Click here to return to the main site entry page
Click here to return to the previous page

Mr. Percy R. Button

The Rushden Echo, 2nd July, 1915, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Rushden “Wireless” Operator
Has Some Exciting Experiences
Convoying The Australian Troops
The Notorious “Emden”
Fine Work in The Dardanelles
Terrific Concussions from H.M.S. “Queen Elizabeth”
Destroyer’s Marvellous Escape
Turkish Aeroplane Bombs “Miss by Miles”

Mr. Percy R. Button, fifth son of Mr. and Mrs. George W. Button, of Rushden, has had some thrilling experiences during the war. Mr. Percy Button, whose father is the well-known Rushden elocutionist, is the head “wireless” operator on H.M.S.-----------a transport ship. In an interesting letter to Mr. C. Cross, of Rushden, he says:

June 1, 1915

Dear Sir, - Having read with interest and pleasure your papers which have reached me since the outbreak of war I thought it up to me to give Rushden a little news of the Near East theatre of war from my own experiences.

My ship has travelled 30,000 miles as troopship, and we have had much excitement, all of which we have come through safely. We have always looked on ourselves as being a lucky “old tub.”

We were with the first Australian Expeditionary Force and had our first funny feeling in the region of the belt when the “S.O.S.” from the Cocos Islands was picked up. The “Sydney” was one of our convoying cruisers and was ordered off to investigate, amid great excitement. Directly she sighted the “Emden” her commander attempted to report by wireless, but for some time the “Emden” “jammed” until a shot sent his mainmast over and then we heard the message “Fight steaming north,” which was bringing them near us. At times the firing could be heard, and when the news of the striking of the enemy’s flag came I think they must have heard the cheering (and the popping of corks).

We had no more fun that trip, the weather being splendid all the way, and after disembarkation at Alexandria we returned to Australia alone for more troops. Once more the weather was glorious the whole of the 7,000 miles, and the only excitement our second batch of Tommies had was witnessing the capture of a Turkish dhow in the Red Sea. She was gun-running and we heard afterwards that she was armed with a 6 in. gun.

Mr Percy Button
I must ask you to pass with a jump now to the Dardanelles, where we had all the excitement we required and often a little more. We were there for five weeks – seventeen days of which we were actually under fire.

We took Australians, and were one of the first six ships to go close in. I shall never forget that first morning. The sea was like glass as we steamed slowly in at sunrise. The men-o’war were pouring in a terrific fire, and every now and then one would see a great explosion, and gun carriages, men, and huge pieces of rock would be hurled high into the air.

Then the landing began. Directly the first two boats touched the shore the machine guns and rifles opened up, and I am afraid the number that escaped from those two boats was few. However, there was no stopping the rest, who charged the Turks, and carried five lines of trenches with great dash.

All day there was a continuous roar of guns of every description, the concussion from the “Lizzie” being terrific. She fired over our heads. We had a view of all the land fighting for several days. It was great to watch the men charging. In the evening the Turks got to work with a large battery and I saw many men killed. I saw one man fall and two others were running to his assistance when a shrapnel burst right over them, and it gave me a very queer feeling to see the way they rolled over.

Big shells (believed to be from the “Goeben”) were dropped amongst the transports, but none were seriously damaged. They make a peculiar noise coming through the air, and the column of water they throw up is very often higher than the ship’s mast.

We became quite used to it after the first day or two, and didn’t run to the side to see where the next would fall, but the position of the ship had to be changed several times when they came too close.

I saw a destroyer have a marvellous escape. One of these 11 inchers (weighing about 1250 lbs.) actually burst so close to her bow that it stopped her headway. We all thought she had gone, but when the smoke and spray cleared, there she was calmly steaming along as if nothing had happened.

Several times a Turkish aeroplane attempted to drop bombs on us, but missed by miles. She was in too much of a hurry, I suppose, through being very much afraid of our “eyes,” who did splendid work.

Our aeroplanes scouted very low, and shrapnel would burst all round them, but I never saw one hit.

One of the things which struck me most was the great cheerfulness of everyone, even those terribly wounded. It does one good to be with them, and no doubt it would open the eyes of some people at home to see the way the Colonial boys fight. They go at it in the best possible spirit, just as if it is the greatest picnic they have been in, but nevertheless they are not afraid to die.

I have very little to do in port and have visited the hospitals here. I generally take a few books from the ship and it is wonderful how glad the soldiers are to get hold of even the worst novels. Tobacco and cigarettes are eagerly received, and they always ask for “ship” tobacco, which is “Capstan.”

