b. 24/10/1922 Hankow, China. d. 24/03/2015 Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 26/27/07/1947 Antarctica.
Arthur Richard Cecil “Dick” Butson (1922-2015) was born to British parents Cecil Walter and Doris Neave Butson (nee Stanton-Cook) on October 24th 1922 in Hankow, China. He was educated at Leighton Park School at Reading, then Cambridge University and University College Hospital, where he took an MB, BChir, graduating in 1945.
During the air raids on London, Butson served in the Home Guard and the light rescue squad. From 1946 to 1949 he was a medical officer to the FIDS, the British government sponsored expedition to the Antarctic. The expedition, which included Kevin Walton (later AM) among its members, discovered a route for dog teams over the 5,000ft high mountains of the Graham Land Peninsular and surveyed the last 1,000 miles of the most inaccessible coastline in the world.
In 1947, FIDS, under the leadership of Major Butler, drew up a programme with the United States Ronne Antarctic Expedition (RARE), under Commander Ronne, for their joint cooperation during the sledging season. To provide better weather forecasting for the long exploratory and survey flight Cdr Ronne intended to make, two meteorological stations were set up: one at an altitude of 5,600ft on the Graham Land plateau, north-east of Stonington Island; the other on the shelf ice off a point shown on some charts as Cape Keeler.
During July, the RARE planned to sledge supplies to the base on Graham Land. The first attempt was unsuccessful and, on the evening of July 26th, two men were left on the plateau at 4,700ft while the rest of their party returned for fresh supplies. Bad weather set in, their tent was damaged and, while returning to base on foot, Peterson, an American, fell into a deep crevasse.
His companion marked the spot and walked the six miles back to base, arriving alone in the dark. Teams from both camps were sent to the rescue, but the hazards of crossing a heavily crevassed glacier were greatly increased by darkness. Fortunately, it was a clear night with a full moon – the only night like that for several days – and at 4am on the morning of July 27th they found the crevasse into which Peterson had fallen.
Butson, the FIDS medical officer, immediately volunteered to be lowered into the crevasse. He found Peterson 106ft down suffering from shock and exhaustion, but conscious. The tapered sides of the crevasse had broken his fall; otherwise he would have been killed. The American’s pelvis and legs were trapped in the lower, narrow part of the crack. To try to free them, Butson had to work head down, and he got stuck several times.
At this point the two men heard a loud noise and the sound of cracking, warning them that several million tons of ice were on the move. Butson felt the crevasse narrow by about half an inch on either side of his chest, but he managed to extricate himself and tried to work faster. For nearly an hour, in an extremely confined space, he chipped the ice away until he was able to free Peterson. The American was not seriously injured, so Butson placed a rope sling under his thigh and called to the men above to pull. Peterson suddenly became dislodged and shot upwards to the surface, where he was quickly put inside a tent.
The rope was lowered again, and the equipment hauled up, followed by Butson, who rendered the necessary medical aid to Peterson. At dawn, the party returned to base, carrying the American on one of the sledges. Peterson recovered after a few weeks’ rest.
Butson was invested with the Albert Medal by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on November 2nd 1948. After the Albert Medal was revoked by royal warrant, he was reinvested with the George Cross in July 1972. He donated his Albert Medal to the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge.
Butson pursued his postgraduate studies in surgery until 1952, when he emigrated to Canada. The following year he settled at Hamilton, Ontario, where he practised as a surgeon. In 1970, with the establishment of the McMaster University Medical School, he joined the faculty part-time, eventually being appointed clinical professor in the department of surgery. For two years Butson was chief of staff of St Joseph’s hospital in Hamilton, a 600-bed teaching hospital, where he was head of general surgery for many years.
In 1956 Butson joined the Canadian Militia as medical officer to the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry Regiment, later transferring to Hamilton’s Militia Medical Company as commanding officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel. During his command, the unit twice won the trophy for the best militia medical unit in Canada. Butson qualified as a parachutist at the age of 55. One winter, he commanded a Canadian field surgical team on a Norwegian Army field hospital exercise.
Butson was president of the Defence Medical Association of Canada and for four years represented Canada in medical matters on the Nato Reserve Officers Association. In 1977 he was appointed honorary surgeon to the Queen, and in 1982 an officer of the Order of Military Merit of Canada. He was awarded the Polar Medal for distinguished service in Antarctica.
A keen mountaineer, Butson climbed extensively in the Canadian Rockies, the Antarctic, the Alps and at Baffin Island. He also led a climbing expedition to the Hindu Kush in the Himalayas. On his farm near Hamilton, he raised Galloway breed cattle. Dick Butson married first, in 1946, Joyce Scott Cowell. They had two children. He married secondly, in 1967, Eileen Gallon, with whom he had a son. Dick passed away, aged 92, on 24th March 2015 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He was laid to rest in Spring Creek Cemetery, Mississauga, Ontario. His medal group which are proudly owned by the Butson family, are currently on loan to the Base Borden Military Museum, Borden, Ontario.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: BASE BORDEN MILITARY MUSEUM, BORDEN, ONTARIO.
BURIAL LOCATION: SPRING CREEK CEMETERY, MISSISSAUGA, ONTARIO, CANADA.
Most of the images on this page are supplied by Rick Butson CD, the son of Dick Butson GC with many thanks from myself.