The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra
|Private Alfred Button|
BUTTON, ALFRED. (1877-1900).
Regimental Number: 30
Contingent: First Tasmanian.
Awards Queen's South African Medal one clasp.
Where buried: Garden of Remembrance at Colesberg.
Born at Fingal, Tasmania, (20 Nov. 1877) his parents later went to live at Perth,Tasmania The Tasmanian Mail (Feb 17 1900) stated that Button lived at Evandale. Button left his situation at Mr S. Hawleys , where he worked as a gardener, to go to South Africa. He was previously in the Launceston Rifles. (Tasmanian Mail 17/2/1900). He was the son of William E. Button of Fingal. He was a lay preacher with the Methodist Church at Perth.
Button, together with Gilham, are accepted at the first Tasmanians to die in South Africa. This is not correct. They were indeed the first Tasmanians to do so while serving with Tasmanian regiments, but the first Tasmanian to have the dubious distinction of being killed was Robert Perkins (refer to his listing), who died while serving with a British regiment.
Together with Butler, Button is included on the Memorial at Evandale. It reads: "Private A. Button, killed Jasfontein, February 19th 1900." He is included on the Hobart and Launceston Memorials, and the Memorial at Colesberg.
An interesting and sad story has been told to the author by Alfred's sister, Mrs Gough of Lenah Valley, Tasmania. Mrs Gough stated that there was confusion in the names when Button was killed. The confusion resulted from the similarities between the names of Trooper Hutton and Trooper Button. Hutton also was present on that fateful day when Gilham and Button were killed. The report quoted above from the Tasmanian Mail (Feb 17 1900) goes on to say: "Pvt M.H. Swan one of the youngest members of the contingent missing. Son of the late John Swan, Inspector of Police. Button resident of Evandale. Hutton, parents live at Ulverstone.". The report is ambiguous in that one is not sure the fate of those listed. It would appear, according to Mrs Gough, information was incorrectly received by authorities in Hobart The parents of Hutton were informed of their son's death, while the parents of Button were not informed of their son's death. The fact is that Hutton was NOT killed.
Mrs Gough related to the author that when the vessel returned to Launceston with the Tasmanian soldiers both lots of parents were there at the docks, the Huttons in mourning attire, while the Buttons, especially Mrs Button with a new dress on, ready to welcome the return of her son. Down the plank came Hutton, but not Button. Whilst the Hutton parents were no doubt greatly surprised, they nonetheless were delighted. The Button family, however, were greatly shocked at finding out the truth and according to Mrs Gough, her father Mr Button senior, was "greatly distressed". A sad tale.
Three of Button's brothers would go to war again, this time to the Great War and one, James, was to be killed.
Button, as we have learnt, was killed with fellow Tasmanian, Atherby Gilham (sometimes spelt Gillham). From the diary of Trooper J. Robert's we read how the two were killed, together with war correspondent, Lambie, who once worked with the local daily, The Mercury: "I was with Captain Cameron's half. We skirmished over veldt and kopjes. Came across strong party leaving farm house. Fired at them and had a very heavy fire returned. We dismounted and climbed kopjes and returned their fire. Stayed three for two hours firing, then had to make a dash to get away, as they were in big numbers and flanked us. We galloped across open country in a storm of bullets to another kopje and fired volleys into them. We then had to retire on to our camp, as they were too strong for us. Our loss were Mr Lambie, war correspondent, shot dead, Pearce shot through the neck, Gilham and Button, two guides missing; Hynes, Hutton, Swan* and Brothers taken prisoners. Some of our horses were wounded. The Boer losses as far as we know, were 11 killed, some wounded and two taken prisoners. The Rensburg detachment left in the evening, the rest of us kept watch round camp all night."
Bufton makes mention that Button was killed "in what was practically the first fight of the Tasmanians". (P.444)
'Swan' This was Trooper M.H. Swan. (Morton Henry bn. 1878) Interesting enough, a Lieutenant M.H. Swan left Tasmania with the Second Imperial Bushmen March 27, 1901. This is the same fellow. He went twice to the war. Firstly with the First Tasmanian Contingent as a Private. He was taken prisoner in February 1900 and was the first soldier to send a letter as a prisoner to Tasmania. He was released Petoria, June 1900. Swan returned to the war as paymaster and Lieutenant with the Second Tasmanian Infantry Battalion. Again, a "Lieutenant Swan" (no initials) left with the "E" Squadron on April 8, 1902. This was Ronald Arthur Swan, (bn. March 24, 1876) brother to M.H. "E" Squadron also contained a Private H. Swan. I have been informed that Lieutenant Ronald Arthur served with the 40th Battalion in the Great War.
There is further reference to Button, under 'Gilham'.
Source: John Button. Claimed by Reg Watson to have been taken from his book "Heroes All".