A Collection of Medals to Members of the Nobility and The Royal Household

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Date of Auction: 8th December 2016

Sold for £3,800

Estimate: £2,800 - £3,200

The Great War C.M.G., ‘Battle of Loos’ D.S.O. group of six awarded to Brigadier-General the Honourable L. J. P. Butler, Irish Guards, who commanded the 2nd Battalion at the Battle of Loos during their first experience of War, September 1915: ‘Jerry did himself well at Loos upon us innocents. We went into it, knowing no more that our own dead what was coming, and Jerry fair lifted us out of it with machine-guns’, an experience where, over five punishing days and nights, the battalion suffered 324 casualties

The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George, C.M.G., Companion’s neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel; Distinguished Service Order, G.V.R., silver-gilt and enamel, obverse central medallion slightly loose, with integral top riband bar; Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 4 clasps, Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal, South Africa 1901, top clasp a tailor’s copy (Lieut. Hon. L. J. P. Butler, Irish Gds:); 1914 Star, with clasp (Major Hon: L. J. P. Butler. I. Gds:); British War and Victory Medals, with M.I.D. oak leaves (Brig. Gen. Hon. L. J. P. Butler.) mounted court-style as worn and housed with the recipient’s related miniature awards in a glazed display frame, good very fine (6) £2800-3200

Footnote

C.M.G. London Gazette 4 June 1917.

D.S.O. London Gazette 14 January 1916.

The Honourable Lesley James Probyn Butler was born on 22 April 1876, the second son of the 26th Baron Dunboyne and his wife Caroline, the daughter of Captain George Probyn. Commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry on 28 March 1900, having previously served for 113 days in the Militia, he served in South Africa during the Boer War from 1900 to 1901, transferring to the Irish Guards on 20 February 1901. Promoted Lieutenant in the Irish Guards on 1 January 1902, he served as Adjutant from 1 January until 31 December 1907, and was advanced Captain on 27 March 1909. Receiving his Majority on 14 July 1913, he was serving as Brigade-Major of the 8th Infantry Brigade, Southern Command, at the time of the outbreak of the Great War, and went with them to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force in August 1914. Reported missing on 8 September 1914, he made his way back to his unit and was subsequently appointed to the command of the newly-formed 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards. He served with distinction during the Great War, especially at the Battle of Loos, where he led his battalion on an attack through the Chalk-Pit Wood, 28 September 1915:

