In Freedom’s Cause – The True exploits of Robert Dingwall Buttercase. A soldier of WW1


25 APRIL 1881 – 5 APRIL 1918

What you are about to read is a first hand account of Robert’s life in the Army.  It is based on the facts from the surviving records which includes Shipping records, Census records, Service records and Newspaper cuttings.  It is written as a factual document with raw facts and not as a story, based on facts.  I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed researching.

Northern Territory Times and Gazette.

Thursday 20th April 1916, p.13.

Sergt. R. Butters, better known as “Bob” Butters, writes “from the firing line” under date 2nd January.

He says “I have been almost continually on the move since we landed in Egypt.  I have met two or three of our lads in Cairo (Jim Cain, Jack Scales, Classen).  I made arrangements to have our photos taken together in Cairo one Saturday, but I moved out on Friday night and have not heard of any of them since.  I met them quite accidentally.  Connelly, who used to be in the Gardens, was there also.  I have been successful so far in dodging the hardware, and had a few pretty narrow escapes, too, but I can tell you all about them if I ever manage to get back.

My lot has the honour of being the first Australian troops to go into action mounted, and are still mounted and going ahead. Now, I haven’t time to give you any glowing accounts of what we have done, and a man in the fighting line doesn’t have much time for that sort of thing, so you will excuse the want of news in this.  I have seen more blood spilt here in one day than I saw in all the time in the South African War.

We spent Xmas Day hard at it from daylight to dark, so had a splendid day. You may have seen the official reports of it in the papers before you get this.

“Butters address” is – Sergt. R. D. Butters, 1st Australian Light Horse, 1st Composite Mounted Brigade, care of Assistant Director of Postal Services, Alexandria, Egypt.”


Royal Scot’s Greys (2nd Dragoon Guards) – Mounted Regiment

Robert Dingwall Buttercase started his army career by joining the British Army around 1899.  He passed his medical without issue and was joined the Royal Scot’s Greys (2nd Dragoon’s Mounted Regiment) RSG).  His regimental number was 4680.

Unfortunately, not much information has survived relating to his time in the Scots Greys.  It is known that during the Boer War, he took part in the Cape Colony, Orange Free State & Transvaal campaigns.  Earning himself the associated medals, along with the King’s South Africa medal.  After the war ended in 1902, the regiment remained in South Africa until 1905, at which point, they returned to the UK.


In 1907, while stationed as a corporal at Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow, He married Gertrude Sophia Smith.  Soon after marriage, he became a Sergeant before he left the Royal Scot’s Greys (1907/1908).  After leaving he spent the next 4yrs in reserves.

His marriage didn’t last long.  Although no record of divorce, in 1911, he is living on his own in Dundee, working as an engineer.



Emigration to Australia

Robert emigrated to Australia in 1912 via an unusual route.  First, it appears he travelled from Dundee to Bremen and from there embarked upon the German ship “Gneisenau”.  The ship’s route took him via Antwerp and Melbourne, finally arriving in Sydney on 4th April 1912.

Once in Australia, he made his way from Sydney to Darwin in the Northern Territory.  Newspaper records tell us all we know of his time in Darwin.  On 14th March 1914, he took a temporary job as a guard at Fanny Bay Gaol in Darwin.  As he settled into the community, he joined the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and became the first secretary for the newly created Darwin chapter.  As secretary , he was the officer in charge of the Darwin AWU’s Presidential elections on 7th July 1914.

As part of his role at the Gaol, Robert was known to be in charge of the horses.  4 newspaper adverts of the time in consecutive weeks were placed to recover a horse that had been lost there with Robert as the contact for information.

On hearing of the war in Europe and the British Empire’s involvement, On 25th September 1914, a petition was sent to ‘His Excellency the Administrator, Darwin’.

This petition was to request that the men of Darwin were desirous of enlisting in the service of his majesty, the king and of serving the empire at the battlefront.

Listed were 22 brave men with names, ages, marital status and relevant experience.  This list included Robert and was published in the Northern Territory Times and Gazette.


5 of these men, including Robert, are known to have left Darwin on board the S/S Aldenham, bound for Brisbane on 8th March. The journey was taken in order they could enlist.



On 6th April 1915, Robert Dingwall Buttercase joined the Australian Armed Forces at Brisbane.  He applied as Robert Dingwall Butters.  He passed his medical without issue and was assigned to the 11th Reinforcements – 2nd Light Horse Regiment (LHR).  His regimental number was 1376.



2nd Light Horse Regiment

Robert arrived for training on 15th April. A remark from a Darwin friend in a Newspaper mentions him along with feeling sorry for all the fellows who are failing the LHR try-outs.

