'I didn't give up': Mum-of-two still hoped soldier husband was alive after going missing on D-Day

Tragic: William 'Ben' Butler was killed during the D-Day invasion

Tragic: William 'Ben' Butler was killed during the D-Day invasion

First published in News
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This Is Local London: Photograph of the Author by , Senior reporter

In the week of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings, the Surrey Comet looks at the human cost of the tide-turning invasion, and at Kingston’s role in its planning.

For one mother, D-Day represented a tragic loss.

Vi Butler’s husband William – known to her and his friends as Ben, after Big Ben, due to his height – was killed during the landings in Normandy, though she did not find out for sure until a year later.

Mrs Butler lived in Chiswick at the time, but now lives at Surbiton’s Royal Star and Garter home.

She told the Comet: “Everything was in a bit of a mess and they were calling everyone up. My worry at the time was bombing and the children. All the residents got used to hearing the planes come over on one of those bright, moonlit nights. 

“My husband came home on his last leave. He met Colin, of course, who had just been born.”

Then, as part of the Devonshire Regiment, he was shipped out to France.

This Is Local London:

Surbiton Royal Star and Garter home resident Vi Butler

“He was missing, believed killed, for a year,” Mrs Butler added. “I didn't give up – I thought he was alive. They said in the letter, 'believed killed'. I thought perhaps he was taken prisoner.

“The next letter was quite a bombshell. From then on life was quite difficult. We managed, but when people say they're hard up they've no idea.

“We had to queue up for every bit of food – cracked eggs, there was a queue to get them.”

Mrs Butler traded her sugar rations for sweets for her boys, and became so sick of margarine she vowed never to eat it again.

This Is Local London:

A letter from King George VI to Mrs Butler after Ben was killed

She met her husband at a dance, and they married in 1938 after an on-then-off-again courtship. They had two sons, Colin and Bruce.

Private Butler was a former Kingstonian player, and passed his love of football on to Bruce.

His grave is in Tilly-sur-Seulles, in France. Mrs Butler said: “I used to go over every year, when I could, to see his grave. You go over there and it’s nothing but graves and cemeteries. There’s miles of them.

“Next to him is a grave of a young man. It’s got words to the effect of, ‘Only God knows who he is.’”

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