From the Darlington & Stockton Times of October 20, 1917

ONE hundred years ago this week, sad news filtered back to Darlington from the Belgian battlefields about the death of the greatest athlete of his generation.

“To fall on the battlefield has been the fate of George Butterfield, the noted athlete,” said the D&S Times. “He was killed on the Belgian front on September 24, and official intimation of his death was received in Darlington on Thursday.”

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In three consecutive years, Butterfield had won the English amateur mile championship and his time in 1906 - four minutes and 18 seconds - was the fastest in the world that year.

He was born in 1879 in Stockton, where his father was a blacksmith, but he came to live in Darlington to train with the famous Harriers club, leading them to the national club championship at Haydock Park. Indeed, as no human being could come close to him, one snowy day during the winter of 1907-08, he took on a greyhound.

He was attending a coursing meet at Skutterskelfe Hall, near Stokesley, in which two greyhounds were to race off after a hare. But one of the dogs, Lordship, slipped in the snow and dislocated its shoulder, so Butterfield leapt out of the crowd and chased after the other greyhound, Lord Nelson II, until they disappeared out of sight. Later that evening, he turned up in a pub in Hutton Rudby, sweating profusely. “Following him was the sorriest-looking greyhound imaginable, perfectly abject and weary,” recalled an eyewitness. “George said he must have run over five miles over the roughest country he could ever remember, and had captured his quest in a wood.”

It was obviously a good warm-up for the next athletics season.

“He had a great career,” said the D&S 100 years ago. “In 1908, he represented the English championship, he ran in Sweden, where he created something of a sensation by his doings on the track, carrying off no less than six silver cups and seven medals. In all, Butterfield won over £1,000 in prizes, and created an amateur record by winning £100 worth of trophies in one week.”

His performance in Sweden encouraged the British Olympic Committee to invite “Butt”, as he was known, to carry the Union flag at the opening ceremony of the 1908 Olympics, which were held at the White City Stadium in London, as he was the nation’s greatest hope of gold. However, the games were cruel to him, as he finished third in both of his heats – in times which would have won other heats – and so failed to make the final of either the 800m or 1,500m.

For 29-year-old Butt, his race was run – literally. At the end of the games, he retired, and never again appeared on a track. Instead, he and his new wife, Cissie, went behind a bar, running the Leeds Arms in Darlington’s Northgate (which is now beneath the ring road). When it closed in 1909, he became licensee of the Hole in the Wall Hotel in the Market Place.

“He joined the Army in December 1915, and went to France the following June,” said the D&S, as Butt became a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. “He was wounded in the hand some months ago, but after a stay in England again proceeded to the front some eight weeks since.”

On September 24, at the age of 38, he was killed – his legs were blown off at Bellewaerde, and now he lies in a Belgian cemetery about three miles from Ypres.

The D&S’ sister paper, the Evening Despatch said in its obituary: “When George Butterfield returned to the front a few weeks ago, after recovering from wounds, he had a presentiment that the worst would happen.

“On his departure, he remarked: ‘I have made a name that will stand on the annals of time as a runner, and I will leave my name behind as one who has given his life in honour of his country.’”

The D&S said: “His wife, who has carried on the hotel during his absence, is left with a young son (Charles, who was about 10), and much sympathy is felt for them. Genial in disposition, ‘George’ made friends wherever he went, and his death will be sincerely regretted not only in Darlington but in athletic circles throughout the country.”

That edition of the D&S also contains a report of a presentation of a bravery medal to Inspector Brigginshaw of Bedale police who in “total disregard to personal danger attempted to drag an officer’s body from an aeroplane that had crashed to the ground and was in flames”.

The pilot, Lt Bradhurst, “was burnt to death by his aeroplane side-slipping, nose-diving and crashing to earth and then taking fire” near Bedale.

The D&S said: “It may be added that the aeroplane under which Lt Bradhurst was pinned was enveloped in flames, and Insp Brigginshaw in attempting to drag him out had his hat burnt and his clothes scorched, and it is a wonder that when the petrol tank burst, he was not severely injured.”

This is, though, a mystery drama: the D&S hadn’t carried any reports of it in previous weeks, and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission does not list any aviator named Bradhurst, or anything similar, as dying during the First World War. If you can tell us more, please email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk

October 21, 1967

FLOODING in Wensleydale was the worst in living memory, said the D&S of 50 years ago, and Darlington endured its heaviest overnight rainfall in 66 years. Croft and Neasham were under water, lorries were stranded on the newly-opened A1 Catterick bypass, but Wensleydale was wettest.

“Mr William Simpson and his sons of the Three Horse Shoes Inn had 37 half bred ewes marooned in flood waters near Wensley Bridge, but gallant rescuers saved them,” said the D&S. “Mr Peter Simpson and Mr C Waite, land agent to Lord Bolton, waded out up to their armpits in the floods. A boat had been brought from Bolton Hall and was being used when the rescuers reached the sheep. Each rescuer managed to catch a ewe and drag it through the water onto a narrow strip of land. Fortunately, the others swam to them and they were all eventually rescued and are now grazing in Wensley churchyard.”

October 19, 1867

“ON Tuesday last, John Walburn, 51, a farm labourer in the employ of Mr George Ireland, of Skeeby, came to his end in the following way,” reported the D&S 150 years ago. “He was working on an oat stack and whilst in the act of pulling a sheaf further out of the stack to make the thatching more even, the band broke, which caused him to over balance himself and he fell. On taking him up, it was discovered he had broken his neck. An inquest was held on the body of the deceased at the Traveller’s Rest in Skeeby, on Wednesday, before Mr JS Walton, deputy coroner, when they jury returned a verdict of “accidental death”.