‘The attack of their Brigade developed during the course of the day. The four C.O.’s of the Battalions met their Brigadier at the 1st Grenadier Guards Headquarters. He took them to a point just north of Loos, whence they could see Chalk-Pit Wood, and the battered bulk of the colliery head and workings known as Puits 14 bis, together with what few small buildings still stood thereabouts, and told them that he proposed to attack as follows: At half-past two a heavy bombardment lasting for one hour and a half would be delivered on that sector. At four the Second Irish Guards would advance upon Chalk-Pit Wood and would establish themselves on the north-east and south-east faces of it, supported by the 1st Coldstream. The 1st Scots Guards were to advance echeloned to the right rear of the Irish, and to attack Puits 14 bis moving round the south side of Chalk-Pit Wood, covered by heavy fire from the Irish out of the Wood itself. For this purpose, four machine-guns of the Brigade Machine-gun Company were to accompany the latter battalion. The 3rd Grenadiers were to support the 1st Scots in their attack on the Puits. Chalk-Pit Wood at that time existed as a somewhat dishevelled line of smallish trees and brush running from north to south along the edge of some irregular chalk workings which terminated at their north end, in a deepish circular quarry. It was not easy to arrive at its precise shape and size, for the thing, like so much of the war-landscape of France, was seen but once by the men vitally concerned in its features, and thereafter changed outline almost weekly, as gun-fire smote and levelled it from different angles. The orders for the Battalion, after the conference and the short view of the ground, were that No. 3 Company (Captain Wynter) was to advance from their trenches when the bombardment stopped, to the southern end of Chalk-Pit Wood, get through and dig itself in in the tough chalk on the farther side. No. 2 Company (Captain Bird), on the left of No. 3, would make for the centre of the wood, dig in too, on the far side, and thus prolong No. 3’s line up to and including the Chalk-Pit—that is to say, that the two companies would hold the whole face of the Wood. Nos. 1 and 4 Companies were to follow and back up Nos. 3 and 2 respectively. At four o’clock the two leading companies deployed and advanced, “keeping their direction and formation perfectly.” That much could be seen from what remained of Vermelles watertower, where some of the officers of the 1st Battalion were watching, regardless of occasional enemy shell. They advanced quickly, and pushed through to the far edge of the Wood with very few casualties, and those, as far as could be made out, from rifle or machine-gun fire. (Shell-fire had caught them while getting out of their trenches, but, notwithstanding, their losses had not been heavy till then.) The rear companies pushed up to thicken the line, as the fire increased from the front, and while digging in beyond the Wood, 2nd Lieutenant Pakenham-Law was fatally wounded in the head. Digging was not easy work, and seeing that the left of the two first companies did not seem to have extended as far as the Chalk-Pit, at the north of the Wood, the C.O. ordered the last two platoons of No. 4 Company which were just coming up, to bear off to the left and get hold of the place. In the meantime, the 1st Scots Guards, following orders, had come partly round and partly through the right flank of the Irish, and attacked Puits 14 bis, which was reasonably stocked with machine-guns, but which they captured for the moment. Their rush took with them “some few Irish Guardsmen,” with 2nd Lieutenants W. F. J. Clifford and J. Kipling of No. 2 Company who went forward not less willingly because Captain Cuthbert commanding the Scots Guards party had been adjutant to the Reserve Battalion at Warley ere the 2nd Battalion was formed, and they all knew him. Together, this rush reached a line beyond the Puits, well under machinegun fire (out of the Bois Hugo across the Lens–La Bassee road). Here 2nd Lieutenant Clifford was shot and wounded or killed—the body was found later—and 2nd Lieutenant Kipling was wounded and missing. The Scots Guards also lost Captain Cuthbert, wounded or killed, and the combined Irish and Scots Guards party fell back from the Puits and retired “into and through Chalk-Pit Wood in some confusion.” The C.O. and Adjutant, Colonel Butler and Captain Vesey went forward through the Wood to clear up matters, but, soon after they had entered it the Adjutant was badly wounded and had to be carried off. Almost at the same moment, “the men from the Puits came streaming back through the Wood, followed by a great part of the line which had been digging in on the farther side of it.”
Evidently, one and a half hour’s bombardment, against a country-side packed with machine-guns, was not enough to placate it. The Battalion had been swept from all quarters, and shelled at the same time, at the end of two hard days and sleepless nights, as a first experience of war, and had lost seven of their officers in forty minutes. They were reformed somewhat to the rear along the Loos–Hulluch road. (“Jerry did himself well at Loos upon us innocents. We went into it, knowing no more than our own dead what was coming, and Jerry fair lifted us out of it with machine-guns. That was all there was to it
