889, the Dervishes were threatening again and the Dorsets were sent back to Alexandria. But on arrival, they were again too late. Thus, began a four year stay in Egypt during which the Battalion saw no action. The Battalion spent much of its time in Cairo.

Albert Buttery was in the 2nd Battalion, Dorsets, in time for its deployment to South Africa. The Battalion was involved in campaigns / battles at Transvaal, Tupela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith, and Laings Nek. Deployed with Sir Redvers Bullers force, in the 5th Division (10th Brigade), the 2nd Battalion, Dorsets, was in reserve at the disastrous battle of Spion Kop in January 1900. They fought well at Almond's Nek on 11th June 1900 where they led the assault against the Boers with a spirited bayonet charge with loses of 10 killed and 40 wounded.

Albert Buttery and his wife, Jane Gamm, emigrated to Canada in 1911, nine years after his discharge from the Regular Army.

At the outbreak of the Great War Buttery first enlisted at Wingham, Ont., on 11 Aug 1914. He joined the 33rd Regiment of the Canadian Militia to be in the Canadian Expeditionary Force draft (County of Huron) that the regiment was assembling to send to Camp Valcartier, Quebec. This draft, and many like it from across the country, would provide the men needed to assemble the battalions of the First Canadian Contingent.

Albert Buttery attested for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force with the 1st Canadian Infantry Battalion on 22 Sep 1914. A bricklayer, he claimed to have prior service on 17 years with the Dorsetshire Regiment in the British Army for which he had three Good Conduct badges. Buttery gave his birthdate as 18 Jan 1872, shaving 13 years off his actual age. He is described on his attestation paper as 42 years 8 months of age, 5 feet 4 1/2 inches in height, weighing 165 pounds, with a 42-inch chest, a fair complexion, grey eyes, and brown hair. His religious affiliation was Church of England.

The 1st Cdn Inf Bn sailed for England from Quebec aboard the S.S. Lurentic on 3 Oct 1914. The unit arrived in England on 14 Oct 1915 with 45 officers and 1121 men. When the 1st Canadian Division went to France in early February, 1915, Buttery was transferred to the Infantry Base Depot at Tidworth on 9 Feb 1915.

Buttery would not join the 1st Battalion in the field as a reinforcement until 26 Apr 1915, just after the German gas attacks on 22 and 24 April. He would remain with the battalion until early July. The Regiment's "Battle Bar Document" (prepared after the war by the Militia Department in anticipation of the possibility of clasps for the British War Medal) offers the following summary of activities for Buttery's first months with the Regiment:

Those few shorts months encapsulated the infantryman's experience of the Great War; the cycling between forward trenches, support trenches and reserve positions, long days of marching to move between sectors of the front, training when out of the line, and one instance of the rarer occasion of a battalion on the attack. The 1st Battalion's attack on 15 June at Givenchy would be a significant experience for Buttery. On that day the battalion suffered the loss of its Second-in-Command, Lieut.-Col. Henry Campbell Becher, and saw the Victoria Cross won by Lieut. Frederick William Campbell. Buttery's experience, recorded by a note in his service record, was to be "blown up by a mine" that day. The casualties for the day reported in the Battalion's War Diary were "Officers killed — 10; wounded — 0; missing 2. Other ranks: killed 58; wounded — 219; missing 82."

Buttery continued to serve with the Battalion until 10 Jul 1915 when he was admitted to No. 3 Canadian Field Ambulance. With the extent of his condition not yet diagnosed, he was transferred to No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station a week later. From here on 18 Jul 1915 he was transferred by No. 1 Ambulance Train, diagnosed with gastritis. On 19 Jul 1915, Buttery was admitted to No. 4 General Hospital, Versailles, where he was treated for dental caries (cavities) and discharged to duty the following day. His dental work done, Buttery reported to the 3rd General Base Depot on 23 Jul 1915.

Three days later, on 26 Jul 1915, Albert Buttery was designated "For England." A Medical Case Sheet (undated) completed at Le Havre noted that Buttery was: "at the base one week with swelling of wrist and hand. Had been blown up with mine June 15th, 1915. Board gave Permanent Base. Shornecliffe, Aug. Rheumatism in arms, legs (knuckles also). Nervous. Over age limit."

Returned to England, Buttery was medically examined at Lower Dibgate Camp, Shorncliffe, on 11 Aug 1915. His disability was described as "Pains in arms and legs. Inability to close hand. Nervousness. Over age limit. Neurotic and sprain of left wrist."

