TITLE: A Man for All Seasons: Honorary Colonel Arthur Richard (Dick) Cecil Butson, GC, OMM, CStJ, CD, MB, BChir, MD, FRCS(Eng.), FRCS(C), FACS, QHS
Author: John Blatherwick Former Naval Person
Dick Butson was born in Hankow, China, on 24 October 1922 to Cecil Waller Butson and Doris Neave (Stanton-Cook) Butson. He was educated at Legihton Park School in England and was a medical student at Cambridge University during World War Two. During the war, he served with the Light Rescue Services and as a despatch rider with the Home Guard. He was awarded the Defence Medal for these services.
He graduated as a physician from Cambridge University in 1945 (M.B., B.Chir.) and also received his MA from Cambridge in 1946.
He now had to do his National Service but noticed a position for a physician for a Combined Forces Expedition team to the Antarctic. He was one of five physicians who applied. On the selection panel was one of his former professors who asked him if he was the young man who had scaled the wall of one of the University buildings – he was! His love of hiking and mountain climbing plus having a friendly face on the selection committee enable him to be selected for this expedition.
In 1947, Dr. Butson, now a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps, joined the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey. Several of his companions on this expedition had been extensively decorated in WWII and proved to be life- long friends.
On the evening of 26 July 1947, at Grahamland, Antarctica, an American member of the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition fell into a crevasse some 6 miles from Base. Two teams were sent to the rescue but the hazards of crossing a heavily creviced glacier were much increased by darkness and it was not until 4 o’clock on the morning of the 27th July that the crevasse into which the American had fallen was located. Dr. Butson immediately volunteered to be lowered into the crevasse where he found the man tightly wedged 106 feet down and suffering from shock and exposure. After getting under the man, the crevasse shifted one more time, putting them both in great danger. For nearly and hour, Dick had to chip the ice away in an extremely confined space in order to free the American. The American was then brought to the surface and placed in a tent. Dr. Butson then had to chip his way out of the crevasse and then rendered the necessary medical aid and at dawn returned to Base carrying the injured man on one of the sledges.
Dr. Butson was awarded the Albert Medal for Saving Life on Land for his bravery in putting his life at great risk to save another man’s life. For his service on the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, he also received the Polar Medal with bar Antarctic 1947. This was not gazetted until the London Gazette of 17 July 1953. He received an Elizabeth II Polar Medal rather than a George VI due to the long delay in the announcement of the award.
Dick once told me that the curious thing about the rescue was that despite meeting the American on several occasions after the incident, the American never thanked him.
His time with the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey counted for his National Service stint and he returned to London to train as a surgeon. In 1951, he received his M.D. from the University College Hospital Medical School, London, England. He emigrated to Canada in 1952 to complete his surgical training in Montreal. He passed his Fellowship examinations in England, Canada and the United States thus earning the post-nominal letters, FRCS(Eng.), FRCS(C), and FACS.
He moved to Hamilton, Ontario in 1953 to take up the practice of surgery and became a Clinical Professor of Surgery at McMaster University in 1970. He served as Chief of Staff and Head of General Surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton while maintaining his private practice.
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.
In 1956, Dr. Butson joined the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry as unit medical officer and served with that unit until 1972. In 1972, Lieutenant-Colonel Butson was made Commanding Officer of 16 Medical Company in Hamilton. In 1977, he became Area Surgeon, Central Militia Area Headquarters. Dick was an extremely active militia medical officer, setting up many fine training programs for his medical units. He developed a militia surgical parachute team and qualified as a Canadian Forces parachutist himself.
In 1971, the living Albert Medal holders were allowed to exchange their Albert Medals for the George Cross, second only to the Victoria Cross in Commonwealth bravery decorations and the highest non-wartime bravery decoration. He received the Canadian Forces Decoration (for twelve years service) in 1968 and the bar in 1978. Dr. Butson was made a Queen’s Honorary Surgeon (QHS) in 1977 and received the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977. He was made an Officer of the Order of Military Merit (OMM) as per Canada Gazette of 03 July 1982.
Dr. Butson was also active in the St. John Ambulance Brigade in Hamilton and served as the Provincial Surgeon for Ontario for several years. He was made a Serving Brother of the Order of St. John in 1977, an Officer of the Order in
1983 and a Commander of the Order in 1989. He thus wears the all blue ribbon of the George Cross, all black ribbon of the Order of St. John and the all white ribbon of the Polar Medal.
Dr. Butson joined the Defence Medical Association of Canada (DMA) in 1971 and served as National President in 1980.
Dr. Butson’s Albert Medal is displayed at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Great Britain along with the Albert Medal of Richard Walter Richards.
His medals include: George Cross (GC), Officer, Order of Military Merit (OMM), Commander, Order of St. John (CStJ), Defence Medal, Polar Medal with bar Antarctica 1947 (EIIR), EIIR Silver Jubilee, Canada 125, EIIR Golden Jubilee (Canadian and British version), EIIR Diamond Jubilee Medal (Canadian and British versions), Canadian Forces Decoration and bar (CD), Service Medal of the Order of St. John.
Dick Butson died on 24 March 2015 at age 92.