The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. A F Butterick
Alec Frank Butterick was born on 25th June 1917 in Woodford, Essex, he had three sisters. He was educated at Taunton School and joined the RAFVR in April 1938, as an Airman u/t Pilot.
He was one of fifty VR pilots who were given the opportunity of having six months of continuous training with the regular RAF.
Above: 3 Squadron operated the Gladiator before converting to Hurricanes.
He joined 3 Squadron at Kenley on 4th April 1939 on attachment. On 29th August Butterick crashed in Hurricane L1928, landing at night at Biggin Hill, unhurt.
Still with the squadron at the outbreak of war, he was later formally admitted to 3 Squadron when his attachment was completed.
On 10th September 1939 he crashed his Hurricane, L1939, returning from Manston to Croydon in bad visibility (below). He was admitted to Faversham Cottage Hospital with a broken ankle and some injuries to the spine.
On 17th July 1940 3 Squadron was notified that one flight was to move to Sumburgh to form 232 Squadron. On the 21st Butterick flew with 'B' Flight of 3 Squadron from their base at Wick to Sumburgh. The eight Hurricanes were redesignated as 232 Squadron. On the 23rd he ditched off Shetland, in Hurricane P3861, after his engine failed.
His replacement Hurricane, P3411, was destroyed on 27th July 1940 when a twin-engine Blenheim ran off the runway and
crashed into it (below).
In early October 1940 Butterick was posted to PDC Uxbridge for a move overseas. After embarkation leave he was one of a group of pilots assembled at Uxbridge on 19th October for service in Malta. When the proposed posting had not materialised by 11th November, Butterick was recalled to 232 Squadron.
He went to Egypt in early 1941 and was posted to 33 Squadron in Greece on 18th April. The squadron had to be withdrawn to Crete on 27th April. Due to continuing heavy losses, the squadron then amalgamated with 80 Squadron and was based at Maleme airfield.
33 Squadron had lost its CO when S/Ldr. Pat Pattle was shot down in the 'Battle of Athens' on 20th April 1941. The squadron had arrived in Crete, still without a CO, until W/Cdr. Edward Howell (1912 - 2000, later OBE DFC) arrived on Crete in a flying boat from Egypt on 11th May.
By the time German parachute landings began on 20th May, all the squadron's aircraft not destroyed by bombing and strafing had been withdrawn to Egypt. The remaining pilots and ground crew were formed into an ad-hoc force to fight as infantry alongside the New Zealand soldiers defending the airfield at Maleme.
Howell described the events in his 1947 book 'Escape to Live':
'I tried to remember tactical exercises I had done on Salisbury Plain. I made a quick survey of the ground and posted the men behind good natural cover to command the best field of fire. Others now arrived with Myhill in charge and I appointed him to command one sector, while Sergeant-Pilot Butterick took over the other sector. Both men were cool and capable and ready for anything. I walked from one end of our line to the other, gratified to find my brain working clearly again and the sense of fear gone. Aircraft still roared overhead and bullets kicked up the dirt, but I was too busy to worry about them'.
Through the lifting haze, gliders could still be seen coming down in the river bed in the valley below.
Howell was shortly afterwards shot twice and left for dead.
The pilots and ground crew fought hand-to-hand with German paratroopers to protect the airfield. Butterick was hit in the left knee by machine gun fire.
His colleague P/O RD Dunscombe, also a Battle veteran, was killed, his body was never recovered.
Three other pilots from the unit were captured - F/O Butcher, Sgt. Reynish and Sgt. Leveridge as was the Admin Officer, P/O WE Myhill. Amongst the airmen killed was AC Hess, a German-born Jew.
Butterick and the other prisoners, including civilians, were held in a barn for several days without food or treatment. The civilians were then taken outside and shot.
Howell, after some days in the open, was found by the Germans close to death. He, together with Butterick and other seriously wounded prisoners, was flown to Athens in a Ju52.
They were then taken to a makeshift hospital sited in a school in the Kokkinia (now Nikaia) suburb of Athens. It was staffed by captured Australian and British medical staff.
On an unknown date Butterick's shattered left leg was amputated.
Due to a lack of medical supplies and food there were constant fatalities, there would have been more except for the valiant efforts of the Greek Red Cross, who were also assisting the starving civil population.
Howell took months to recover but takes up his story while still in hospital in Athens:
'We were told that all RAF prisoners were going to be flown to Germany in a Ju52. There were about a dozen of us left to whom this could apply. I gathered the others round me and we hatched a plot. A number of the airmen were in the convalescent stage including Sergeant Alec Butterick, one of my pilots who had lost a leg. The plan was to seize the aircraft while in flight and fly it to Turkey. I could work the rudder with my comparatively effective legs while Alec Butterick would handle the other controls as advised by me. The seizure of the aircraft was planned on the assumption that there would be the normal crew of three plus one armed escort.