Robert passed his training and, on 4th October 1915, embarked onto the HMAT Mashobra at Sydney, bound for Gallipoli.  At this time, the 2nd LHR had already withdrawn from the front line.  During November, the LHR was utilised to build a new regiment headquarters, all the while coming under heavy shell fire every few days.  On 20th November 1915, Robert was promoted to Temporary Sergeant (a rank that was never reverted).

The peninsula was slowly being evacuated.  The 2nd LHR were one of the last units and even occupied the gun trenches (vacated by infantry) in the area until their evacuation on 18th December 1915.  The HQ they were building was to never be completed.  As per orders, they made off at midnight and arrived at Mudros on 19th.  On arrival, they set about fixing camp until orders came through on 22nd to embark on the S/S Ionian immediately, bound for Alexandria.

They arrived in Alexandria on 27th December 1915 and immediately proceeded by train to Heliopolis.  From there, they made their way directly to camp at the aerodrome where they joined the refitting reorganisation.  This reorganisation of the Light Horse led to the formation of the ANZAC Mounted Division to which the 2nd Light Horse Regiment became a foundation member.

The letter at the start of this story mentions something that happened on Christmas day, 1915, to cause the troops to be “hard at it”. Robert was en-route to Alexandria at this time and, even though I’ve spent countless hours searching, nothing official seems to appear in the papers and no references appear online.

For the 2nd LHR, the re-organisation continued into February.  During this time, every day was spent training and involved in Outpost Duty.  On 13th February, they received orders to strike camp and entraining for Minya.  Arriving on 14th, over the next few days, they set about arranging camp and doing reconnaissance of the district.  Two Hoops and IMGS were detached for patrol duty.

Having created a base of operations, on 18th February, leaving 2 Squadrons ‘B’ & ‘C’ in the area, the 2nd LHR moved out to Takh-El-Kheil, arriving on 19th.  Upon arrival, they started patrolling the western edge of cultivation looking for any signs of the enemy (Senussi).  They patrolled the area until 9th March but found no sign of the enemy.

On 10th March they moved out again, this time moving from town to town on a daily basis, always on the move.  They travelled to Nallet-El-Abid, Roda, Deirut and Manfalut, finally arriving at Assuit on 14th March.  During this time, on 11th March 1916, recorded in the service record in Tel-El-Kebir, Robert was promoted to Sergeant Major.

They rested at Assuit for the day before moving from town to town again.  Leaving ‘C’ squadron behind again, they moved through Abutig, Tima, and Tathra, arriving at Sohag on 19th March 1916.

Once at Sohag, they made camp and patrolled the western edge of the desert.  On 1st April, ‘B’ squadron were detached to patrol Sheik Allam.  Throughout this period, there were no signs of the enemy.

On 16th April 1916, Recorded in Serapeum, Robert was promoted to Warrant Officer 2.  Six day’s later, he was transferred to the 4th Divisional Ammunition Column, a new division which had begun forming in February 1916.


4th Divisional Ammunition Column

There are no war diaries for the 4th D.A.C. in April or May.  However, I am aware from Robert’s service record that on 26th May, while stationed in the Suez Canal, he was promoted to Warrant Officer 1.

On 6th June 1916, the division embarked on the HT Oriana and the HT Missouri.  Its total strength at this time was 16 officers, 783 O/R.  Although horses and vehicles are mentioned, there was no full count of either recorded.

Arriving on 12th June in Marseilles, a nightmare for the officer in charge ensued at the train station.  He had to transport all personnel, horses, equipment and vehicles to Le Havre in Northern France.  It took 4 days for everyone and every thing to arrive.  Once there, the division of horses and troops began.  100 horses were passed to one of the divisions Field Artillery Brigades (F.A.B.).  The next day, the 4th drew 886 mules from a camp near Sanvic.

Even after it appeared things were settling, the nightmare continued for the commanding officer.  He had to move out on 19th June as an English division was arriving and required the camp and trains.

They headed to Rouge Croix, arriving on 24th.  On arrival, all officers reported to the commanding officer for distribution.  As the main ammunition store for all Australian Field artillery’s in the area, Rouge Croix was used as base camp for distribution of ammunition, artillery and horses.

Once work completed at Rouge Croix, on 6th July, they moved on to Estaires, set up camp and performed the same duties.  Running low on rounds, they were relieved by 5th D.A.C. on 11th July and moved to Fleurgaix for a short time.  Running out of rounds and needing supply, they moved on to Steenwerk.  This move was a lucky one as shortly after leaving, the area they were in was heavily shelled for 30 minutes.  No casualties were reported.