The nervousness was considered an injury causes in action and whilst on duty due to accident and mine explosion. Court of Inquiry was held at Le Havre on 1 Aug 1915 and which determined that Buttery be classified Permanent Base Duty. The subsequent Board that reviewed the examination on 23 Sep 1915 made minor recommendations for change to some of the findings and recommended that Buttery be discharged as medically unfit.

Another Medical Board, conducted at Shorncliffe on 24 Aug 1915 found: "Rheumatism in arms, legs (knuckles also). Nervous. Over age limit. Fit for light duty. Staff of the Director of Medical Services (D.M.S.) recommended Buttery's return to Canada and that his disposal should be considered by Military Authorities there."

Buttery's time overseas, and his time in the CEF was shortening. His misrepresentation about his age and his physical condition had caught up to him and he was no longer fit for general service. A card in his service record shows him on strength for pay of the Discharge Depot at Quebec from 11 Sep 1915 until 22 Dec 1915. Word of his return to Canada, however, spread quickly.

On 7 Oct 1915, The Signal, a daily newspaper in Goderich, Ontario, included an item reading: "Albert Buttery, who went from here with the first Canadian contingent, has arrived home, having been honorably discharged. He took part in the battle of Langemark and was wounded in France on June 15th. Mr. Buttery saw service in Egypt in 1885 and in South Africa in 1901."

The Wingham Advance on 7 Oct 1915 printed a note following Buttery's return:

"After Twenty years Service "Mr. Albert Buttery, who enlisted with the first contingent, and who was wounded in the trenches on July 27 was honorably discharged unfit for service and arrived home recently to Wingham. He sailed on the "Cassisian" the same boat which carried the survivors of the "Hesperian" which was torpedoed. Mrs. Buttery reports that Frank Wiley although still in hospital is doing nicely, Fred Groves and Will Hayles are also getting along very well. P.O. Marshall and Pte Hayden are both convalescing. Sergt. Copeland, Major Barron and Lance Corp. Templeman were all well when he last saw them. Mr. Buttery also states that it is a very common thing to see a number of children playing around and some to be hit by a bullet or shell, and old men and women tilling the soil close at hand and taking no notice of the battle. "Mr. Buttery has done almost 20 years service and actual service 8 years, 219 days, and has served in the Eqyptian War, the South African, and then this last war. He is 48 years of age and his only trouble is that he is not able to still serve his king and country. He expresses great confidence in the Allies' success."

On 22 Dec 1915, Albert Buttery was discharged from the C.E.F. medically unfit. His service record contains a discharge certificate (Army Form B 2079) noting his age at the time is 58 years 9 months. He was stuck off strength of the C.E.F. at Quebec.

Buttery was entitled to receive the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal for his service. These were despatched to him at Box 422, Scott St., Wingham, Ont., on 2 Feb 1921. The medals he had earned for his First World War service in the CEF would join the medals he already had for service in South Africa.

The Wingham Advance edition of 23 Mar 1916 provided an update on the service of the Buttery men:

"This Family Doing Their Bit

"We find an article in the Hamilton Spectator dated March 6th which refers to a son of Mr. And Mrs. A. Buttery of Wingham. The paper prints a picture of Mr. Buttery and says: "Mr. Albert Buttery was the first recruit to go into the 173rd Highland battalion on Saturday morning. He was born in England, is 32 years of age and stands 5 feet, 7 inches. His father left with the first contingent and was returned wounded in September. A brother, Horace, is with the 71st Battalion and will leave soon for overseas. A brother-in-law is with the Army Service Corps. mr. Buttery has been in Canada about six years."

Buttery's eagerness to serve was soon again reflected in the newspaper. On 29 Mar 1917, The Wingham Advance reported that "Mr. A. Buttery is again wearing the khaki. He is now recruiting a regiment of home guards."

The Signal, a Goderich newspaper in Goderich, Ontario, included in its Wingham notes on 7 Mar 1918 the following: "Pte. A. Buttery, of town, who was a member of the 1st Battalion, last week received his war badges covering service in France and England. These are the first medals of the kind to arrive in Wingham. Badge A for service in France is of bronze and badge B for service in England is silver."

As was typical for small town and regional newspapers of the era, snippets of the life of local residents can often be found in their pages and Albert Buttery was one who appeared occasionally in print. On 22 Mar 1918, The Huron Expositor reported that "Mr. Archie Patterson has resigned his position as caretaker of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Wingham, and Mr. A. Buttery has accepted the position."

