The Butler Brothers

Hubert Desramaux Butler (1899-1971) 
Major Gerald Villers Butler (1897-1967) 
The Butler Family Tree:
                                                                                                                          A Painting of Hubert Butler by Claude Harrison.
The full family tree can be downloaded in .pdf files from here: 
                                             Hubert D. Butler 
Tribute by Derrick Gillingham (pupil 1957-1962)

“A group of old boys of Huyton Hill School helped to collect information to assemble into this website. It seems that they had one conviction in common: they all recognised the achievement of Hubert and Gerald Butler in creating, maintaining and enhancing the school during its forty-year existence. Most of us offered completely unsolicited tributes to the impact both men made on our individual and collective education.

In his “A Message to Friends” of May 1969, Hubert Butler expressed the hope that “Huyton Hill will remain a linking Ides for our four hundred Old Boys”. This website is a testimony to the fact that his hope is being realised. We are a group of old boys covering twenty years of the life of Huyton Hill and we have expressed our acknowledgement of the broad educational achievement of Huyton Hill, many of us in our own personal words.

In our opinion there is no doubt that Huyton Hill promoted “Wisdom rather than Knowledge, and Courtesy rather than Cleverness” and we would accept that the school taught us a lot about duty and about “good will”. Several of us have admitted that Hubert Butler was an awe-inspiringly large figure in our lives at the time and that gave him an aura of remoteness, but this is balanced by comments that he was a most caring and gentle person, doing small things that made a major difference to the lives of small boys often thousands of miles away from their parents.  Hubert’s was the presiding spirit that drove the school forward and ensured that the school motto “I will with a good will” was lived in the daily detail of life.

In his nearly twenty years at Huyton Hill, as joint headmaster, Gerald Butler, better known as “Major B” was a real mentor to many boys and a friend to many others. His ability to get alongside us and gently to guide our lives and our behaviour, not to mention our learning, was really remarkable. There have been several touching tributes to his passing in 1967 and memories of him are held in the sort of high regard that speaks volumes for his quality as a person and as a schoolmaster. One old boy recently commented on Gerald’s ability to find hidden talents in young boys and bring them to light. This insight is one shared by the writer from a time ten years earlier and is typical of the sort of person he was.

Much as we would have liked to see our school perpetuated today, it is quite clear that these two remarkable brothers gave the school a quite unique “character” that could not easily have been preserved or perpetuated after their time. We are therefore reluctantly inclined to admit that closing the school in 1969 was better than trying to perpetuate it out of character.

However, we – the old boys of Huyton Hill – are in our turn a living testimony to the education imparted to us by Hubert and Gerald Butler. This education we have imparted to our children and our children’s children with a good will.”


"Gerald Villers Butler was born on the 1st of January 1897. There are of course references to him on our website, including the testimonial (The Man for the Job) from the Headmaster of Portora Royal School and a number of photographs. Before the first of these images appeared, one boy (a member of Arthur House?) referred to the quest for a photograph of the Major as his 'holy grail', which remark well articulates the regard in which he was (and is) held. Also on the website is my narration of his intervention in a minor bullying incident (of which I was the victim) with the words, which still ring in my ears: "Get your hands off my history date machine!" I have worn that accolade as a badge of honour ever since. I last saw the Major in 1967 when I visited the school and he took me into his parlour for tea and biscuits. Of course he was always busy and the occasion was a brisk one (everything done with the Major's usual crispness and clarity) but I was grateful for even a little of his valuable time, and, as it turned out, he had so little left. I remember that he questioned me about what I was doing ('idling' would have been an honest answer at the time) and what I intended to do ('no idea', though I don't suppose I said that as I would have wished to at least appear more definite and purposeful). I do remember feeling horribly inarticulate. Struck dumb, I suppose, by the Major's presence. I don't think it unduly sentimental to say that Major B was a father figure for me, one who could be stern and with whom one would never be familiar, but with a rare way of engaging the individual affection and interest of the boys 'under his command'. I know that others saw him in much the same way and almost all of the boys remember him with respect (reverence even) and affection. Although he was no Mr Chips (with all due respect to that old potato), the character's passing in the original film (with Robert Donat) does bring the Major to my mind, in as much as the old teacher, as he lies dying, contradicts a remark about it being a pity he had no children. "But I did", he protests, "thousands of them...and all boys". Likewise (and in a similar spirit) I think the Major may lay claim to a hundred or two. I only went home (to Bahrain) once a year, and my father was both physically and psychologically a towering figure in my childhood, but most of the time an absent and a distant one. The Major filled that gap, in some measure, and I continue to treasure my association with him (unsullied by the the fact that he whacked me a couple of times, which I thoroughly deserved). I am at present working on a manuscript (a fact-based novel with an historical sub-plot) that I have dedicated to GVB with words that might also conveniently close this little birth day tribute:

In memory of Major Gerald Villers Butler

my teacher, friend, and mentor 

at Huyton Hill...