They remained at Steenwerk until 5th August, supplying the various artillery brigades, not just with ammunition, but also men and horses.  It is noted in the war diary for July 1916 that the 4th D.A.C. was holding 1010 horses.  The same reinforcements for artillery occurred throughout August from Acquin.  On 26th August, they relieved the 2nd Canadian D.A.C. at Vlamertinghe.

According to online accounts of the 4th D.A.C., In August 1916, after relieving the 2nd Division, they helped repulse a major German counterattack at Pozieres Heights.  Other than reports of enemy planes overhead, this is not mentioned in the War diary for August or September of 1916.

Also, the same reports mention that after this attack, the 4th D.A.C. went north to the outskirts of Mouquet Farm where they had a second tour, followed by a third tour in Flers in October.  The War diaries state they remained actively supplying from Vlamertinghe until after the end of October.

On 25th October 1916, noted in the War Diary and Service Record, Robert was seconded to Royal Artillery Cadet School in St John’s Wood, London, England.

While there, he caught up with an old friend from Darwin (C.C. Bell).  Bell recounts the meeting in a letter dated Nov 20th 1917.

“I am always delighted to get any papers from Darwin, as I seem to pin great faith in the north, and more so since I have come over this side.  Those papers cheer me more than any letters from home.  I think it is because I get all the news I seem to want.  I have sent them on to France to Lieut. Bob Butters, whom I met in London a few months ago.  He is looking well and fit, and is going strong. He tells me that quite a lot of Darwin boys have gone under.  It certainly is a cruel war.  Last week I sent you a Christmas card, and I hope it arrived safely in Australia.”

He passed Cadet School and was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the AIF on 16th February 1917.  Given leave, he missed the date to be back for duty.  A Telegram was sent to his next of kin.  However, in the meantime, He turned up a day late and was shipped to France on 25th March.

Robert marched out to join the 4th DAC on 4th April 1917.  It is noted online that, on 11th  April, the Division assaulted the Hindenburg Line in the First Battle of Bullecourt. The battle was a disaster and 1170 Australian prisoners were taken by the Germans.  This is not recorded in the War Diary.  It should be noted that Robert was not captured at any point during the war.

On 15th April at Favreuil, word was received that the enemy was attacking.  Orders were received to be ready to supply wagons immediately but prepare to retire if word was sent.  Amongst their roles, they found the batteries were under-horsed.  D.A.C. attached 288 mules, 240 being teamed and 216 having harness and 108 divers.  The attack was repulsed.

The division was at Favreuil until 14th May, at which time they moved to Bailleul via Albert.  They stayed at Bailleul until 9th June.  On 1st June 1917, Robert was promoted to Lieutenant.  No attacks were noted during this time and normal duties continued.

The 7th June saw the start of a meeting at Westhof Farm.  It is noted in the War Diary as ‘Z’ Day (NZ DA & NZ DAC).  The commanding officer attended and it was set up to discuss the NZ DAC’s retreat from the region.

The Battle of Messines is noted online in June 1916 and involved the 4th D.A.C.  Again, this is not noted in the diaries.

Orders dated 13th June and attached to the June war diary show Lt Butters was one of the officers at Kandahar camp (an Ammunition Dump).  He was assigned to ‘3K’.  Kandahar held 6 tramway mules and 78 pack mules.

On 29th June, the 4th D.A.C. commenced relief of the NZ D.A.C. in the field by sending ‘understanding parties’.  One of these parties was led by Lt. Butters.  He commanded a contingent of 17 O/R, heading for (L’Epinette) Les Truis Tilleuls – Gun Salvage, Ammunition Dump & Gas Shell.

On 1st July, the 4th D.A.C.’s HQ was moved from Westhof Farm to Nieppe.  Although July was a quiet month and normal work resumed, there was an outbreak of Mange within the horses.  All horses were dipped in ‘Anti-Mange’ dip.  This cured the outbreak and, although it wasn’t serious, it had affected 892 (75%) of the horses.

Like July, August was a quiet month with normal ammunition supply work continuing.  On 16th August 1917, Lt Butters took over Regents Dump and bomb store.  Robert went on leave to England on 19th August.  The date he returned to duty is not noted.

On 5th September, at 1:10am, the 4th DAC received orders to move out immediately from the Neuve Eglise area to Pradelles.  On 10th, they then moved to Poperinghe.

In general, for the 4th D.A.C., September was much the same with supplying of ammunition but no direct action.  On 11th September, Robert took over the new Granville Dump at Poperinghe and for the next 11 days, there was little activity witnessed.


