Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
John Herbert Butler correspondence, 1914-1920
MLMSS 1003/Item 2
Letters written from Egypt and Gallipoli. Butler had risen from being a private in the Australian Light Horse to a 2nd Lieut pilot. In his last letter he describes various exploits such as accidents, rescues, treatment of captured pilots by the Germans. It is a good description of the lives of pilots in WW1.]
Index to contents
Letters by J.H. Butler - 1-8,11-22, 25-38, 41-48, 51-56, 59-69
Letters to J.H. Butler from C.E.W.Bean and others - 49-50, 71-77
Letters from C.E.W. Bean to Mrs Amy Isobel Butler - 9-10, 23-24, 39-40, 57
[Other miscellaneous papers related to flying have not been transcribed.]
[Letter written on paper headed Brisbane Young Men’s Christian Association with a picture of a military camp entitled "A Section of a Camp". Printed on the letterhead is the address:
With the Commonwealth Forces
Sept 1st 191[indecipherable]
I hope you got my letter card safely. Say aint this swagger paper – what? – a part of our camp. We have moved into 2 different tents since I wrote last & we are settled again now. We are nearly full strength now – that is the whole Light Horse. We have been issued with our rifles & bayonets water bottles & bandoliers & I dont know when we’ll be issued with uniforms. Some fresh horses came in to camp to night
& they were pretty lively I can tell you. They were tumbling & rearing about & were very wild at having to be tethered up to the lines. One flash little beggar let me have it behind the calf of my leg & of course there is a bruise to tell the tale. One fellow got rolled over twice & is in the hospital. Another chap got a kick in the backside & fainted, & a silly coot jabbed a bayonet into an artery in his arm & lost half his blood. Rather early for bayonet work is’nt it?
Apart from a few casulities like these the camp is running beautifully. They have shower baths rigged up now & thats a boon. What strikes me - & it would you – is that all the crowd here are all clean & they nearly all use the toothbrush freely.
Our camp is made up of Gordon Robertson, Clarence McDougall, Archibald E. Gordon-Campbell, Billie Robinson, Sydney Robertson Leslie Stark, an Englishman named Willott who is a science master at the Toowoomba Grammar School & taught under Rolph, at "Wolaroi School" at Orange just after we had left. He’s a milatary man & served in the Belgian Guard Civic also England & New Zealand. All these chaps are gentleman.
& a couple of them are station owners. I think I mentioned Grove. He’s a fine looking huge kid of nineteen with an English accent. He’s English. Well as I said he knows Krantz Kloof, & the Field clan, & we address & swear at each other in Kaffir. I believe we are getting another hamper – so Sunny Robinson says. We’ve gone through one already We got a bag of onions sent us to-night. Living like Lords
Bugle goes at 6.am – rouse out, 6..30.am drill, stable parade etc, breakfast at 8 Parade at 9.15 am till noon Stables until 12.30, then dinner Parade again at 2.15pm. till
5pm, Horses again til 5,45. then tea at 6pm. Lights out at 10 o’clock. Thats our days routine. The drill has been very tedious for we that have come almost fresh from it. All the old men find it new drill, that is all the South African men & such like & I have to go over all the stuff I learnt in the cadets & the 13th Garrison Artillery. However the men, as a whole will soon come up to the scratch I think. Rumour says that
we’ll be leaving here to-morrow week, but I think its impossible because the men ar’nt good enough & have a lot more to learn & there are no uniforms in sight not half the horses & we have got to spend days on the rifle range teaching men to shoot.
This picture of the camp is only a tail end of it We are’nt in the bell tents like this but in ones like this [good small sketch of rectangular tent] Eight of us.
I’ll give you a plan of how we sleep.
[Sketch of floor plan with eight names – four on each side of the tent]
Leslie Stark Billie Robinson
Willott Clarence McDougall
Sunny Robinson John [indecipherable] Butler
Gordon Robertson Archie Campbell
The Tents are all only 8 by 10 feet so you can imagine the tight fit. The place is full of dust the whole camp is one dust hole. But we dont mind – we are quite happy. We sleep on the hard ground with a waterproof sheet & a blanket only so we are hardened
to sleep wherever we will have to on the continent. Now darling I’ll knock off. Write to me right away & tell me what’s going on at your little home. We are certain coming to Sydney on route so I’ll see you all soon. Love to my darling sisters & best love to you my mormy
Your soldier boy
The Melbourne Express
Sund. Sept 27 1914
Dear Aunt Amy,
I wanted to get across & see you before I left today – but I only had two days altogether to get ready in & the rush at the last was too heavy. I hope to get back to Sydney again, and if I do, of course yours will be the first visit that I shall make – If I don’t manage it, give my love to Joan & to Nancy & to Old Claude, and accept lots of it for yourself. I hope the arrangement at the little house will continue – it is such a very happy one. You’ll look in & see Mother wont you – Goodbye – in case I dont see you to say it. I hope I’ll see your Jack over there. Write (or get mother to write) & tell me the regiment he’s going with.
[Outside cover of a letter card with a picture of Huonville Tasmania addressed to:]
"SS Star of England"
Suddenly rushed away at an hours notice from Enoggera yesterday dinner time. Loaded horses until 12 midnight, left Pinkenba 12 noon today We have been waiting here for tug by which I’m sending this. Dont know which port we are going to but hope it’s Sydney. Anyhow will write from there. This is a new ship, large. About 700 men & 700 horses on board.
Must catch tug darlings
for you to get this. We are sailing in a few minutes now. It is 6.30pm after tea. Uncle Charlie sent me £5 from he & Aunt B.
Well good night darling Mormy & kids you’ll probably see by the papers where we are going first in Aus.
Anyhow I’ll write first opportunity. Good luck to Claudius, & best love
Your soldier boy
277 Birrell St
New South Wales
Darling Mum, Nance & John
I don’t know whether you got my last letter or not. Cant tell anything about ourselves. Strict censorship being maintained on our correspondence. Only allowed to write on p.c. Not allowed to tell you the name of this boat, which you already know. Is’nt it absurd. Will have to explain all sorts of things when they let us write freely again. We are getting on first rate here. Remember me to Mrs Moody of the Middleton Beach Hotel Well we are not even allowed to tell you where we are at present, but I’m sure you’ll guess that yourself. Anyhow Bless you all & best wishes
Your boy John
[Picture of a steamship of the Commonwealth and Dominion Line Ltd, 12 & 14 Loftus Street, Sydney. The following is written on it - undated]
Hope Nance is doing well in the office & also hope that you have had luck Mum. I got a letter card from Aunt Ida, of farewell. Keith & Eddie Eltham are in other boat anchored within short distance of ours but I’m not allowed to send any signal to them. Writing the post cards to everyone. Well I’m pretty certain you wont get the letter I wrote the other day from here but Au-revoir, darlings – will write fully as soon as possible.