We were to wait until we had taken off and settled down at a reasonable height on course for Germany. Then, on a given signal from me, each airman was detailed for a job. Two would simultaneously attack the escort, taking him by surprise. At the same time others were to knock out the crew. The plan would depend for its success on co-ordination and surprise. Alec and I were to crawl forward as quickly as possible and take over the controls from the unconscious pilot. The men rehearsed their parts in imagination, and we were all keyed up for the adventure. But, possibly due to careless talk among the men, the arrangements for us to be flown were suddenly cancelled without any reason being given. We were bitterly disappointed'.
In the event Howell and Butterick were not fit enough to be moved until November 1941 when they were put aboard a converted steam yacht in Piraeus Harbour and taken to Thessalonika where they disembarked and were taken by road to the notorious Dulag 183 transit camp at Sabac, west of Belgrade in Yugoslavia. The camp was the site of executions of partisans and Jews.
(Howell later escaped and travelled over the Greek mountains, boarding a smugglers' boat from Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain, to Turkey and then Egypt and on to the UK).
Butterick must have deteriorated in the poor conditions as he is recorded as being moved on 2nd April 1942 to Egerndorf military hospital near Linz in Austria. The documentation seems to indicate that a part of his remaining thigh was amputated.
He went from there on 21st May 1942 to the hospital attached to Stalag IX-C at Obermassfeld, south-west of Leipzig. He was released on 29th May, going on to a reserve hospital at Haina, north of Frankfurt. This had been the site of prewar euthanasia of the disabled.
It seems that he spent the next thirteen months at Luftlag 1, a prison camp for airmen at Barth, on the coast east of Hamburg. There was a stay at a hospital in the Berlin suburb of Neukolln from 16th June 1943 to 2nd July 1943. It is likely that this was to assess him for having an artificial limb.
Also there for assessment was an English merchant seaman, William Sydney Mutimer, from the British tanker Harlesden. His story is included for completeness as he will appear later in the account.
On 22nd February 1941, convoy OB 285 came under attack by ships and aircraft off Newfoundland. The convoy was ordered to disperse but several ships were sunk. Harlesden was bombed and damaged by German aircraft and sunk by gunfire by the German battleship Gneisenau. Seven crew were killed and thirty four captured and taken aboard Gneisenau, Mutimer among them.
Mutimer was transferred to the German supply ship Ermland and landed at the military hospital at La Rochelle, France where he stayed from March to August 1941, his arm was amputated there. He was moved to a camp at Sandbostel in Germany (August 1941 - February 1942) then Westertimke (Milag Nord, February - October 1943) followed by the interlude in Neukolln before being repatriated to Sweden in October 1943.
The last recording is of Butterick arriving at Stalag XX-A at Torun (Thorn), north of Lodz in Poland on 2nd October 1943 before being classed as 'Heimsendung' (Repatriated) on 14th October 1943.
At time of writing (September 2021) his further movements, almost certainly via Sweden in the hands of the Red Cross, are being researched.
Above: Butterick (on crutches), date and location unknown.
Commissioned in September 1945, Butterick transferred to the RAFVR in September 1946 as a Flying Officer.
He married Winifred Joan Mutimer in 1949. Both families lived in Hook, Surrey at that time. Her brother William was Butterick's fellow amputee in Berlin.
A daughter was born in 1950, and sons in 1952 and 1956. After leaving the RAF and having to choose a sedentary occupation Butterick home studied to qualify as a Chartered Accountant. He was offered a position with a mining company in the Transvaal, South Africa. Once established, he intended to bring his family there. However his wartime injuries, necessitating a partial gastrectomy at Roehampton hospital in 1950, worsened and he had to be invalided back to the UK.
In 1954 he went to the Isle of Wight to recover from TB and his life thereafter was punctuated by hospital visits to Banstead and Roffey Park Rehabilitation Centre. His health deteriorated, quite possibly due to the drugs administered while in hospital in Germany.
He died on 10th March 1960 in Brookwood Hospital in Surrey.
Above: the chaos of the Crete campaign meant that information regarding PoWs took months to filter through.
Thanks to Julia Johnson (daughter), Tony Butterick (son), Sarah Minney for accessing the National Archives and Chris Romberg for German translation.
Below are some uncaptioned images plus some of his German documentation (these courtesy of The National Archives (file WO 416/53/64)).