10th Field Artillery Brigade

On 22nd September 1917, Robert was transferred to the 10th Field Artillery Brigade (FAB).  He was in this unit only a short time before being transferred to 11th FAB.  Robert was not mentioned in the war diaries during his time in the 10th.

The unit itself was stationed at Ypres in September before being evacuated at the beginning of October to Reniagheist Oudedom.  At Ypres, they took heavy casualties in September, mainly from shelling by German batteries.

Starting at the beginning of October, heavy shelling changed to include heavy bombing, both daily and nightly.  The horse’s wagon was found by reconnaissance planes and was continually targeted on a nightly basis.

The 10th Battery counter-attacked as well as took part in organised offensives.  One of these (12th Oct) failed as the infantry failed to gain their target.  Because of this, the attack was called off and inevitable losses occurred.

The aerial bombing continued throughout October and into November with losses in the batteries and the Company’s wagon.  Even after the wagon had fallen back in its position, the worst night of bombing occurred on 1st Nov.  In this bombardment, 2 O/R’s killed, 19 wounded.  35 Horses killed and 19 wounded.

This was the last time for the aerial bombers.  On 2nd Nov, The 10th fell back to Morbecque along with a number of other brigades of the 4th Division.  Once here, a forces reorganisation began across the division.  Robert was transferred to 11th F.A.B. on 7th November 1917 with 2 more officers.


11th Field Artillery Brigade

Robert was assigned to the 41st Battery on his arrival.  Due to the reorganisation of 4th Division, a parade was setup, the first since its establishment.   The parade went extremely well.

On 10th November, Robert was placed in charge of the horse clipping personnel.  And when it came time to move out, orders were received on 16th Nov. with the following statement

“Transport:  No.1 – Will move Bde H.Qrs. and clipping personnel of 41st and 42nd Batteries, in charge of Lieut. R.D. Butters.  Personnel will report to this officer at 7:15am at Bde H.Qrs. Torcy, on the 20th inst. Midday ration will be carried.  Punctuality must be observed.  No.1 lorry, will then return and remove baggage of 41st and 42nd Batteries, under supervision of Lieut. Crocker.”

On 19th November, a move of the entire brigade was actioned at 7am.  Another friend, Jack Burton, recounts his meeting with Robert on 20th November 1917 in a letter, published in the paper.

“As you have heard, I am in France, and it may be of interest to you to know that I have met a good many of the first, men who left Darwin.  Amongst them was Lieutenant Bob Butters. I called to see him in his dug-out yesterday.  I heard from the boys under him that they would follow him anywhere.  They think a great deal of him. He is just the same old Bob and a very well fitted man for his job. It is a great pity we have not more men like him in the army.”

At the beginning of December, the 11th was on the march to Domaniale via Gamaches.  Lt. Butters lead an advance party to Gamoches on 4th, with the parade arriving on 6th.

There was no fighting at Domaniale in December.  The time spent here was mainly to improve the horse’s strength and stamina and to strengthen the personnel within the various batteries before moving on to Hallencourt.  On arrival (19th Dec.), it is noted in the war diary the following personnel strength, 35 Officers, 729 O/R & 706 horses.

While at Hallencourt, other than an occasional enemy plane spotted, not much fighting took place and on 28th Dec, they were immediately ordered to Rocquigny.

The beginning of January was spent moving through Bailleul and Locre into Lankhoff.  Once arrived, they took stock and noted strength of 27 officers, 648 O/R 640 Horses & 440 NDO.

Once settled, the batteries took up positions and began harassing fire on the German lines.  The fire was meant as cover fire for a number of planned attacks.  These are all noted in the appendix of the January War diary.  Hostile activity during these attacks was low throughout January.

February was much of the same as the end of January.  Cover fire was placed day and night every day for planned attacks. Enemy aerial and artillery fire was light and no casualties were recorded.

On 15th  Feb, the corps commander, General Rudwood, inspected the Brigade Wagon lines and was ‘very pleased with the splendid state of the harness, condition of horses and state of the wagon lines as a whole’.

Orders were received on 27th February for the 11th to relieve positions, currently held by the 2nd and its batteries.  Robert was not involved in the relief as he was on leave from 28th February 1918 to 15th March 1918.

The 22nd saw a change in the German attacks as shelling continued all day.  This continued on 23rd.  1 O/R was reported killed.  No other casualties were reported. Orders received on 23rd meant the 11th left for the ‘Merville Area’ on 24th March.  Arriving on 29th March, they were then ordered to Dernancourt the next day.