[This letter is missing pages 1 and 2]
taken, the black horse in the photo belongs to one of my tent mates.
There was some excitement in Cairo the other night, in the shape of a riot in which only soldiers took part. It was a disgraceful affair & was started by some drunk infantryman. They made a raid on a block of buildings in the heart of the city, which were mostly houses of ill fame & threw out all the furniture & stuff, & made a huge bonfire in the street. The permanent military police turned out but could’nt do anything. They fired on the mob with revolvers, only two or three shots & wounded a couple of chaps. Finally things quietened down & now its long forgotten. Mick Shanahan (note the name) is our troop leader – a lieutenant - & happened to be in town at the time. Mick cant keep out of any scrap, & would’nt miss it for worlds, so he weighed in & took about 10 rioters at once.
I wish I could have seen them before they went. Well darling I’ll close now & write a couple of post-cards to the kids. Write as soon as you find time & let me know how everything is getting on & send more photos.
Best love mormy dear from your boy John
[two hearts drawn with the word "PLAIN" written above them and ‘‘’EARTS" written under them]
[This page follows on from the end of the first paragraph of page 14 above and the second paragraph above starting with "I wish I could have seen... follows this page 15]
He was doing heavy execution with his mits when a squad of town piquet thought he was one of the rioters, & seeing he was a lieut. they evidently thought not to disgrace him by arrest, so he was seized before he could make explanations & bundled into the bottom of a motor, squashed a private’s hat on his head & covered up his lieutenant’s stars. Thus he was borne out of the fight.
The other day we – the whole of B Squadron went into Heliopolis, mounted without arms & cleared the town of stray drunks & absentees of all kinds & brought them back to camp.
Well you will have got my photos by now, how do you like them? I don’t think the full face one is bad, except that I was out of condition, & very thin at that time. I got a doz. of each kind so as to send everyone I write to a print.
I went over to Mena & saw Charlie & Jack [Butler’s cousins] & had a chat to them one day about 3 weeks ago, they arranged a picnic for the next Sunday week, for the three of us to go to some old ruins. Well last Sunday the day appointed, I went to Mena & found that the whole camp had vanished except for a few regiments of the latest troops.
Australian Light Horse Camp
2nd Light Horse
16 Dec, 1914
Darling Mum & Kids
We’re just settled down here now. We got news that we were coming here to spend the winter, just after we had left Aden. This camp is composed of Light Horse only & Army Service Corps, about 2000. The rest 26,000 are camped under the large pyrimids just 8 miles from Cairo. We are about 6 miles from Cairo in a sort of desert. There are some large stepped pyramids to the East of us but the large ones with the Sphinx are the ones the main body are camped under. I hope you got my previous letters, but of course you "might" not have, because everything was so strictly censored & the officers told us it would be a long time before they got to Aus. Now, of course the censorship is over. Of course you’ve heard by now of the "Emden" affair. We – the whole force – were sailing past the Cocos Islands on Nov 8th (Sunday) & the "Emden" was waiting on the other side of the islands to complete coaling & then to attack us (she had sunk 20 British merchantmen beforehand) well on Monday morning while we were having physical exercise the "Sydney" got a wireless message from
the Cocos & she suddenly turned and made a "bee line at full speed for the islands. Well of course there was a fight, & a good one, (we were miles away over the horizon by this time) at the end of which the Emden came off worst & got smashed up & the crew were captured. The Emden put up a rattling good fight but the Sydney had advantage of her both with speed, & guns. The Sydney lost 2 men & thirteen wounded & the Emden lost a terrible amount of lives. Of course you’ve heard all of this by now. Well we are living on very spare & short rations now being on active service, & the fact is, we might possibly have a scrap with the Turks here before long. Although the Khedive has cleared out from here, the place is alive with Turks. We have’nt started to ride our horses yet, we’ve only been here a few days & they have to recover from the voyage. We only lost 12 altogether.
The Tas. Light Horse are here. I’ve seen Duncan Macdonald & Rex O’Kelly whom I do like. Keith Eltham & others are over at the pyrimids. Cairo is a beautiful place, & the Nile etc, I wish you could see it. There’s no doubt about it, I’ve seen some wonderful places already, we never went into Colombo, Aden, or Suez wharves, but we saw a good bit of them. I was on guard day & night going through the Suez Canal & saw everything. It takes 17 hours to go through, at 8 knots an hour sometimes. But when we came to Port Said, at the other end, it was indeed a wonderful sight. We stayed there 2 days moored off the wharves, or docks, just about 50 yards from them, so we could see the life on shore & in the river as well.
You would be surprised at the enormous traffic on the river, the hundreds of tugs motor boats, bum-boats & all sorts of craft.
It seems marvellous that there are no collisions. They are all piloted by Egyptians, Arabs, and all the dark. But it was at Port Said that I saw what I had been waiting to see all along, & dreamt about many a time. We, our little crowd of Enoggera, whom you know, were smoking on our little deck at about 11am in the morning & watching the teeming life (not insects) of Port Said when we heard a far-away sort of drone sound, which steadily grew louder. I could’nt make out what it was. It grew very loud & seemed quite near. Then an Arab coal heaver pointed in a matter-of-fact way heaven-wards, - & Lo! & behold a hydro-aeroplane, about 100 feet above our heads, just clearing our masts. He was a French aviator & handled the machine so gracefully. He flew again the next day also, & came even nearer to us.
I am going to get my photo taken at Cairo & send it to you, in full rig out. I dont know whether you know it, but the Queenslanders are the only ones allowed to wear Emu plumes throughout the campaign. That is the Light Horse. We are only 500 strong
that is one complete regiment & out of the 28,000 we alone, wear the plumes & are quite distinguished & looked up to by the other mobs. The Y.M.C.A follow us wherever we go, (that is the [indecipherable] hence this paper etc, & writing tent tables etc.
