THE MUSICAL world today (Friday) commemorates the centenary of the death of one of the most promising young composers of his age – killed in action in the Battle of the Somme while leading North-East soldiers.

George Butterworth, was serving as a lieutenant with Durham Light Infantry’s 13th Battalion, when he was shot by sniper during an attack on a trench at Pozier, on August 5, 1916.

He is probably best known for The Banks of Green Willow and for setting Alfred Edward Housman’s A Shropshire Lad to music in 1912.

Professor Jeremy Dibble, a musicologist of Durham University, said: “Although written before the Second World War, AE Housman’s evocative portrayal of rural life – about lads, from the till and the forge, had a massive resonance for the Pals and the troops in the trenches.

“Many Tommies used to have copies of Shropshire Lad in their packs.”

Butterworth, who is also revered by followers of English folk music was born in London, but spent his youth in North Yorkshire after his father became solicitor and later general manager of the North Eastern Railway Company, in York.

He attended Aysgarth Preparatory School, before going on to Eton and Trinity College, Oxford, and, for a short time, the Royal College of Music.

The young officer was recommended for the Military Cross three times for bravery and awarded it once.

He would have been awarded it a second time for his bravery on August 5, had he not been killed in action.

The composer’s father did not know about his decorations until he got the news of his son’s death, nor did his commanding officer know of his growing reputation as a musician.

Prof Dibble said: “Butterworth was almost a musical martyr and I think he stands at the head of the young composers who died during the First World War.

“He was deeply lamented by not only his friends, but also his teachers.

“The poignancy of his music serves to underline the sadness and loss and waste.

“I think he was a crucible of such delicate musical sensibility and he represented an Englishness of the time.

“He still remains a powerful musical voice, despite the fact that he wrote so little.”

Butterworth was buried on the front line at Pozieres, but his body was not recovered and his name appears on Thiepval memorial close by.

In honour of his popularity with his men before he died, a trench was named after him.