As in February, During April, cover fire was ordered, day and night to help attacks take place.  German aerial bombardment and Artillery fire was very active.

On 5th April, Harassing fire was ordered at dawn.  As soon as this stopped, Heavy artillery fire was received from the German’s.  At 9:12am, under these same orders, Lt. Butters and Capt. Martin of 41st Battery were killed.  Throughout the day, as well as Robert & Captain Martin, 2 officers were wounded, 12 O/R killed, 36 O/R wounded, 2 horses killed and 1 wounded.

Lieutenant Robert Dingwall Buttercase was killed in action in the following circumstances.  During heavy German Artillery fire, Robert was injured in the firing line.  A fellow officer, Captain Martin, came to his aid.  While tending to his wounds, both officers took a direct hit from artillery fire and were killed instantly.

So far, I have not been able to find a medal card for Robert.  However, his service record is stamped with the ‘1914/1915 Star’, ‘British War Medal’ & the ‘Victory Medal’.


After His Death

On 7th June, David Buttercase, his brother and next of kin, received his personal effects.  Unknowing of Robert’s Demise, David, through solicitor’s (Pagan & Osbourne), requested knowledge of Robert’s fate.  It wasn’t until 15th July 1918 before he was informed.

Personal effects were:  1 “Sam Browne” Belt, Holdall, 1 Shaving Brush, 1 Comb, 1 Nail File, 1 Cap, 1 Tobacco Pouch, 1 Housewife, 1 Pipe, 2 Brushes, 1 L.S.D. Tunic, 1 British Warm, 1 Pr. Spurs, 1 Safety Razor in Case.

During this time, it was also picked up by the AIF that Robert Dingwall Butters was actually called Robert Dingwall Buttercase.  The change to his war records was completed on 28th October 1919.

On 20th July 1918, Robert’s death was reported in the Northern Territory Times and Gazette under the headline ‘IN FREEDOM’S CAUSE’ – Lieut. R. D. Butters

“We deeply, regret to record confirmation of the ‘death, of Lieut. R. D. Butters, killed in action on the 5th April last.  The death of deceased, whose family name was Buttercase, is thus referred to in the “Weekly Scotsman,” of April 20th,1918.

BUTTERCASE – Killed in action on the 5th April, Lieut. Robert Dingwall Buttercase, Australian Field Artillery, eldest son of the late Andrew Buttercase, Uthrogle, Cupar, Fife.

In the death of Lieut. Butters, Darwin has lost a man of sterling worth and great strength of character, and many have lost a very true friend.  Having served in the British army and being in physique and by training, every inch a soldier, he was one of the first to leave here to take up arms in freedoms cause.  He was spared to see over three long years of the most active service in Egypt, Gallipoli and France.  Which time he rose step by step through the N.C. rank until at the time of his death he ranked as Lieut.  Of him it may well be said that he was “every inch a man.”  At the time Robert Butters retired from the regulars, he was a Sergeant in the Scots Greys, and with that famous regiment, he had served in practically all the campaigns in which Britain had been involved over a period of fifteen years.  Thus he had seen service in Egypt, South Africa, India and elsewhere.

Arriving in Darwin in 1912, he immediately took an interest in union matters and he had the honour of being the first secretary of the Darwin Branch of the Australian Workers Union (AWU).  Serving throughout his residence here as a true friend and believer in Unionism, he was presented by his many friends on his departure with a gold medal, which it may well be believed, so loyal to his friends was he, he wore to the last.  While it may be questioned whether the first sign of war called the veteran, who rightly might have considered his campaign days over, there was no doubt in his mind when he heard that his famous regiment had been cut up in the retreat from Mons.  Hearing that grave news he sprang forward into the breach and ceased, not until the battlefield, with his face to the foe, he crowned a full rich life by sublime sacrifice.”

On 25th September 1968, Darwin City Council chose to name a park after Robert.  Butters Park, accessed via Butters Street, the park was named in his honour.  The detail simply says ‘It is believed he was a warder at Darwin Gaol before he enlisted.’

In 2001, at Sotheby’s in London, the following was sold at auction:

“A Trooper’s 1871 pattern white metal Helmet of the Fife and Forfar Yry, bi-metal helmet plate surmounting Pro Aris Et Focis scroll with applied brass letters Flh to centre, white metal fittings including chin chain and plume holder, white horsehair plume, leather lining, contained in its japanned tin with spare chin chain and a single spur; with a WW1 Memorial Plaque inscribed Robert Dingwall Buttercase with related parchment Reserve Certificate and parchment Certificate of Character or Discharge E500-800 Illustrated p49”.

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