In one very large hospital here a number of German nurses are still employed, and are well liked by all the men. All Huns are not bad ‘uns.

I enclose a few photographs. We are all getting good collections, as well as curios, such as Turkish shrapnel cases, fuses, rifles, bullets, etc. Some of the bullets we have taken from our own lifeboats, which nearly all needed repair.

I keep an eye open for Rushdenites but have had no luck to date. I think we are represented everywhere.

I remain,
Yours truly,

The Rushden Echo, 5th November 1915, transcribed by Gill Hollis

A Lifetime In Four Days - Transport Captain’s Nerves
Strung to the Uttermost - Graphic Account of the Landing at the Dardanelles
When “Lizzie” Talks - The “Goeben’s” Fire

Mr. Percy Button, Rushden, wireless operator on board a British transport, has sent to his parents (Mr. and Mrs. G. W. Button of York-road, Rushden, a graphic account of the land at Gala Topadi on the Gallipoli Peninsula, written by the Captain of the vessel. In the course of his description he says:-

“They landed 1,000 men before daybreak, I shell never forget my first impressions of the scene. We could see them distinctly fighting on the beach, men being carried away on stretchers, others hurried back into the boats, wounded to be brought off to the hospital ships, and as they passed by the ship we could see them lying in all positions.

“We were ordered to take up a position closer in shore to get the wood off for building a pier about noon. As we drew in, heavy shells started to drop amongst the transports, some had very narrow escapes, but we were never nearer than 200 yards to any of them. However, we were ordered to take up a position one mile further to sea, where we were pretty safe.

“The shells that were dropping, we learned the next day, were being fired by the ‘Goeben’ from the other side of the land.

“All Sunday the fighting was very heavy the Turks retired to the top of the hill, and the Australians after them, but the first boat to get to the beach, only one reached the beach alive out of 50. The second one, the troops jumped into the water waist deep, threw their rifles away, and attacked the enemy in the good old way. The Turks couldn’t understand it, and fled,

“Then they poured the infantry on shore. By sunset some 15,000 men had landed, and held a part of the ridge of the hill. As night drew on their position it became very serious, and arrangements were made to be ready to take them on board again. However, they stuck to the beach all night, having retired from the ridge, bringing down their one battery. They were too anxious to get one, and had advanced three miles in the one day without sufficient support.

Rows of Wooden Crosses

“Monday morning broke another perfect day. We were all anxious for daylight, and were relieved to see them all sticking to the narrow strip of sand, but it was an awful sight. The dead all stretched in rows, awaiting identification before burial. I hear they lost over 2000 on the Sunday; the boats were going continually to and fro to the hospital ships, and we could see them going back with some of them who had died before they got them off. By noon there were rows of wooden crosses along the narrow strip of sand, but we could see the brave lads advancing up the hill again under cover of the big guns of the battleships which were pouring volleys of shrapnel into the enemy.

“Goodness knows how many they lost – the enemy – on the Sunday. Some reckon 15,000, but they will never know. We could see them running up the hill in front of our men, and our batteries being dragged up behind them. By nightfall on the Monday they had got a pretty secure footing on the ridge. The battleships had shelled the enemy continuously all day, but could not locate their guns, which were being worked by Germans.

“Tuesday was another hot day of fire, but still fine weather. More shells dropped amongst the transports, with no effect fortunately.

“Yesterday (Wednesday) was very quiet as far as the enemy was concerned, but our shore batteries and the battleships kept pumping it into them all day. The noise is awful. On Tuesday we had to go close inshore, to drop off some stuff and troops. The battleships were firing right over us, not very pleasant at first; but it is wonderful how soon one gets used to it. To-day some shells dropped amongst us, but no accidents. Yesterday we had our narrowest squeak. The aircraft ship was lying close to us, getting the flying machines on board, and two shells dropped between her and us, but we soon moved off a bit. It is wonderful how they get the range, and know exactly where the airship is. They are bent on having her, if possible. They must have a good observation station close, for the Goeben is on the other side of the land, and cannot possibly see us. Yesterday the Queen Elizabeth took up a position close to us, and started firing her big guns over the land, apparently trying to get the Goeben.