But Buttery's connections with the war were not yet over, two of his sons still served in uniform. On 13 Feb 1919, The Wingham Advance reported: "Lance Corporal H.H. Buttery who has visited for the past couple of weeks at the home of his parents, Mr. And Mrs. A. Buttery, Scott St., has accepted a position as clerk in the discharge department at Military Headquarters, No. 1, London."

The Wingham Advance edition of 13 Mar 1919 provided an update on the Buttery family:

"A Patriotic Family

"Pte. Albert Buttery, son of Mr. And Mrs. A. Buttery, Scott St., arrived home from overseas on Thursday evening. He enlisted with No. 1173, Highlanders, and spent a year and ten months in the trenches. A brother, L. Corpl. Horace, arrived home a few weeks ago and has since been appointed to the headquarters staff at London. Their father Sapper A. Buttery was in France for almost six months, but owing to his age was sent home much to his displeasure."

Albert Buttery remain engaged with support to veterans after the War. The Wingham Advance of 21 Aug 1921 included a short note on his activities, reporting that "Mr. A. Buttery and three or four other War Veterans will make a house to house canvass selling tickets for the Ford car which they will raffle. These tickets cost $1.00 each and the money will be used to secure permanent quarters for the G.W.V.A. [Great War Veterans Association] If you cannot spare a dollar possibly you could make some donation to help our returned heroes."

Buttery's community engagement was not limited to veterans' support. On 24 Dec 1925, The Wingham Advance reported that "Mr. Albert Buttery made a splendid Santa Claus for Hanna & Co., on Saturday. Now did we put our foot in it! Well, he assisted Santa Claus well anyhow."

Unfortunately, it was not only good news of the family that was shared by the local papers. On 1 Apr 1926, The Wingham Advance Times reported: "Several serious cases of flue are reported. Mrs. Albert E. Buttery has been confined to bed for a week or more. Mr. Buttery was too ill to attend to his duties as caretaker at the Presbyterian Church on Wednesday and Sunday last and several others are laid aside with very bad doses of grip."

Albert Buttery's role as Santa was reprised in 1926, The Wingham Advanced Times reporting on 23 Dec 1916 that "The community Christmas Tree was held on Monday evening and drew a very large crowd. … Mr. Alfred Buttery made a most loveable old Santa."

Albert Buttery died at London, Ont., on 13 Jun 1933 while in Westminster Hospital. The cause of death was recorded as "fracture of skull, result of being attacked by an insane person through lack of supervision," this was complicated by terminal pneumonia. Buttery was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, London, Ont. His widow returned to her home in Wingham, Ont.

The Wingham Advance Times published a brief obituary notice of Albert Buttery's death on 15 Jun 1933: "DIED — Buttery—In Westminster Hospital, London, Ont., on Tuesday, June 13th, 1933, following an accident, Alfred Buttery, Wingham. The funeral will be held from the Logal Funeral Parlors, London, at 2 p.m. Thursday, June 15th, 1933. Interment will take place in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, London." From the Veteran's Death card on file with Library and Archives Canada and obituary, it might be assumed that Buttery's death was an accident. It was later newspaper articles that expanded on the circumstances of his death.

It was revealed in a brief note published in The Wingham Advance Times on 3 Aug 1933 that questions remained unanswered regarding Buttery's death:

"Death of Local Man Being Probed"

"An early departmental probe into the death of Albert Buttery, local war veteran, who was slain at Westminster Military Hospital, was arrested today by Hon. Murray McLaran, Minister of pensions and national health, who made his annual visit of inspection. Buttery, an aged man, was placed in a ward with insane patients, one of whom grabbed his cane and slugged him with it, fracturing his skull. A coroner's jury met for three nights hearing evidence, and returned a verdict criticizing the hospital's administration."

On 28 Feb 1934, the London Free Press reported that a Board of Pension Commissioners suggested that compensation be paid to Mrs Buttery, an amount of $20 per month for one year being recommended. The paper detailed that the money "would be taken from a fund made available through the will of a wealthy Canadian setting aside a large sum to be used in special cases for assisting needy ex-servicemen and their families. The payment would not come out of departmental coffers." The article went on to note that "if Mrs. Buttery accepts the award … she will be forced to relinquish a good share of her old age pension and then at the end of the 12-month period would have to make reapplication to the pensions board."

We can only hope that the Board of Pensions took care of Mrs. Buttery's needs in the years after the death of her husband.

More on the story of Albert Buttery:

See also this great piece of research by Heather Ellis, presented as an episode (YouTube video and podcast)) in the first Speakers Series produced by The Royal Canadian Regiment Museum: "Murder Comes to Westminster: The Killing of Pte. A. Buttery"

Pro Patria

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