that day.”) The watchers on the Vermelles water-tower saw no more than a slow forward wave obscured by Chalk-Pit Wood; the spreading of a few scattered figures, always, it seemed, moving leisurely; and then a return, with no apparent haste in it, behind the wood once more. They had a fair idea, though, of what had happened, and guessed what was to follow. The re-formed line would go up again exactly to where it had come from. While this was being arranged, and when a couple of companies of the 1st Coldstream had turned up in a hollow on the edge of the Loos–Hulluch road, to support the Battalion, a runner came back with a message from Captain Alexander saying that he and some men were still in their scratch-trenches on the far side of Chalk-Pit Wood, and he would be greatly obliged if they would kindly send some more men up, and with speed. The actual language was somewhat crisper, and was supplemented, so the tale runs, by remarks from the runner addressed to the community at large. The demand was met at once, and the rest of the line was despatched to the near side of the Wood in support. The two companies of the Coldstream came up on the left of the Irish Guards, and seized and settled down in the Chalk-Pit itself. They all had a night’s energetic digging ahead of them, with but their own entrenching tools to help, and support-trenches had to be made behind the Wood in case the enemy should be moved to counter-attack. To meet that chance, as there was a gap between the supporting Coldstream Companies and the First Guards Brigade on the left, the C.O. of the 2nd Battalion collected some hundred and fifty men of various regiments, during the dusk, and stuffed them into an old German communication-trench as a defence. No counter-attack developed, but it was a joyless night that they spent among the uptorn trees and lumps of unworkable chalk. Their show had failed with all the others along the line, and “the greatest battle in the history of the world” was frankly stuck. The most they could do was to hang on and wait developments. They were shelled throughout the next day, heavily but inaccurately, when 2nd Lieutenant Sassoon was wounded by a rifle bullet. In the evening they watched the 1st Coldstream make an unsuccessful attack on Puits 14 bis, for the place was a well-planned machine-gun nest—the first of many that they were fated to lose their strength against through the years to come. That night closed in rain, and they were left to the mercy of Providence. No one could get to them, and they could get at nobody; but they could and did dig deeper into the chalk, to keep warm, and to ensure against the morrow (September 29) when the enemy guns found their range and pitched the stuff fairly into the trenches “burying many men and blowing a few to pieces.” Yet, according to the count, which surely seems inaccurate, they only lost twenty dead in the course of the long day. The 3rd Guards Brigade on their right, sent in word that the Germans were massing for attack in the Bois Hugo in front of their line. “All ranks were warned,” which, in such a situation, meant no more than that the experienced, among them, of whom there were a few, waited for the cessation of shell-fire, and the inexperienced, of whom there were many, waited for what would come next. (“And the first time that he is under that sort of fire, a man stops his thinking. He’s all full of wonder, sweat, and great curses.”) No attack, however, came, and the Gunners claimed that their fire on Bois Hugo had broken it up. Then the Brigade on their left cheered them with instructions that Chalk-Pit Wood must be “held at all costs,” and that they would not be relieved for another two days; also, that “certain modifications of the Brigade line would take place.” It turned out later that these arrangements did not affect the battalions. They were taken out of the line “wet, dirty, and exhausted” on the night of the 30th September when, after a heavy day’s shelling, the Norfolks relieved them, and they got into billets behind Sailly-Lebourse. They had been under continuous strain since the 25th of the month, and from the 27th to the 30th in a punishing action which had cost them, as far as could be made out, 324 casualties, including 101 missing. Of these last, the Diary records that “the majority of them were found to have been admitted to some field ambulance, wounded. The number of known dead is set down officially as not more than 25, which must be below the mark. Of their officers, 2nd Lieutenant Pakenham-Law had died of wounds; 2nd Lieutenants Clifford and Kipling were missing, Captain and Adjutant the Hon. T. E. Vesey, Captain Wynter, Lieutenant Stevens, and 2nd Lieutenants Sassoon and Grayson were wounded, the last being blown up by a shell. It was a fair average for the day of a debut, and taught them somewhat for their future guidance. Their commanding officer told them so at Adjutant’s Parade, after they had been rested and cleaned on the 2nd October at Verquigneul; but it does not seem to have occurred to any one to suggest that direct infantry attacks, after ninety-minute bombardments, on works begotten out of a generation of thought and prevision, scientifically built up by immense labour and applied science, and developed against all contingencies through nine months, are not likely to find a fortunate issue. So, while the Press was explaining to a puzzled public what a far-reaching success had been achieved, the “greatest battle in the history of the world” simmered down to picking up the pieces on both sides of the line, and a return to autumnal trench-work, until more and heavier guns could be designed and manufactured in England. Meantime, men died.’ (The Irish Guards in the Great War by Rudyard Kipling refers).

Awarded the Distinguished Service Order in January 1916, almost certainly for his gallantry and leadership at the Battle of Loos, Butler was posted to the Staff, subsequently created a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George; he was also six times Mentioned in Despatches (London Gazettes 19 October 1914; 17 February 1915; 1 January 1916; 4 January 1917; 15 May 1917; 11 December 1917); and received the Brevet of Lieutenant-Colonel. Advanced Brigadier-General, he retired from the Army in 1922.

Butler married Miss Mary Heathcoat-Amory, the youngest daughter of Sir John Heathcote-Amory, Bt., on 24 July 1907, with whom he had one son and two daughters. Appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of Devon in 1930, he died on 31 December 1955.