We are getting 20 per cent leave here for the Regiment, i.e. leave comes round about once every 6 night to each man, so he can go into Cairo. The money here took a bit of mastering but we know it now. It is milliems, & piastres.
A piastre is worth 2½d English money. We get paid in Egyptian money while we’re here. I’m wondering always how you are getting on in the little home of yourn. I suppose you’ve written but your letters hav’nt come yet as they will have to be re-addresses a lot. I ran against Bunny Richard in Alexandria & he told me about poor old Gus Adams It.0 was hard luck. Harry Butler is here but I hav’nt seen him yet. Well Mum, Nance & "Johnnie" I’ll stop now & write again soon, & send photo.
Best love darlings & write as soon as you get this letter. I hope you get it before New Year. Wait till "Johnnie" Site Pot comes home with his £100 or so, then we’ll have a time. God bless you darlings
[letter from John Butler’s cousin Charles Bean to John’s mother Amy]
Jan. 2nd 1915
Dear Aunt Amy
I’m scrawling this line from brother Jack’s tent whilst he is examining a prisoner outside - & several prisoners; who say they are ill. I saw your Jack the other day – Boxing Day. He is at Maadi Camp 10 miles from here
[Sketch showing Cairo, the Mena camp to the west of Cairo, a tramline connecting the camp with Cairo and the location of pyramids just south of the camp. South of Cairo on the River Niles is depicted the Maadi camp]
We are about 10 miles from Cairo at the Pyramids.
Your Jack seems to be in with a nice lot of felloes as far as I can see - & he was looking very well & fit, & burnt fairly red; 20 odd of them have the one very big tent & they seem to get on pretty well together. I have been kept going pretty constantly writing & cabling or I should have written to you last week. We went into Cairo together. Jack had a shave or haircut whilst I went off & interviewed some official people. We then went to the Grand Continental Hotel to dinner – it was very crowded but we found a corner & had a good tuck in – then went out
[written in the margin]
I am sending old Joan my box of chocolates from the Australians in London – (one piece I broke off & eat myself to see what it was like. Chas.
I got her letter – many thanks for it – I’ll write if I get time Love to her & Nancy & Claud. Chas.
for a stroll & saw a fight (or what nearly developed into one) outside one of the leading music halls. That decided us not to go inside so we went back to the Hotel & had a game of billiards. We were both very bad but Jack was worse than I was, & so I won We went out and found a cafe & had some chocolate – foreign chocolate is almost always & a nice drink - & then I had to get back to camp & Jack went off to the railway station.
I am living in luxury (comparatively ) & your Jack doesn’t seem at all badly off. The food has been good all through. Capt John Bean’s lines are some of the best in camp – I see a good bit of him, & I also see something of Harry Butler who is Major 2nd command of the 3rd A.M.C, not with one of the regiments.
Most of the men are splendid – my letters (if they publish them as I think they probably will without censoring) give about the truth. The old South African soldiers, & some old Imperial men are causing nearly all the trouble. They have led some of the young men into trouble which they would not have got into otherwise. I am just off to the Canal for a few days to have a look round – there may be trouble there but if so you’ll hear it before this arrives
[Letterhead of Australian Light Horse Camp, Ma’adi, Egypt]
Darling Mum Nance & Joan
I got your letters of the 6th safely, & was overjoyed, they were the first I’d received. I got one from Jane at the same time. I’ve written to Jane Aunts Leila & May, & Uncle Edwin & Aunt Lucy tonight & this is my next, Doin’ meself proud – aint I? I hope you got the cable Charlie Bean & I sent. Uncle Edwin will have telegraphed it on to you I’m sure, saying that the two Jacks Harry, (Butler) Duncan, (Maxwell) Charlie all well.
I never knew Charles had come. You only told me about Jack (until this last letter) & one Sat. afternoon after we had come in from a long ride to some caves & were grooming our steeds I was called to the head of the lines, & there stood Chas. I turned four sommersaults, got up & threw 7¾ fits, turned one sock inside out, then after smoking 194 cigaretts I finally recovered saying, "Hello Charlie"! in four gulps. ie: one gulp to each syllable. But really I was surprised.
Well we straightway went into Cairo & Chas shouted a swell dinner at a swell Hotel – The Grand Continental. We strode around the city afterwards not like this [arrow pointing to two well drawn figures striding along] but quietly, & after we had sent the cable we went to the hotel & had a game
of billiards. Before I forget it Nance, Gorton says he knows Jim Bain well, he was his greatest friend at school. He reckon Jimmie Bain is a good fellow. You’ve got a photo of Gordon Robertson show it to Bain & tell him Gordon says cheer-oh to him etc, Well Mum I’m a signaller now, a squadron signaller, I was transferred to them the other day. You see there is a section of four squadron signallers to each squadron. These men are always with the squadron, & when we are in action we’re always in or near the firing line, & send & receive messages from the Regimental signaller at Brigade Headquarters. You see – in action we will have to keep in touch with the Brigade H.Q. Where ever that is.
[Sketch depicting a hypothetical "Town" in which "Brigade H.Q." is located. Then some lines depicting the location of "A. Sqdn" and "B.Sqdn" and an arrow pointing to where "we four" squadron signallers would be positioned. Another line shows the location of the "Enemy"]
Well there are all sorts of rumours as to our leaving here shortly but I don’t vouch for their truth. Our major says that we might have to leave in about a week but there is nothing definite about it yet. We’re supposed to be going to the Suez Canal. Of course this only applies to the 2nd Light Horse, 500 of us.
24/1/15 We are not going after all but only going to shift to the other side of Cairo near the pyramids
Sunday 24th 1915
I lost this letter & did’nt send it by the same post as the Aunt’s ones
Just found it 10 minutes ago, The mail goes tonight. Well there has’nt been
much excitement since I began this letter. We had shooting practice about 8 days ago & I won about 13/-, i.e. 65 piastres on my shooting in bets.
We have been having a good many manoeuvres & schemes lately in the desert & are getting fit for the real thing. Personally I dont think we will see any fighting untill we get on the continent despite of all the rumours about Turks etc, Of course I could’nt get anything out of Chas, when I saw him last Sunday. Only he said he thought there was something doing soon. I went over to Mena on Sunday last to see Harry & Jack but both of them were in Town. I saw Chas afterwards at Divnl
Headquarters & he told me to send his love to you all.
