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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Butler, Charles Philip (1880–1953)

by Carl Bridge

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Charles Philip Butler (1880-1953), soldier and agricultural journalist, was born on 16 July 1880 in Adelaide, son of (Sir) Richard Butler, and his first wife Helena Kate, née Layton. He was educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter and in 1898 joined the South Australian Machine-Gun Battalion, a militia unit. Next year he volunteered for service in the South African War, enlisting as a corporal in the 2nd South Australian Mounted Rifles Regiment; he saw action in the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. While in South Africa he married Bertha Smeaton Hawkins on 16 July 1901 and, instead of returning home with his regiment next March, obtained a commission in the Canadian Scouts.

Butler returned to Adelaide late in 1902 and joined Butler, Hogarth & Edwards, his father's stock firm. In 1902-07 he was stationed at Northam, Western Australia, and in 1907-09 at Peterborough, South Australia. In 1909 he became auctioneer for the South Australian Farmers' Co-operative Union and by 1916 was manager of the stock department. In 1903 he had been commissioned second lieutenant in the 18th Light Horse Regiment and later served with the 17th and 22nd Light Horse; by World War I he was a major. He joined the Australian Imperial Force on 25 March 1916 in that rank and in May was made second-in-command of the 43rd Battalion. His unit reached the Western Front in November and on 6 February 1917 Butler was promoted lieutenant-colonel and appointed commanding officer. He led the battalion throughout that year, serving at Messines, Warneton and Ypres; he was mentioned in dispatches and in June was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

Butler was invalided home in February 1918 after a serious bout of trench fever. Undaunted, he set about raising 500 volunteers to take back to the front. Despite a vigorous campaign 'Butler's 500' was still incomplete when the war ended; he had over 300 names but only 37 had actually enlisted. He returned to the Farmers' Union and to his chagrin was made auctioneer, his old job having gone to another. He now devoted much time to the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia and was State president in 1922-24. In 1923 he was a central figure in the Ryan case, which secured continued preference for ex-servicemen in public service appointment. He had been promoted colonel in 1922 and commanded the 6th Cavalry Brigade in 1921-24. He remained on the reserve of officers until he retired in 1940.

In September 1924 'Charlie' Butler took up a soldier-settlement wheat-farm of 750 acres (305 ha) at Appila but, after a run of poor seasons, he accepted the agricultural editorship of the Advertiser and the Chronicle in 1929. He was an innovative editor. His system of estimating the dressed weights of pens of livestock was later adopted by the leading interstate press. He began on-the-spot reporting of interstate shows and published a valuable stud-stock supplement annually. In 1934 he accompanied the State's deputy director of agriculture on a tour of South America, South Africa and New Zealand, and in 1936, under his pen name of 'Yattalunga', he published Primary Production in the Southern Hemisphere. Before retiring in 1950 he organized many farmers' fairs and a pasture-improvement competition.

Butler's wife died in 1949 and he married a divorcee Mary Isobel Barclay Thompson, née Shand, on 16 March 1950 at Toorak Presbyterian Church, Melbourne. He died with emphysema and Parkinsonism in the Repatriation General Hospital, Adelaide, on 25 September 1953 and was buried in the A.I.F. cemetery, West Terrace. It was the biggest funeral ever seen there. Butler was survived by his wife, and by three daughters from his first marriage. A burly 6 ft 1 in. (185 cm), 16½ stone (105 kg) extrovert, he was quick-talking and had an infectious enthusiasm for all he did.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. Colliver and B. H. Richardson, The Forty-Third (Adel, 1920)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France 1917 (Syd, 1933)
  • G. L. Kristianson, The Politics of Patriotism (Canb, 1966)
  • London Gazette, 1, 4 June 1917, 9 Feb 1924
  • Digger, Sept 1924
  • Pastoral Review, 16 Oct 1953
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 1 Nov 1934, 26 Sept 1953.

Citation details

Carl Bridge, 'Butler, Charles Philip (1880–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 25 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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