Lost Cousins: Private Robert Normanton Stanhope BUTLER (1886-1917)

robert-butler-photograph-walsall-obs-south-staffs-chron-17-mar-1917

img_2851-copyPrivate Robert Normanton Stanhope BUTLER, 44209, 12 Bttn. Manchester Regiment, killed in action in France on 8 February 1917. He is commemorated at the Thiepval Memorial in France.

Robert N S BUTLER, or ‘Bert’ to his family, came from a theatrical background and was better known by his stage names, Robert Butler Stanhope or Butler Stanhope junior, after the stage name used by his father. Much of his childhood was spent touring with his family, and he later spent some years as part of the rep company at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Walsall, where he was also Assistant Stage Manager

The date of Bert’s enlistment isn’t known, but it was some time after Christmas 1915, when records show he was still with the theatre. By February 1917, the 12 Bttn. Manchester Regiment was in the Combles area of France (near Amiens), and the War Diary entry for 8 Feb records heavy fighting. Private Butler’s death is not mentioned, but the recorded loss of several officers that day suggests there were significant casualties. An ‘In Memoriam’ notice placed in ‘The Stage’ a few years later by his widow suggests Robert was killed at “the Battle of Souzèa” but this name isn’t recorded elsewhere.

According to several newspaper accounts of the time, Private Butler’s widow first knew of his likely death when she received a photograph of herself that had been found on the battlefield.

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Robert Normanton Stanhope BUTLER was born on 19 May 1886 in Birkenhead, the youngest child of William Stanhope BUTLER (c.1840-1921) and Adairine Mary TISDALL (1840-1914).

On 14 Nov 1915, he married actress Hetty JONES (stage name Kitty Hewitt) in Warrington. They had no children.

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Other sources used include: the British Newspaper Archive; the War Diary of 12 Bttn. Manchester Regiment, available from the National Archives. A number of paintings and drawings of Combles in 1917 can also be found online.

(Photograph taken from the Walsall Observer and South Staffordshire Chronicle, 17 Mar 1917, via the British Newspaper Archive)

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