Cpl Ben Butler
17th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment
Albert Victor ‘Ben’ Butler came through the ranks at Arsenal and then moved to Berkshire as an amateur, learning his trade in Reading FC’s 1908-09 reserve team that won the Great Western League.
His displays earned him a professional contract at Elm Park in April 1909, and he helped the Biscuitmen to the Southern League Second Division championship two years later. His penultimate game for Reading came in a 2-0 win at Croydon Common, in which he was reported to have played ‘the game of his life’.
Both he and his family called Reading home, and his brother was landlord of the Star Inn in Caversham. Ben supplemented his own income with a job as an engine cleaner for the South East Railway Company, providing for his wife and two sons - Albert and Arthur.
Soon after war broke out, Ben volunteered to join the 17th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, the Football Battalion, and played his part in the conflict, standing shoulder to shoulder with his fellow professionals.
At the time Ben was 29, and he found himself on the narrow streets of Lieven – a poor mining town with trenches running in and out of destroyed cottages and through back gardens. He faced horrendous urban warfare of the most brutal and unforgiving kind.
While undertaking these daily routines amidst the charred remains of houses, Ben was hit by a shell - and in the cruellest, most unthinkable act, this professional footballer had his leg blown off. He fought valiantly against, what must have been, unspeakable pain for an incredible ten days, but finally succumbed to rest in peace. The first professional footballer in the ranks of the 17th Middlesex Battalion to lose his life, Ben is buried in Bruay Communal Cemetery Extension.
Rev. Samuel Green, a chaplain of Casualty Clearing Station No.22, recorded his impressions of the rugged centre-half: A great, big chap lies in this bed – a guard bulges up the blankets over his leg. ‘Well, Corporal, how are you now?’ – ‘Bad. This leg is done in. No more football for me. I’m a ‘pro’ and play for…’. I look at the papers and see his thigh is shattered – always dangerous, these wounds. However the danger is not immediate, and I shall have many more half-hours at this bedside. He fights for dear life for ten days, and then goes out. He has played the game. I doubt not that he has won. A fine fellow – may he rest in peace.”
Died of wounds at No.22 Casualty Clearing Station Bruay, 13th May 1916.
Buried at Bruay Communal Cemetery Extension, France.