We have a picture show here, & it helps to fill in nights. I must tell you an amusing incident that happened a few nights ago. The guard at the main entrance to the camp, while on duty at about 2 a.m., heard someone approaching down the road towards him, at a great speed. He challenged & presented the point of his bayonet to the oncomer – but just managed to withdraw it in time to let the camp kangaroo bound past , pursued by a local dog. The "kangar" had been out for a "beano", as they often do, (there are three of them), but he deemed it safer to retire within the bounds of the camp when the local cur took a fancy to him
Well I close this & send you a couple of post cards too. Remember me to
Claudius. Look you here Mormy – dont go slinging boiling water around your house & scalding thighs etc. Really you might have had a bad timer that time if you had’nt had thick cloths on. And you did’nt tell me, either It was Nance or Joan that "split" on you. I believe, if you had lost or scalded all your thighs, youo would’nt have told me. Well I’ll knock off now darlings.
I’m so glad your getting that tin all right I was afraid there would be delay etc.
I feel proud to be able to supply a few necessary things, "duds" etc, to my mormy.
Cheer-oh sweethearts & Best Love to yourself
[Sketch of two hearts with signalling flags crossed through each with the following words written below:]
PS. My little mare is still going strong. Her name is "Ma Cherie" which is just the sort of name to suit her I’m getting a photo taken of her & me by one of the fellows.
The Cairo Young Men’s Christian Association
British and Colonial Forces in Egypt]
17th April 1915
Still here, you see, others have left but we seem to be going to stay here for ever. We were all ready to go but got no orders. I told you I think that we went on a four days trek. Well I believe we are going on another now. I hope we do because they are very interesting these treks.
About a fortnight ago, we took our horses down to the "Barrage" a series of huge locks on the Nile, north of Cairo, & we were
there for a couple of days. The horses were all hauled through the river, fastened on to a continuous running line. The all had a good swim & it did the poor beggars a world of good.
The fine dust & sand must bother them the same as it does us. The glourious part of that trip was that we camped in a large public botanic garden with beautiful flowers all around us & all sots of sweet smelling tropical plants & trees, & slept on lovely green lawn. But of course there was something to mar our short time in paradise – it blew like hell both those days
that we were there & instead of sand & desert dust, we had black soil dust. Our camp here was in a terrible mess when we got back.
As to my health – I’m as fit as a fiddle. We had hard luck in losing two of our chaps the other day. They both died within half an hour of each other with pneumonia. These are the first deaths the regiment has had since leaving Aus. I think the dust had a lot to do with it. Men were dying in scores over at Mena, & it was said that the sand & dust was half the cause. They suddenly stopped working us
hard & day after day we did nothing but stables, (that was after the Barrage trip & we do very little now. All we do is saddle up in the morning & tour the river valley or banks & date-palm country & in fact go sight-seeing, & come back home about 2.30pm in the afternoon. The other day we all went into a small church among big trees, in a old garden, & were shown the inside by the caretaker, - the whole regiment , mind you officers (& all) it was a Catholic church. The walls were painted beautifully with large pictures of the Virgin Mary, & Christ & Joseph coming into Egypt. There were beautiful little statues & carving etc.
& altogether it was most interesting. Behind the church was the Virgin’s Tree a huge old knotted & gnarled tree quite dead. This is the tree where the Virgin Mary was supposed to have rested. This tree that we saw is a shoot of the original tree long since rotted & is 396 years old I cut a tiny chip from it & enclose a bit in this letter, it would do for a broach setting or something. Then we saw the obelisk which is over 2000 years old & the only one in lower or middle Egypt, it is really 30 ft high, but only 20 ft is above the surface now. It looks as if it was cut out a week or so! so new does it appear.
We’ve had very hot weather here lately & the shower baths have been very well patronised There is a a big brick well built or sunk into the sand to receive the waste water from the showers & washing taps. This is about 5 ft deep & about 7 ft square. It often overflows & makes a small pond. The other night I was having a shower & I heard a loud splash & a shout. Looking over the mat-work partition I saw ripples & bubbles on the water, & presently a head in hat, with drooping & dripping plume, rose above the surface & with a couple of bold strokes the chap struck out for shore. It was one of reinforcements not long from Aus. & taking the pool for a patch of dry
The Y.M.C.A. with H.M. Troops]
I got your last letter safely Mum & Joan’s "Health Catalogue"
1st May 1915
Darling Mormy & Kids
Just this short note to let you know I’m still well & kicking. You’ll all have heard by now of the fighting our boys did at the Dardanelles. They made a great fight. Gordon Robertson’s brother a major is second in command of the 9th infantry (Queenslanders) & he came back here with the wounded. He was shot in the side (slightly wounded) early in the fight. He was just giving his men the word to charge when he was hit. He told Gordon all about it, & of course we got it all. The slightly wounded are coming into Heliopolis thick & fast. The more seriously wounded are being left at Alexandria. Needless to say we are itching to imshi off & join in the dishing up of the beggars. Some of us
are optimistic, some otherwise about getting away, but the general opinion is that we might get our marching orders any time now. Then again they say that Light Horse are not wanted there, that the country is’nt suitable for them etc, etc, but what truth there is in this I dont know.
Gran will send to you a letter I wrote to her describing our last trek to Helouan from which we have just come back a few days ago. Will you send her the last long letter I wrote you. I have been trying to get some photos of this trek, that some other fellows took, but hav’nt yet. Will send you some soon anyhow.
I will close this now darlings & "iggory" to bed. That word is Arabic for hurry, or run, & "imshi" means go, or clear out. These were the two words used (with a few choice adjectives) by our troops, when they charged the Turks.
The poor 9th infantry’s two companies suffered pretty severely, but they won the day. Well darlings good night & God bless you all. Best love from
Kind regards to Claudius & good luck to him
Fix bayonets [and] ‘Earts
The Y.M.C.A. with H.M. Troops
Saturday 8th May 1915
Darling Mum Nance & Joan,
We are off at last to fight the Turks. We go tonight & are all ready now (5.30pm) Strange to say we are going dismounted – without our horses to reinforce the infantry over there. So we are now temporarily infantry & will go into the fight as infantry I think our horses will follow us. We might be right into the thick of it in a week or less from now & again we might be longer before we see any fighting. However dont worry darlings untill you get news from me per Field Service Postcard which is the only sort of correspondence
we are allowed to indulge in. You’ll get a good few conflicting reports no doubt but dont believe anything till I write. That is to say rumours. I am sending you an old photo found of the Toowoomba crowd, taken just before we marched to the station. We are all mad with excitement you can imagine at getting away. I hope you are all well darlings & the house is going strong
When is Nance When are you going to become Mrs Claudiboy-Jones Nance? – you per-sty - ...kerpuss, - stopit!! –"nuffsaid". Anyway wish Claude good luck & cheer-ohs from me only dont let him see this epistle. Well darlings I’ll say cheer-oh & God bless you all. Dont worry you’ll hear from me again before we get into it. Best love sweethearts to you all.