A Lifetime in Four Days

“I seem to have lived a lifetime this last four days – very little sleep, all nerves strung to the uttermost; but I shouldn’t have missed it for anything. It has been the sight of a lifetime. One sight I saw yesterday I shan’t forget. Our boys were advancing up the hill. One fell and the next man took him up in his arms and turned down again, staggering with the weight of his fallen comrade. We watched breathlessly, and tears came into my eyes when I saw him also struck down. They both rolled down the hill locked in each other’s arms.

“The Turks sent one of our men back – whom they had taken prisoner – with his tongue cut out. Some ghastly stories we are hearing. Hope they are not true. It is better not to mention them. I think but I am afraid they are only too true. The Turks have got good teachers in the Germans, in the way of diabolical deeps. The Australians will have their revenge all right, and we are all sure of the result. There is no hope of them pushing the British back into the sea now.

No Cross to Mark Their Resting-Place

“The Goeben has been very quiet these last couple of days but none of the ships have ventured to go in close. Some have left, apparently for Alexandria for reinforcements, which I hear are badly wanted. The weather has changed, blowing to-night and very cold; hope it won’t turn out bad.

“They are taking the bodies of those that died in the hospital ships out to sea in the trawlers. We were watching one to-day, the parson in his white gown giving the burial service, and then we saw seven bodies committed to the deep a very impressive sight. The trawler’s crew lined up alongside of the Union Jack’s stretched over the bodies on the deck, and the parson standing at the head.

“The casualties have been very heavy, a lot of bleeding hearts at the other side of the world, and to be buried where no stone or cross can over mark their resting-place, must make it all the more sad. It is an awful business, and I wish it was all over, but there will be many more bleeding hearts before it is settled. From where we are lying we can only see the aftermath of war – boats loaded with wounded, and the death ship going out to discharge her load. We cannot see our men fighting now, only at night the glow of shrapnel and the tiny sparks of rifle fire, with an occasional roar of big guns from the battleships. One is subject to all sorts of moods lying here; you see our men apparently gaining ground one day, then the next the procession of hospital boats – the price of gaining a trench.

An Aerial Raid

“We have had our first aerial raid over us this evening. An enemy’s flying machine soared over the ships and dropped their bombs, one just astern of us. Fortunately no ship got hit. It is a pretty difficult thing I should imagine, to hit a ship. The flying machine was at a great height, and could only be seen when the rays of the sun caught her. Getting quite exciting again, we have had no Goeben shells lately, apparently they have found that she can’t do us much damage, so have resorted to aircraft and bombs. Had they a good number of them and dropped bombs they might do some damage.

“No news from the beach to-day, only a heavy cannonade has been going on. We can hear them away to the south of us at the entrance to the Dardanelles. No mistaking when the Queen Elizabeth talks she makes the old ship quiver.

The Goeben has sent us a memorandum to-day, the first for a couple of days, so she hasn’t been knocked out yet. It is a wonder to me how she doesn’t manage to hit some of us. Her shells, luckily always pick out a bare patch of water.

“To-day a strange flying machine was hovering far above our seaplane. One of the destroyers was ringing up the Queen Elizabeth telling her that a hostile craft was flying towards her, but it turned out to be one of the French machines came up from the south to see how we were getting on.”

The Rushden Echo, 10th November, 1916, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Rushden Wireless Operator - Travelled Over 150,000 Miles
Raids by Turkish Airmen - Mr. Percy Button Visits Rushden Men Abroad

Wireless Operator Percy Button, son of Mr. and Mrs. Geo. W. Button, of 2, York-road, Rushden, has been home on leave after 2½ years’ duty on board one of His Majesty’s transports. Since the commencement of the war he has travelled over 150,000 miles, and in that period has six times visited Australia. He has also been twice to India, three times to Africa, eight times to Egypt, and twice to the Dardanelles. He was present at the landing of the British troops at Gaba Tepe on April 25, 1915, and in that connection he sent us an interesting account of his experiences, which was published in “The Rushden Echo” at midsummer, 1915.

Mr. Button met on board his ship some of the R.W.F.’s who had been billeted at Rushden. They had been wounded at the Suvla landing, and his ship was taking them back to Egypt to rejoin their units. He spoke to several of them and they were all loud in their praises of Rushden, and said that the first place they would visit on their return to England would be Rushden.

Whilst lying in harbour at Port Said, Mr. Button had more than one experience of air raids by Turkish airmen, but, said he, “we came to regard these as quite a common occurrence, as we used to get two or three a week.

“The machines were Taubes, and whoever the airmen were they seemed to be thoroughly scared every time they came, and regarded our gunners with proper respect, as they flew very high, dropped three or four bombs whilst travelling at a terrific speed, and then made for home as hard as they could pelt.”

