Back in 2018 Corryong College teacher, Stephen Learmonth, involved his Year 5 and 6 students in a project researching and collating biographies on the men from the Upper Murray who enlisted as Light Horsemen in the First World War.
He said at the time that he had hoped the project would generate interest in the meaning of Remembrance Day.
Since then he has undertaken his own project to record the biographies of other servicemen from the region and the [Corryong] Courier will be printing a selection of these stories in the lead up to Remembrance Day this year on November 11.
Frank was born on the 13th of April, 1919 at Tallangatta, Victoria. He was the youngest of nine children of Stephen Ernest and Alice Blanche (née Braidwood) Butler. Two of Frank’s sisters died before he had reached the age of 18 – Ivy in 1920 and Lily in 1937.
It was early February of 1943 when Frank walked down to the enlistment centre in Tallangatta and joined up in the Royal Australian Navy. He was allocated the Official Number PM5687 and given the rank of Ordinary Seaman.
Nearly two weeks later he was travelling by train down to the navy’s recruit school at HMAS Cerberus, situated on the shores of Westernport Bay 75kms south east of Melbourne. Frank would be there for a period of approximately three months. His initial training was in general seamanship skills and knowledge along with a great deal of physical exercise. The second half of training involved developing skills in an area that Frank had chosen, in this case, gunnery.
He managed to obtain a week’s leave in order to get married. On Tuesday the 1st of June 1943 Frank married Dorothy Lesley Ried, a local girl from Tallangatta Valley, at St Mary’s Church of England in Caulfield. After the honeymoon, Frank returned to Cererbus and continued to work through the Navy’s training regime.
Back at the home property, Fairlea, it was approaching shearing time. Frank’s father, Stephen, decided that he desperately needed the help of his youngest son on the farm for this busy time of the year. Frank was granted approval to be demobilised from the 5th of October 1943 to the 10th of November 1943.
For some reason this period was extended to the 3rd of January 1944. Frank returned once again to Cererbus and on the 12th of March 1944 was promoted to Able Seamen and posted to HMAS Ballarat. Frank’s first ship was one of 60 Australian-built minesweepers, commonly known as corvettes. She was commissioned in late August of 1941. The Ballarat displaced 590 tonnes with a length of 60 metres and a beam of 9.45 metres. Her triple expansion engine could deliver 1750hp allowing her to reach a maximum speed of 15 knots, almost 30 km/h. Armament consisted of one 102mm gun, three 20mm Oerlkons, one 40mm Bofors gun and numerous light machine guns and depth charges. She had a crew of 85.
When Frank joined his ship, she had been on patrol near the Grafton Passage, north-east of Cairns. Over the next few months Ballarat spent the time on anti-ship patrols, escorting transports to Thursday Island and undertaking search missions for aircrew that had been shot down. There was always the general maintenance and repair of the ships that needed to be completed both when at sea and in harbour.
In the latter half of July, the Ballarat was used to escort the troop transport SS Van Hong Leong from Thursday Island to Merauke on the south coast of Dutch New Guinea. The small convoy included HMAS Parkes and the three ships arrived at Merauke on the last day of July. At some time during the first few days of August Frank became ill and was admitted to hospital, possibly at the US Naval Base at Maruake.
The 24th of August edition of the Upper Murray and Mitta Herald included an article that explains what happened to Frank.
“A gloom was cast over our town on Friday when the news circulated that Able Seaman Frank L. Butler R.A.N., had died. Deceased, aged 25 years, was the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. S. E. Butler, of Tallangatta. He joined the Navy almost two years ago and was on duty in northern waters when he became ill. He was taken ashore and operated on for appendicitis but peritonitis set in and despite the best of attention and use of the drug penicillin, he passed away in hospital at Merauke, Dutch New Guinea on 17th August.
“About 14 months ago he married Miss Lesley Ried, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Alex Ried of Tallangatta Valley. Frank was a native of Tallangatta and attended the local school. He played football with Tallangatta Club, and was a member of the I.O.R. He was a fine type of an Australian native and was very popular throughout the district. Heart felt [sic] sympathy is extended to the family and young wife in their bereavement.
Brothers are Burton, Gipson, Donald and Wallace (A.I.F.), and Olive (Mrs Wilson, Jerilderie) and Dora (Mrs Middleton) are sisters.”
Frank was originally buried in the Maruake War Cemetery. At some stage his remains were re-interred in the Townsville War Cemetery in Queensland. He is also remembered on the Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, and the Tallangatta War Memorial.
For his service, he was awarded the Defence Medal, the War Medal 1939-1945 and the Australian Service Medal 1939-1945.
Footnote:- Mr Learmonth is also seeking any other details or photos that could be added to the biographies – email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Corryong Courier, 12 October 2023.