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PRIVATE, 21934

25th MARCH 1918, AGED 19

Photo with kind permission of Pierre Vandervelden
ALFRED BUTCHER was born in Rudgwick in 1899, the son of Joseph and Eliza Butcher, and brother of Sarah Butcher (born Rudgwick 1890), Mark Butcher* (born Rudgwick 1892), George Butcher* (born Rudgwick 1894), William Butcher (born Rudgwick 1897) and Margaret Butcher (born Rudgwick 1908). In 1901 and 1911 the Butcher family were living in Lynwick Street, Rudgwick, where Alfred's father, Joseph, was a farm labourer.

Alfred enlisted in Horsham. It appears that his personal service records were destroyed during the Blitz of the Second World War, but reference to men with similar service numbers to Alfred indicates that he was called up for service on 1st March 1917, and reported to Caterham on approximately 8th March 1917 for his basic training. Alfred would have departed for service with the British Expeditionary Force in France in approximately October 1917, joining the ranks of 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards (3/Coldstreams).

On 8th February 1918 the 3/Coldstreams transferred from the Guards Division to 4th Guards Brigade, 31st Division.


Russia had exited the conflict on 3rd March 1918 with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, releasing German forces from their commitment on the Eastern Front. The German High Command believed the British Army to be close to exhaustion after its efforts in the Battles of Arras, Ypres and Cambrai in 1917. These factors, coupled with the impending arrival of the immense materiel and fresh man power resources of the USA resulted in the German High Command initiating a Spring Offensive against the Allied forces in France, designed to eliminate the cross channel influence before the might of the US Army could be brought to bear on the European battlefields.

At the start of March 1918 3/Coldstreams were resting out of the line in a farm just outside the village of Tincques, about midway between Arras and St Pol.

On 21st March 1918 the offensive, Operation Michael, was launched against the British Expeditionary Force from the defensive position of the Hindenburg Line, to which the German Army had withdrawn after the Somme battle of 1916. It was to advance rapidly across the old 1916 battlefield, eventually being fought to a standstill near the town of Amiens on 5th April 1918.

German Spring Advance 1918 & Route of 3/Coldstreams to action on 25th March 1918

In the early hours of the 22nd March 1918 the men of 3/Coldstreams were awakened in the barn in which they were sleeping. They were ordered to be ready for parade at 5.30am and stacked their blankets and assembled their equipment. The men breakfasted and their parade time was delayed. At 8am they were ordered to fall in and march to the Arras- St Pol road, where they boarded motor transport. The battalion then commenced it's journey towards the advancing German Army, initially towards St Pol, then south to Doullens via Frevent, before turning east again to Beaumetz.

After dark the men finally disembarked near the village of Biosleux-St. Marc and had their first food since breakfast. They were briefed (incorrectly) that the German advance had only had limited success and they were to be used to support a counter attack the following morning to restore the line. At midnight the men fell in and marched forwards, through the villages of Bousleux and Hamelincourt, and on for a further mile to adopt a position about 500 yards north of a line between Hamelincourt and St Leger, facing 'Judas Copse'. The rest of the night was spent improving a defensive line, complete with fire bays and traverses, and the battalion spent the day of the 23rd March in this position.

Approximate final position on 3/Coldstreams on 25th March 1918

Shortly after dark orders were received to move down into the valley of the River Sensee, between Judas Copse and the village of Ervillers, which was somewhat delayed due to an alert from the front line, signalled by S.O.S. flares. To their front the night skyline was alight with the flash of artillery fire. Dawn of the 24th March found the men in positions dug into the relatively flat pastures of the Sensee valley with the Mory-St Leger ridge rising gently to their front, creating a skyline at approximately 100 meters distant. The day passed without incident, but shortly after dark the enemy launched an attack on the line to their front, over the Mory-St Leger ridge, which was beaten off by the troops in that location before it could reach the Coldstreams.

On the morning of 25th March 1918 the battalion was bombed by an aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps, which apparently mistook them for German troops. No casualties were inflicted. After midday the battalion witnessed the German attack on the British positions around Ervillers, half right of their own position and across the valley. At about 5pm a counter attack was launched in the Ervillers area by British troops and this coincided with a heavy British barrage falling on the positions of the 3/Coldstreams. It is possible that this barrage, fired at the battalion in error, was a result of the mistake of identity made by the RFC aircraft earlier in the day.

After 10 minutes of fire, with the battalion's officers unable to contact the gunners and stop the barrage, the word spread to move to the left in an attempt to shell fall. This was unsuccessful, and finally the battalion retired back up the slope to their rear. They left behind nine dead, killed by friendly fire, including Private Alfred Butcher. All of the men have no known grave and are therefore commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Alfred was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Also believed to have been killed in the barrage with Alfred:
Pte William James DRAPER 10706,
Pte John Edwin HOLMES 14745
Pte William Richard JONES 20635
L/Cpl Wilfred Harold LLOYD 21596
Pte George William Stewart MACQUEEN 215393
L/Cpl Josiah PRICE 19726
Pte Arthur Austin STEWARD 21497
L/Cpl Herbert R TURNER 12945

*Family Information:
MARK BUTCHER enlisted 01/10/1916 and was transferred to the Army Reserve. He was mobilised on 16th June 1917 and posted to the Royal Army Medical Corp as Private 120885, to serve at Eastleigh Military Hospital. On 23rd August Mark was deemed no longer fit for war service due to an inguinal hernia and discharged. He returned to his home at Bucks Green Cottages, Rudgwick.
GEORGE BUTCHER also served as Pte 0262 Wiltshire Regiment and as Pte 27275 2nd Bn Dorsetshire Regiment in the Mediterranean theatre (Absent Voters List 1918) but his papers are unreadable, therefore his service cannot be determined.

Free BDM
1901,1911 Census Returns
Soldiers Died in the Great War
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Soldiers Medal Record Card.
'The Distant Drum' F.E Noakes ISBN 978-1-84832-563-0