Whilst up the Dardanelles Mr. Button saw submarine B11 on several occasions, but at that time did not know that Seaman Buckle, D.S.M., of Rushden, was on her.

On one occasion Mr. Button’s ship was carrying a load of about 300 German prisoners, and he had interesting chats with several of them. One of them, he said, was very cocky, and would not believe that we had landed forces at the Dardanelles, saying that it was impossible. Every evening these Huns used to provide the officers and men of the transport with a good concert, the favourite item of the programme being “The Hymn of Hate.” Some of the men had excellent voices, most of them being good musicians.

One night, said Mr. Button, there was great excitement aboard, as suddenly a terrific pandemonium broke out below decks, and those who went down to investigate found that the Germans had commenced fighting amongst themselves. There arose terrific yells of “Fritz! Fritz! Hans! Hans!” intermixed with some very bad guttural language. The cause of the quarrel, it was ascertained, was the respective merits of the German and British, half siding with the former and half with the latter. It is significant, said Mr. Button, that the British party won. But though there was plenty of blood and hair flying about, no one was seriously hurt, and the matter was stopped, as the men were hauled up on deck, and the officer of the guard read the Riot Act to them, and, although he spoke to the Germans very severely, he was really vastly amused, and the skipper chuckled over the incident for days afterwards.

On another occasion Mr. Button, whilst his ship was in harbour, saw a great bout of fisticuffs between some German prisoners who were working on the wharf under a French guard, and an Irish regiment. The trouble arose through one of the Boches airing his English by swearing at one of the Irishmen, who promptly threw down his rifle and pack and went for the Hun in the good old-fashioned way. This was quite enough for a row, and soon the whole lot were scrapping, the officers and the Frenchmen being powerless to do anything but laugh. A big lot of the Germans had to go to hospital, and it will be a long time before they “Tread on the tail of an Irishman’s coat” again, said Mr. Button.

Mr. Button, on his visits to South Africa, has on each occasion visited Mr. A. E. Long, formerly of Rushden, who resides in Cape Town.

The best sight he saw during the whole of his two-and-a-half years’ voyage was, he said, the shores of old England, about a month ago.

On his first night in the Port of London he was fortunate enough to see the Zeppelin brought down at Cuffley and also the firing at the other one that was brought down on the coast. He distinctly saw the aeroplane that was above the Zeppelin at Cuffley signal to the guns below to cease fire. There seemed silence for a few seconds and then the Zepp burst in flames, but she came gradually to earth.

Mr. Button expects to re-commence duties almost immediately.

Evidently Mr. and Mrs. George Button’s sons are all imbued with the wander lust. Harry Button is in Mexico, fighting with the United States Army. He was formerly in the Northants Regiment, under the late Colonel Ripley, but, going to America 14 years ago, he has served in many branches of the United States service. He has seen duty with the American Marines, visiting China and Japan, and later he joined the United States cavalry and now holds the rank of Sergeant. At present he is participating in the Mexican fighting, and when in the marines saw some scrapping in Nicaragua.

Reginald Button is in Los Angeles, California, and has been away from home five years.

Gunner Bert Button, who enlisted in the British Army last Easter, is in the R.F.A., and it is believed he is somewhere in Mesopotamia.

Howard Button, who went to Canada a month before war was declared, enlisted in the Canadian Field Artillery, but was subsequently transferred to the Canadian Cameron Highlanders. He arrived in England recently, and is now in training at Sandling East in Kent. He expects to be able to visit home shortly.

Mr. and Mrs. Button’s eldest son, Horace, resides in London, and holds a very good position as designer to the Temple Press.

Rushden Echo, 1st February 1918, transcribed by Kay Collins

An Interesting Photograph has been received by Mr. and Mrs. G. W. Button, of Rushden, from their son, Mr. Percy Button, who is a wireless telegraphist on board the S.S. ---. The photograph which was taken off the coast of German East Africa, shows Mr. Button on an “oil tank,” reading a copy of the “Rushden Echo.” The particular issue he is reading contains a report of the lamented death of Lieut. Thomas Litchfield, of Rushden, one of his old schoolfellows. Mr. Button is able occasionally to pay a visit to an old Rushdenite in the person of Mr. A. E. Long. The photograph may be seen in the “Rushden Echo” Office window.

Click here to return to the main index of features
Click here to return to the War index
Click here to e-mail us