New tribute in Leeds for William, a hero of the First World War trenches

William Boynton Butler.
William Boynton Butler.
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He was just 22 on the day he put his life at risk to protect his comrades amid the horror of the First World War.

William Boynton Butler, from Leeds, used his own body as a shield while disposing of an explosive shell that had landed at his feet in a trench near Lempire in northern France.

Yesterday's ceremony at Hunslet War Memorial.

Yesterday's ceremony at Hunslet War Memorial.

William, a private, survived the incident in August 1917 and was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross, with the medal citation hailing his “most conspicuous bravery”.

And yesterday, to mark the centenary of his actions in France, a commemorative paving stone was unveiled in his honour in Leeds.

The stone bearing William’s name has been laid at Hunslet War Memorial, close to the site of his grave in Hunslet Cemetery.

Yesterday’s unveiling ceremony was attended by members of his family as well as the Lord Mayor of Leeds, Coun Jane Dowson. Coun Dowson said being present at the event was an “extremely proud moment”.

She added: “To see family members of Private Butler in attendance at the service was extremely moving, and it is very poignant and fitting that the paving stone is in place just yards from where he is buried in Hunslet Cemetery.”

Armley-born William need not have fought in the Great War, as his job with the City of Leeds Gas Department was one of those classed as so-called ‘reserved occupations’ due to their importance for life on the home front.

He signed up all the same and saw action with the 17th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment.

During the incident that earned him his Victoria Cross, he grabbed the shell and – after courageously holding it close to his body until a passing party of infantry was out of danger – hurled it from the trench.

It exploded almost immediately and badly damaged the trench but William somehow escaped with little more than bruising. He died in 1972, aged 78.

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