I am writing to Gran & Jane now too.
[Letter from John Butler’s cousin Charles Bean to John Butler’s mother Amy]
May 28 1915
Dear Aunt Amy
I saw John yesterday. I was curiously enough just going up to see him that same afternoon. I heard his regiment had some sharp work to do the other day – but it wasnt his squadron that had been engaged in it. He has got put on to signal work – the telephone & telegraph work for his regiment & so was able to get down to the beach & came up to see me. He was looking very well, & told me he was living well & was pretty comfortable. He was short of socks but I had a surplus luckily & was able to let him have some. He has seen a fair amount of fighting – the place where they put his regiment at first was a very ticklish corner – where the enemy’s trenches were quite close & they had to get bombs thrown at them. One bomb wounded a sergeant who was next him. On another occasion Jack and another man were put into a trench which actually joined our trench with a Turkish one, & had to keep watch on the Turkish section of it from behind some sandbags which divided the two.
I suppose the Turks (if they were in it then) were not more than 3 yards away.
John showed me a photo of Nancy & some of Joan & Claud & Vida Edwards. I suppose Joan will be quite changed by the time we get back.
I will try & keep an eye on Jack – I go up that way occasionally & he comes down to the beach (now that he is out of the firing line & on the telephone) for a bathe sometimes. Tell Joan we have our beach too, but no breakers – we dont want breakers either – might damage our biscuits & get salt water in the jam.
Love to Nancy & Joan & Claud & to yourself.
On Active Service
No Stamps Available
22 July 1915
Darling Mum Nance & Joan
At last I’m writing you a short note from the firing line, or at least I’m now seated in my dug-out, & just had tea. So far I hav’nt been roughly handled by our esteemed foe, except for a [indecipherable] spent bullet which smacked me on the hip, weeks ago & hardly left a bruise. I often see Charlie Bean & have a chat & afternoon tea with him. He is awfully good to me & never lets me go without anything. I never go down to see him without coming away with tin-milk, cigarettes, socks or something. I have not seen Jack yet although he is back again in the firing line. I saw Keith Eltham a few weeks ago he is in good nick. He’s in the artillery.
I’ve met any amount of Tasmanians here, & all my chums of the Garrison Artillery have rolled up here.
There are plenty of shells flying about here every day but one is very unlucky if one gets hit out of the firing line. I was down for a swim to-day on the beach & they were shelling it pretty constantly. A couple whizzed a few feet over the heads of my mate & myself & lobbed in the water about 20 yds. from us. We then remembered that we had to see a man about a cat, so we did not wait for the next. Well Mum this letter is strictly censored so I cant write all I’d like to. I’ve received all your letters & photos. You cant imagine the joy of getting letters here. I’m in a very fit condition & never felt better in all my life. Of course you’ll have left "Orvieto" when you get this.
Best of love to you all darlings, & dont get anxious, too much. Writing again soon
Your loving boy
Friday 13th Aug 1915
I have received all your letters safely & I hope my last letter & former post cards got you. We have had a big "stouch-up" here lately, which you’ll have heard all about before now. It has been a terrible battle, the troops here have suffered. Old Chas stopped a pill in the thigh & in fact the bullet is still in his leg. He’s walking about with it, &
in fact until he was grabbed by a local doc today & made to rest he was’nt taking any notice of it & said he would’nt get the bullet out until after this affair had blown over. Jack was wounded again – in the wrist this time with shrapnel. I have’nt seen him yet. Keith stopped one through the mouth, not serious but it will
P.S. Will you send me a couple of Story magazines or something to read, novels, anything. They are scarce here.
disfigure him, & of course Harry Butler got hit through the stomach & is serious. Jack Benson got wounded again – with a bomb this time. Of course you’ll know all this. Anyway I’m allright myself so far. I hope this letter will get you at "Orvieto" Mum. I suppose Claude is training now for a commission I hope, - we are wondering wether he will marry before he comes away. I must write & congratulate old Nance – I saw the announcement in the "Tas. Mail"
Mum darling I hope you are taking things quietly & not giving that leg a chance to get bad again.
Well dear I’ll say cheer-oh & write a few lines to Nance & Joan
Very best love from your boy
P.S. The weather is lovely here at present, rather hot sometimes though. We’re not far from the beach & of course get plenty of swimming (often under shell fire from old man Turk) which is a Godsend to the troops (not the shell fire) most chaps are as brown as niggers now.
Sat 11th Sept. 1915
Darling Mum & Kids
I wrote you all a letter each about a week ago, & through circumstances of various sorts have still got them here. So I’m sending them with this one. They are in official green envelopes & might not arrive with this one. I got Nance’s letter the other day dated 9/7/15 & ought to get another soon as there is a big mail for us today or tomorrow sometime. Nance says she’s glad I’ve kept out of it so long! Well we’ve been in it almost from the "jump-off" I’m certainly very lucky so far & am still hale & hearty.
I’m so glad that Claude is getting a commission or likely to. It makes a lot of difference – take my word.
It must have been a job, Mum
hunting for a decent flat & very tiresome, but you’ll be settled down in it, you three, by the time you get this. I hope you are all quite well again, when Nance wrote she had a slight attack of influ & Joan was getting was getting a return of her appendicitis pain. Also glad Sam came to see you Chas & I thought he would come eventually. I’m farther away from Charlie now, so cant see him so often I have’nt seen him for nearly a fortnight. But he’s going to send his batman round with something sometimes & also drop in himself & see me if he’s got time.
Aunt Lucy has sent he & I parcels. He got his a good time ago but mine has’nt arrived yet. Still this coming mail might bring forth ye booty.