'I will with a good will'


Hubert Butler on Keeping a Diary

"Schoolboys all love diaries. Some of the them only love them from January 1st to January 10th and some of them succeed in entering them daily for the whole twelve months. The staff should be persuaded to encourage boys to keep their diaries up to date and at the same time they should encourage them to fill them up intelligently. They are very much inclined to fill in the obvious things which they don't need to remember or particularly to notice, things in fact which keep on repeating and which they could discover at once by looking at a school time-table or something of that kind. If a boy does not know what is worth putting in, he will usually be helped by the formula, "Think of the nicest thing you saw, the nicest thing you did, the nicest thing you heard, the nicest thing you ate (and occasionally, the nicest thing you smelt."!) This will not only encourage his memory but will encourage it in its most fruitful activity, that of noticing and remembering the pleasant things of life instead of encumbering our minds with the unpleasant ones. If the boys' diaries contain not more than one remark per day and that a record of things they have enjoyed, it will not be a waste of time or of the diary. This is particularly important in the lower forms which contain new boys and one member of the staff should be appointed in each of these Sets to spend two or three minutes each day enquiring (and encouraging the boys to record) whatever they enjoyed most the previous day. This will help them to find out the enjoyable things from each other and will help to counter balance any little worries which they may have if they have been the absolute centre of the universe while at home." - HDB


Hubert Butler on Letter Writing

"This (Diaries) leads on to the writing of the weekly letter home. Naturally parents want to know what they are doing and are particularly pleased to know what they are enjoying doing. The daily records of this will be very helpful. The whole question of the letters home is a little difficult as one wants them to write freely and yet one wants to help them to learn to write better letters. We have tried to get over the difficulty by allowing them to write any letters they wish and to seal them without any supervision at all. This makes sure they can write any grumbles or worries without any fear of censorship, but for the weekly letters we tell the boys quite frankly that their letters are read and in fact they are told whether their letters are improving or not. I am glad to say that generally speaking over the years they do steadily improve but I doubt whether this would be the case if we just left the week-end letter writing to chance and their own inclinations.

The subject was discussed from time to time at School Meetings and the present system was evolved many years ago and seems to stand the test of time.

They all agreed that they wanted to write a decent letter home and they didn't grudge the time for it provided other boys were not finishing early and rushing out to play football or something of that kind. Consequently an hour and a quarter were fixed when boys would not be able to do anything but write letters. If they chose to idle that was an affair mainly between themselves and their parents but they could not leave the room or read a book or anything of that kind.

Then came the problem of "Please, sir, I can't think of anything else to say," and an aggrieved look which seemed to say "What is the sense of keeping me in here for another half hour when I have nothing to write about?" This difficulty was solved (and a great advance in letter writing achieved) by agreeing that except for the 12 best letter writers, each group of boys should spend the first quarter of an hour thinking of points to write about. Any boy who thinks of a point puts his hand up and another boy, or a master, writes it up on the blackboard, and there they remain throughout the hour of letter writing so that no boy has any excuse for finishing before the time is up." - HDB


For me [Derrick Gillingham] (and I suspect for many) letter writing was an unnecessary chore and a complete waste of my valuable time, and I remember that on one occasion my entire letter to my parents comprised a vulgar jungle jingle which began with Sabina, who was lying 'without any clothes' ('Jane' failed to scan), and ended with a detail of Tarzan's anatomy that rhymed, terminally, with: 'along came Tarzan like a brick'. Naturally this did not pass the resident censor's scrutiny and I was upbraided, severely, by HDB, and made to write another and more satisfactory letter, at great length, and presumably during what would otherwise have been my leisure time, sitting alone in the refectory (adjacent to the dining hall). I don't exactly remember but I expect it was an hour and a quarter of scripted detention. It would be interesting to hear any other recollections of letter writing at Huyton Hill.


