Wounded hero who attacked enemy with their own bombs


Any filmmaker searching for material should take a look at the exploits of a World War One hero from Imberhorne Lane.

His name was William Butcher and, despite his eye being pierced by shrapnel, he led a charge on a German trench at the Somme and then held off the enemy with their own weapons.

His parents are naturally proud that their boy should have so unflinchingly done his duty as to win this coveted honour

Sussex and Surrey Courier, September 1916

The tale of Corporal Butcher – a builder by trade – came to light in the pages of the Sussex and Surrey Courier in September 1916, after he was awarded the military medal for bravery.

Before the war, young William attended North End School and then worked with his father, Ernest, for Messrs Martin, Smith & Foster.

He was described by Ernest as “a quiet, good lad”, a trait that saw him keep his gallantry to himself – not even mentioning it to his mother when she visited him in hospital.

Mrs Butcher had watched all three of her sons march off to war; William and one brother to serve with the Royal Sussex Regiment and the other brother to join the fledgling Royal Naval Air Service.

She must have been terrified for her boys and devastated to see William so badly wounded, but in the best ‘stiff upper lip’ manner, the Courier said: “His parents are naturally proud that their boy should have so unflinchingly done his duty as to win this coveted honour.”

Corporal Butcher’s heroism began on the morning of July 7 1916 when he was placed in charge of the bombers of his Company and advanced on the German trenches.

During the advance, under a bombardment of fire from the Germans, he was seriously wounded when shrapnel pierced his right eye.

The Courier reported the Corporal was “rendered partially unconscious” and added: “But by an extreme effort he pulled himself together and at the head of his men made his way, with all possible speed, for the German trenches.”

The strength and ferocity of the men from the Royal Sussex saw them overrun the trenches and send surviving enemy soldiers on the retreat.

The victory was in danger of being very short-lived though as, with the Sussex men out of bombs, the German soldiers launched a counter-attack. Then Lady Luck stepped in and offered a helping hand.

The Courier reported: “At this moment, things looked rather black for the boys of the Royal Sussex for they had run out of bombs, but most providentially, in the nick of time, they found a store of them, which the Germans, in their hurried departure, had left behind.”

Corporal Butcher and his men then attacked the enemy using their own bombs before finding themselves fighting at very close quarters until night fell and reinforcements arrived with more ammunition.

The badly wounded East Grinstead man stayed with his men for 36 hours under heavy shell fire, receiving no treatment to his ruined eye. It was only after his Company had been replaced and the survivors staggered back to their billet did he think of getting his wound dressed.

The Courier reported he had spent a total of three days and three nights after being wounded “doing duty with his battalion, and had not even troubled to get his eye dressed, though he had never been out of pain for one moment”.

Corporal Butcher was transferred to a hospital in Boulogne, where he underwent two operations to remove the shrapnel from his eye.

He arrived in England on August 4 1916 and was taken to Southampton for another operation before being conveyed to the 2nd London General Hospital at Chelsea.

It was likely here that his mother visited him.

In September 1916, he was removed to The Red Cross Hospital, in The Green, Richmond.

Does anyone know what became of the heroic Corporal Butcher?

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