Well Mum darling I’ll finish & write to Gran & Jane etc, Drop a line again as soon as you can
your loving boy
ON ACTIVE SERVICE
Note.- Correspondence in this envelope need not be censored Regimentally. The contents are liable to examination at the Base.
The certificate on the flap must be signed by the writer.
Address—[handwritten] Mrs Butler
257 Birrell St,
I certify on my honour that the contents of this envelope refer to nothing but private and family matters.
Signature (name only) [signed] J H Butler
Headquarters 1st Anzac, B.E.F., France
August 3rd 1916.
your letter reached me alright after travelling for a month or more. I have seen Claude and Cadle and they were both well. It was the night they both first went into action. Claude I have seen since – he was in two attacks so I was relieved to see the old thing with his head sticking out of his company officers dugout the next morning. I have not got to Cadles battalion since.
Drop me a line to let me know how you go on. I had left Egypt before your letter arrived. Geoff Butler was in Alex, and Charlie of course was with the Dorsetshire Yeomanry. I think Geoff has left Egypt since, but I dont think Charlie has.
Just at present it is very much like Gallipoli here – but I suppose that if the rain comes it will change all that. Jack is in France again at the 2ng Aust. Gen. Hospital.
Pte. J. Butler
2nd Australian Light Horse Regiment
1st A.L.H. Brigade
Sunday 6th May 1917
Darling Mum & Kids
I’ve waiting to be able to tell you that I’ve got my commission, but it has not come through yet owing to some delay, & is not likely to for at least a fortnight.
Anyway, I now consider myself a bird-man, as I have flown a plane on my own, & stunted about the skies for 5 hours at all heights up to 3,500 ft. This I did in about 6 flights. I have put in something like 14 hours in the air already (i.e.) Dual, & solo. Dual is with an instructor.
I am now at Aboukir, Alexandria, graduating. I go through advanced flying here & all sorts of other things before I am ready for dinkum work.
We have been going through all kinds of schools for the last 3 months & hav’nt been near the front where there is much fighting now. Do you know I hav’nt had a word from you for 6 weeks, I cant make out whats up. I’ve written to the Aus. Field Post office & perhaps they can throw some light on the affair. I’ll send you a snap of me in flying rig-out & my pet aeroplane
Some of our fellows failed when it came to flying. Some got
chucked out as "duds" (no good) some had bad crashes, & were lucky to get off with their lives. Two or three poor beggars were killed.
It’s wonderful the amount of crashes, & breakages, & smash-ups they get in a flying school. For my part I had luck, & never even strained a wire – I’ve got a lot of flying to do yet, so I wont boast.
The crashes happen when a plane is landing. A bad landing means, a smashed undercarriage. You see, one of the slowest types of plane – the one we learn to fly in, lands at a speed of 50 miles per hour. So you have to be
careful how you bring her to earth in a glide. Piloting an aeroplane is to one like sailing a yacht. The day I was launched, that is, when the instructor sent me up on my own, I felt as happy as larry, & king of the air. I stopped up for an hour that day.
One has no sense of speed or movement when well up in the air. All you get is the rush of wind past your head & the roar of your engine. You get plenty of sensation when you shut your engine off, put her nose down to glide to earth, or when you stunt up at a good height. (Switch-back, & steep banking)
To give you an idea – this is what things look like form 3,000 ft.
[Sketch from above of a small bi-plane, hangar, palm trees and some dots representing men and a road. Words are written on the sketch with arrows pointing to the:]
Aeroplane, Large aeroplane hangar (shed), Palm trees 40ft high, Men, Wide Road.
and 3,000 is really low when scouts go high above 25,000 ft. and almost loose touch with Mother Earth altogether.
I used to fly over Heliopolis early in the morning, over the Villa Montrose, where Mrs Featherstonehoare is staying (at about 500 ft.,) & wake her up with the roar of my engine. She would then come out
on the balcony, we exchanged waves.
Well to quit this Flying Corps business, I am hale & hearty except for a rather trying cold I have at present. I hope you are all well darlings & things are going well. As soon as I get settled down, & the money business, of my commission is settled, I will be able to increase the allottment Mum.
Address future letters to
2nd Lieut JHB
20th Reserve Wing R.F.C.
You will have had a cable from me I expect before you receive this letter.
Cheer-oh darling Mum & Kids & God bel you all, Very Best Love
[Sketch of two hearts with the Xs across them. Each contains a drawing of an aeroplane]
1st Anzac Corps,
Dear Aunt Amy
I was so glad to see in the orders the other day that Jack had got his commission. He has done it entirely by himself, and it is a well deserved change in his fortunes. I think he will like the work in the Flying Corps, and it certainly no more dangerous than his work in the Regiment; not as much so, I should say; so you will have that extra comfort from it too. By the number of his squadron I fancy that he will be serving in Egypt and Palestine. I am very glad indeed. I wrote and told Jack of it – both our Jack and yours. With love to Nancy and Joan (I saw Claud looking very fit some time ago, on leave; and I see Cadle has been sent to some work with a unit in England, probably for a bit of rest)- Ever your affectionate nephew,
Darling Mum & Sisters
I am writing this in the 14th Aus. Gen. Hospital where I am having a rest. I had a bit of sickness out at the squadron & could’nt fly so was sent down here to pick up again.
Well I can tell you plenty in tis letter, as Capt. McNamara V.C. is bringing it over to post in Aus. He is one of our pilots and won his V.C. out at Gaza a few months ago.
Well to tell you a few things. I have been over two months now with the 67th Squadron (Aus) of the R.F.C. at Gaza (The Turks hold Gaza by the way, so we are not really at Gaza but about 12 miles this side of it. Our front line is within 3 miles of it) & have had many exciting experiences. I was 2½ months going through various schools, that is classes exams etc, & 2½ months actually learning to fly 3 different types aeroplanes. So it was 5 months from
the time I left the 2nd Light Horse to the time I was ready for service & joined the 67th Squadron. I was the third one to finish with the school & get my wings out of 30 pupils – therefore the third to report to the squadron for service. I am senior pilot now of the new batch because the other two are gone, who were before me, - Keith Urquart to Aus, on Leave, & Claude Vautin (a cousin of "Nugget") is a prisoner. I’ll tell you of him later in the letter.
Before I forget it. I hope you got the note I sent home by Ivan Young & I hope he see’s you. He will if he goes to Sydney. Ivansky Youngovitch is a whiteski manovitch so give him a good time, if he lobs.