An exchange on history by two former pupils

By Derrick Gillingham (1957-1962): "A few years ago I stood in front of Hawkshead Church, on a beautiful summer's day, gazing out across the village towards the eastern fells. I had no idea that Major Butler was buried nearby, otherwise I would certainly have paid my respects to him. History was, and is (along with literature), my subject, and the Major was my mentor. On the other hand I do recall Brigadier Osmaston awarding me a single mark in mathematics: 'for charity' (quote). I remember too, at an early history lesson (in one of the boathouse classrooms), being fascinated by the list of illustrious dates the Major had so decisively chalked up on the blackboard, and by the idea that all of these dates could be stored in a single small noddle and put to good use in the prestigious history date competition, which had captured my imagination. I determined at that very moment to commit the dates of England's and Britain's monarchs to memory, and likewise for as many battles and events as I could cram into my head. Thereafter I prospered in the history date competition and remember all of the royal dates and many others to this day." 


"The topic of history dates introduces one of my most vivid memories of HH. A senior boy had me hoisted against the wall down in the basement, not far from the foot of the stairs. Coming down those same stairs one of the Major's brown shoes (brogues?) suddenly stepped into view and I knew immediately that salvation was afoot (sorry!) There was in the Major's descent, as in everything he said and did, something supremely purposeful, but he remained unseen and unheard by my assailant, whose back was to the stairs... Until, that is, in fearful proximity, and in a tone of terrifying authority, the Major thundered: "Get your hands off my history date machine" (the quote is verbatim). It is a wonderful thing (as I'm sure Douglas Hickman would agree) to see the wind taken out of a bully's sails. The expression of gloating superiority gave way instantly to sheepish acquiescence, and, on command, a precipitous absence, without so much as a parting bleat. I don't recall the identity of the woolly party. That is one of my sweetest memories of the school because the Major, of whom I was most fond, if also in half fearful awe, referred to me as: 'his history date machine'. The loss of Gerald Butler was a personal one for me, as it evidently was for many old boys, but his rugged grandeur endures, like a mountain, in the mind."


David Porter (1963-1968): "It was wonderful to read your post. How strange about the History dates. It was the same for me. As one boy left, one arrived so GVB had a ‘date prodigy’ till he passed away.

I was already getting to the top of the comp (History dates competition - Ed) by Set 3, and won it with 100 in Set 4. I continued to win, but interestinly I faltered after GVB passed. I remember so many hours spent with him discussing history, and finding out about arcane battles that could be added to our list. He would approve of my library and my reading list… is crammed with history books. So, on he lives in my heart and mind everyday of my life, my mentor looking over my shoulder, nodding with approval."


Derrick Gillingham (1957-1962): "It pleases me too to learn that the Major managed to produce a line of history date machines. But how could it have been otherwise? I suppose we old boys are all bound, historical accomplishments or not, by a common affinity with GVB. That is something timeless that cannot be nailed by analysis or fixed by any number of dates. Nevertheless, David, like you, I do revel in all of that temporal detail. I suppose that that is the part of our lives which we share most closely with our old friend and mentor.

But do you happen to know his views on the Great Catastrophe of 1066? I have literally hundreds of books on the Norman usurpation and cannot but feel that the Major set me off on that particular historical track. Wouldn't it/Doesn't it please him to know that we are having this exchange now?"


David Porter (1963-1968): "Thanks for your reply. After corresponding this morning I had to drive off to get supplies. On the journey I recited all the kings and queens and their dates from William I onwards, and was pleased to know that they all still reside in my grey matter. Had to think about Edward IV, and fleetingly had to decide whether to include Maud and Lady Jane Grey. The former got her ‘colours’ because she was crowned, but Jane missed out as just another Perkin Warbeck.

I don’t remember his feelings about the Normans, but perhaps he was being gallant with me since my surname is of ‘suspicious’ origin.

You will surely remember making the dioramas of Trafalgar and Waterloo. Ah, the thrill of knowing Blücher would make his last-minute appearance to save the English from becoming a nation of garlic-munchers!

But at least us wee school boys wouldn’t have had to do all those sums using Pounds, Shillings and Pence. Quite a chore for a maths dunce like myself, as the Brigadier would have attested."

 "I think I can sum up the Major thus. He had an uncanny ability to discover a talent, any talent in a young boy, nurture it,  and then make that boy feel special as a result."


Derrick Gillingham (1957-1962): "Your summing up of the Major's role in the lives of us boys, however, is perfect and indisputable, and could not have been better expressed."


Major Butler, tank commander, featured in new article, see the link below:

(Thanks to Matthew Johnson and John West for sending the info on this)