Henry John (Harry) BUTLER AFC, MID

BUTLER, Henry John

Service Numbers: Fighting Instructor, Chief Fighting Instructor
Enlisted: 1 January 1916
Last Rank: Captain
Last Unit: Royal Flying Corps
Born: Yorketown, South Australia, 9 November 1889
Home Town: Minlaton, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia
Schooling: Koolywurtie School
Occupation: Aviator
Died: Cerebal abcess, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, 30 July 1924, aged 34 years
Cemetery: North Road Cemetery, Nailsworth, South Australia
Memorials: Adelaide 150 Jubilee Commemorative Pavement Plaques - Henry John 'Harry' Butler, Minlaton Harry Butler Memorial Plane, Minlaton Harry Butler Mural, Minlaton Harry Butler Statue
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World War 1 Service

1 Jan 1916: Enlisted British Forces (All Conflicts), Royal Flying Corps
1 Jan 1917: Involvement British Forces (All Conflicts), Fighting Instructor, Royal Flying Corps
1 Jan 1918: Involvement Chief Fighting Instructor, Royal Flying Corps
1 Jan 1918: Involvement British Forces (All Conflicts), Captain, Royal Flying Corps

The Red Devil - From the National Trust "Innovation Wiki"

Harry Butler's "Red Devil" was a Bristol M1C, a fighter monoplane with a maximum speed of 130 miles per hour and a range of 200 miles. After the war, Harry bought his Bristol monoplane and had it and an Avro 504 shipped back to Australia, together with three rotary engines.

He formed the Harry J. Butler and Kauper Aviation Company, which imported aircraft, cars and parts, carried out engineering work, and used the Bristol for advertising, freight carriage and passenger flights.

The Bristol was painted bright red, nicknamed the 'Red Devil' and became Harry Butler's trade mark. His aerial stunt displays attracted many spectators. On August 12, 1919 Butler flew the Red Devil to make the first over water mail flight in the Southern Hemisphere.

After his death in 1924 the Red Devil was stored in a shed in Adelaide for a number of years. Mrs Butler then sold it to Captain H C Miller, who restored it. The aircraft was successfully raced, and operated in an aerial circus.<p>

The Bristol was retired in the mid 1940s and ended up at Perth's Guildford Airport, where it was discovered in 1956 by Mr C Tillbrook, from Minlaton.

Miller donated the plane to Harry Butler's home town of Minlaton and plans began for its arrival. The Bristol was flown by plane as cargo, overhauled and reassembled in Parafield, then transported to Minlaton to take her place in the newly erected Captain Harry Butler AFC Memorial Museum on October 11, 1958.

Also on display at the memorial was the engine of the crashed Avro 504. It was the same engine that was in the Bristol during the first over water mail flight. When the engine was overhauled it was discovered that a seized piston had most likely caused the crash.

In 1973 the original engine was reinstalled in the Bristol. The Balaklava (SA) Gliding Club repaired the sun damaged fabric and restored the engine cowl of the Bristol M1C in 1989 to bring the aircraft back to its original condition. The Red Devil at Minlaton is the last remaining original Bristol M1C remaining out of a total of 130 manufactured in England.

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Biography contributed by Belinda Holmes

Butler, Henry John (1889–1924)

Henry John Butler (1889-1924), aviator, was born on 9 November 1889 at Yorketown, South Australia, son of John James Butler, wheat-farmer, and his wife Sarah Ann, née Cook. Harry Butler showed his enthusiasm and aptitude for mechanics by building models of primitive aircraft while still at school in Koolywurtie; he later accorded farm-work a lower priority than collaboration with a neighbour and lifelong mentor S. C. Crawford in building and flying one of Australia's early aeroplanes. Among the February 1915 candidates, Butler alone gained entrance as an aeromechanic to the Australian Flying School at Point Cook, Victoria. Commissioned three weeks after joining the Royal Flying Corps in 1916, he became fighting-instructor at Turnberry, Scotland, in 1917, and chief fighting-instructor at No. 2 Yorkshire School of Aerial Fighting in 1918. He alternated teaching with studying German aerial combat tactics over France, and he received the Air Force Cross in 1918.

Demobilized as captain, Butler brought back to Australia in 1919 a £2000 Bristol monoplane, a type which had proved its superiority in speed and manoeuvrability. He also purchased an Avro 504-K and three 110 horsepower Le Rhone rotary engines: he converted the Avro to carry two passengers on joy-rides at £5 for fifteen minutes. The monoplane, popularly termed the 'Red Devil', made the first Australian mail-service flight over water on 6 August 1919 when Butler covered the distance of 67 miles (108 km) from Adelaide to his home town, Minlaton, in twenty-seven minutes, reaching an altitude of 15,000 feet (4572 m). With 'luck, pluck and ability' as a formula for success, he also raised funds for patriotic purposes in several daring aerobatic exhibitions, notably a stunt-flying display before a crowd of 20,000 at Unley oval on 23 August 1919, the provision of a low-flying escort for Prime Minister W. M. Hughes (adb.anu.edu.au)'s train from Salisbury to Adelaide that year, and the winning of an aerial Peace Loan Derby on 7 September 1920.

With Crawford's administrative help and the mechanical services of H. A. Kauper (adb.anu.edu.au), Butler operated as the Captain Harry J. Butler & Kauper Aviation Co. Ltd. The firm used the Albert Park field which later became South Australia's government airport; it was voluntarily liquidated in 1921, as a result of the public's waning interest in aerobatics. Butler retained the equipment and operated on his own until his flying career was terminated by a crash south of Minlaton on 10 February 1922. Upon recovery he established an aviation and motor-engineering garage at Minlaton and in 1924 became a director of Butler, Nicholson Ltd, motor distributors and engineers.

He died suddenly on 30 July 1924 from an unsuspected cerebral abscess and was buried in North Road cemetery, North Adelaide. He was survived by his wife Elsa Birch Gibson, a nurse from Bool Lagoon whom he had married on 21 July 1920 at St Paul's Anglican Church, Adelaide. The restored 'Red Devil' is housed in the Captain Harry Butler Memorial Museum at Minlaton; an oil portrait of him is held by the Art Gallery of South Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • E. R. Burnett-Reid, ‘The Harry Butler story’, Aviation Historical Society of Australia,Journal, 4 (1963), no 4
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 5 July, 7, 30 Aug 1919
  • Observer (Adelaide), 14 Jan 1922, 2 Aug 1924
  • H. Butler collection, PRG 207, and letters to G. Ward (State Records of South Australia).

Citation details

Leith G. MacGillivray, 'Butler, Henry John (1889–1924)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/butler-henry-john-5446/text9245, accessed 23 October 2013.