I hope you are getting the extra "oof" I allotted (now 7/- a day instead of 2/6) to take effect from 28 May 1917. I’m anxiously waiting to hear of this from you Mum, & I hope everything is allright.
Now I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing. The first exciting experience I had was:- Eight of us (pilots) were going
out in eight planes to bomb Turkish Gen. Head Quarters – a large building on the Mount of Olives just on the outskirts of the Holy City. This is a fine building and endowment Home, & rather like an old English school, fairly modern.
Well we left the aerodrome just before dawn at 4a.m. – I forget the date – about the end of June.
Four of us Ron. Austin, Clifford Brown, Jack Potts, & myself, were flying machines of the BE2E type & each carrying 12 16pndr. bombs. The other four:- Capt Murray Jones, Lts., King Cole, Peter Drummond, & Bill Bowd were flying "Martinsydes" carrying both small & large & incendiary bombs. The trip was about 250 miles there & back & was supposed to take us about 3½ hours.
Well we flew in formation & arrived there safely, in about 1½ hours. We were about
[sketch of the flying formation one plane leading: a Martinsyde flown by Capt Jones (Leader) then come four BE2Es (2 seaters) in a square formation front left is BUTLER (lost), front right POTTS (lost), back left is BROWN (lost) and back right AUSTIN (lost). Behind then come two "Tinesides flown by BOWD on the left and DRUMMOND on the right. In the rear is also a "Tinesyde flown by COLE (lost)]
The "Martinsydes" are Single seaters
BE2Es are 2 seaters
¼ hour bombing, & then turned back. We bombed at a height of 3000ft. Jerusalem is a lovely city by the way, & I’m glad we did’nt have to bomb that.
We had got over half way back when Brown’s engine gave out, & he had to make a forced landing. We were still well over enemy country. Austin followed Brown down to pick him up in his (Austin’s) machine. Cole followed them both down to any help & keep any enemy off with his machine gun. We all had a machine gun each on our planes. The rest of us after circling around them a few times went on homewards.
Well it happened that Austin picked up Brown allright after Brown had set fire to his own plane, & they got away with King Cole following them in the Martinsyde (Martinsydes are single seaters. BE2Es 2 seaters)
They had’nt gone more than about 10 miles when Austin’s machine "Konked out" (engine) So he had a forced landing with Brown, in bad country (i.e. rough & uneven for landing – still enemy country) Cole came down & landed along of them. Austin’s engine had "siezed up" & was out of action. So there they were – 3 pilots; & one Single seater machine still good. Then they were
attacked by Bedouins. Brown was going to stop & hold the Bedouins with his machine gun while Austin got away on Cole’s machine, seated across the engine cowling, & hanging on for dear life. Cole started off with Austin but could’nt get off the ground, - hit a mound of earth, ran over a little hillock, & crashed! They were’nt hurt but the machine was, - up the poleski. Well they beat the Bedouins off took what they could from their machines & made for our lines. That was in the morning about 7.30 or 8am. They reached our Light-Horse outposts late in the afternoon after having walked about 17 miles through enemy country. We made certain they would be prisoners.
Well about ½ hour after the first trouble with Brown, - The other 5 of us were making for home you’ll remember – my engine coughed once or twice, & then gave out. I had run dry of petrol (still in enemy country) We were about 6,oooft up, so I vol-planed down & looked around for a suitable landing ground where the other machines could land too. I signalled to the others that I was to have a forced landing (with a smoke bomb signal)
& they all followed me down. But half way down Jack Potts had exactly the same trouble as I had. So we both landed. Murray Jones landed alongside me & picked me up, & Peter Drummond landed alongside Potts & picked him up. Bill Dowd circled overhead & machine gunned a few Bedouins who were hopping around. Of course Potts & I both had to straddle the engine-cowl (a warm ride) & hung on to anything hangable. With a "60 mile and hour" wind trying to blow us off. We did’nt burn our machine before we left because we thought we might be able to come back with petrol, & save them, but "Jacko" Turk saved us the trouble & burned them as soon as we left.
Well as you see we lost 5 machines out of the 8, but all the pilots got safely back. We had done nearly 4 hours of flying when my engine stopped.
Well I’ve had plenty of exciting times since. That is:- we always get "H.E." (high explosive) thrown up at us by the Turk’s "Archies" when we do our "recco." over their lines which is every day. But sometimes one will fly for 3 weeks, about every third day & never get shot at. I have had one small
"scrap" in the air with Gerard Felmy our friendly adversary. He flies an "Albatross" Scout, & can do just double my plane’s speed His 120m.p.h. mine 60m.p.h.
We exchanged a few shots but he "beat it" because 3 more of our machines came on the scene.
So you see we have some quite thrilling times.
Each pilot only flies every third day, about, & then only for about 2½ or 3 hours, so we get plenty of time to ourselves.
I’m sending you out as many snaps as I can, soon as I get back I sent some to you, by Ivan Young but they were not fixed so I’m afraid they will fade, but "maleesh" I can send much better ones soon I hope.
Well I’ll tell you some more things of interest.
To begin with the German Air Service opposed to us here in Palestine, are sports & thorough gentlemen. We have ample proof that Capt. Felmy (the C.O.) & the Ober. Lt. Gerard Felmy (his brother) are all this & more.
On every occasion when we have sustained
casualties through air fights with the Huns or through the Turk’s Anti-Aircraft guns ("Archies") The Hun has always come over & dropped a message on our aerodrome giving full details.
This is the sort of note we have got at times:-
"to the British Flying Service,
We are very sorry to
have announce to you the death of Capt "____ RFC, or Lt. ___ R.F.C etc., "they were" or "he was", "brought down yesterday by our "archies" (or) by:- (here they would name the German who had brought them down.)
"He" or "they" were buried last night with full military honours. "They" or "he fought very bravely" & we all very much regret the death of such brave men.
(This is’nt a copy but it is after the style)
About 4 weeks after we crowd of new pilots came to the Squadron this even happened.
The daily "recco" went out in the morning. Claude Vautin one of the new pilots was
escorting the "recco" machine. He was in a single seater. Capt Brooks an English pilot, was also in a single seater (‘Tyneside) escorting the "recco" bus, which was a BE2E with pilot & observer. Jack Potter was the pilot of the "recco" bus but I forgot who the observer was.
Anyway, while over enemy lines they were all attacked by Hun machines. Brooks was brought down (shot) & killed. Vautin, was going good, but got his propeller shot off, & a control shot away, (this was happening at about 8,000 ft.) & he crashed, but was not hurt himself. In the meantime the "recco" machine (Potts) had got away, after a running fight. Poor old Brooks plane had collapsed at a height of about 7,000 owing to being "shot up" by the enemy, & he went down like a stone.
A crowd of "Jackos" received Claude Vautin with open arms & marched him into a town called Huj, under an armed guard. By the way – the Turks treated
him with silent respect. Ober Lt Gerard Felmy came down to Huj in a 2 seater Albatross Scout, introduced himself to Claude, & warmly congratulated Claude, on the fight he had put up. (G. Felmy had brought Claude down).
He then asked Claude if he had seen the Holy City. Claude had’nt so Felmy took him for a joyride to Jerusalem & then over to Ramleh, (the Hun aerodrome site) where he was guest of the Germans for over a week.
They invited us to take his kit over, (as he had nothing) & drop it on their aerodrome. Capt Jones went over with Claude’s kit & came down to within 100 ft of their aerodrome & dropped it. They were all out waving to him. We sent letters to Claude, his mail, photos to both he & the Felmy’s, & a letter of thanks to them for all their kindness.
Felmy came over to our aerodrome a few days later in his scout. Our "Archies" were blazing into him & shells bustin’ all round him. He looped the loop over our aerodrome dropped a large message bag & went off like hell.
In that bag was a letter to all the ‘dear sports’ of the Aus. Flying Corps, from G. Felmy, a letter to Claude’s father from Felmy with a large photo of Claude and Felmy standing side by side. A large photo of the German Air Company all numbered and named, a box of Turkish cigarettes for "My dear Murray Jones" – more photos of Claude & Felmy for us. They treated Claude as an honoured guest, not a prisoner of war, until he had to go on up the line. So you see there is a good feeling between us and our enemies, of our own branch. I have got all these photos and also photos of their letters, which I will send home on first opportunity. We’ve promised Ober. Lt. Felmy not to let his or their letters get into the papers, as it would be liable to get them into dire trouble.
You know, a big paper Aus. or English, would give £100 for the story we could tell them, with the photos.
I am writing this sitting up in bed, so forgive scrawl etc., I am quite all right really, only just run down & need a rest. I’ll soon be going back to the squadron. Tell me your next letter how everything is going at home .......
(private and personal matter on this sheet)
Aboukir page 49 – there is a village called Aboukir in Alexandria.
A.M.C. page 21 – Army Medical Corps.
Barrage page 26 – this was probably the Delta Barrage that was completed in 1862. Its purpose was to improve irrigation in the Nile Delta
Be2E page 57 – is BE2e The Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2 was a British single-engine two-seat biplane in service with the Royal Flying Corps during WW1
Enoggera page 2 – Enoggera Military Camp still exists and is about 10 kms from the centre of Brisbane
Felmy – page 61 – Capt Helmuth Felmy was born in Berlin on 28 May 1885. In 1904, he joined the army and in 1912 became a pilot. During World War I, Felmy commanded a squadron on the Turkish front in Palestine. After the war, he remained in the German military and in 1938 he was promoted to General der Flieger ie Air Force General. By the beginning of World War II, Felmy commanded Air Fleet 2 of the Luftwaffe. In May 1941. From 1943 to 1944, he commanded the LXVlll of the German Army. In 1948, in Nuremburg Felmy was accused of war crimes in Greece and sentenced to 15 years gaol. On 15 January 1951, he was released early. He died in 1965.
Felmy – page 61 - Ober Lt Gerard Felmy. A short article about Ross "Haji" Smith, the best Allied aviator in the Middle East, tells us: "The most capable German pilot in Palestine was Gerhard Felmy, a particular courageous and capable pilot..."
Field Family page 4 – was a well known Durban family. The original Mr Coote Field was Natal’s first director of Customs.
Helouan page 33 – is Helwan about 20kms south of Cairo.
Huj page 63 – was an airfield in Palestine, near Gaza.
Imshi page 32 – be gone!, shoo! from the Arabic.
Khedive page 17 – a ruler of Egypt from 1867 to 1914 governing as a viceroy of the sultan of Turkey
Krantz Kloof page 4 – is an area in Kwa Zulu Natal about 20 miles inland from Durban. It is now a nature reserve. It seems that Butler was originally from Durban.
Ma’adi is about 10kms south of the centre of Cairo
Martinsydes page 57 - The company was first formed in 1908 as a partnership between H.P. Martin and George Handasyde and known as Martin & Handasyde. Their No.1 monoplane was built in 1908–1909 and succeeded in lifting off the ground before being wrecked in a gale. They went on to build a succession of largely monoplane designs although it was a biplane, the S.1 of 1914 that turned Martin-Handasyde into a successful aircraft manufacturer.
McNamara Capt. Frank VC – McNamara took part in a raid bombing a Turkish supply train. McNamara was wounded when one of his bombs did not release properly and exploded about 30ft below McNamara’s plane. He was hit by a piece of shrapnel in his right buttock. McNamara turned for home and spotted an aircraft on the ground not far from the railway. He could see the pilot of the aircraft and could also see some Turkish cavalry approaching the downed aircraft and pilot. McNamara landed his plane. The downed pilot (Rutherford) ran to McNamara and asked for assistance but after McNamara told him of the approaching Turks, climbed onto the wing of McNamara’s plane and they took off. The extra weight and his wounds meant that McNamara could not control the plane and they crashed, damaging the plane but with no further injuries to the two pilots. By this time the Turks were close enough to start firing at them. The pilots then went to Rutherford’s plane which was not too badly damaged. McNamara climbed into the pilot’s seat, McNamara swung the propeller, the plane started and off they flew. By this time the Turks were apparently firing at point blank range but nevertheless the two pilots escaped.
Pinkenba on page 10 – is near the mouth of the Brisbane River.
Ramleh page 64 – probably Ramla which is a few miles NE of Jerusalem
Villa Montrose, Heliopolis – page 52 –Villa Montrose, Ave de Pyramids eventually became a home in which some Australian nurses lived during the war.]
[Transcribed by Miles Harvey and John Glennon for the State Library of New South Wales]