The RCB staff golf outing & a poignant story from the Second World War
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Traditionally since its creation in 1871, the General Synod of the Church of Ireland has been held in the month of May, marking the focal point of the Church’s administrative calendar. May is also the month for another traditional event, perhaps less auspicious, but eagerly awaited for by the hard–working staff of the Representative Church Body (the Church’s civil service): their annual golf outing.
Since 1926, members of staff have enjoyed a day out of the office to socialize with colleagues at Delgany Golf Club. Fondly referred to in–house as “Delgany Day” (to which each individual makes a monthly contribution from their salary) it is normally timed at Accession tide in and around the time of General Synod as a just reward for the additional hours incurred in preparation for the Church’s general AGM.
The day was the brainchild of George Booker Butler, Secretary (later Chief Officer and Secretary) of the RCB from 1935 to his retirement on the 1 August 1949. Butler had come up through the ranks of the RCB, first employed as a junior clerk from 1903; then becoming chief accountant, before his promotion as secretary in 1935. He had observed that there was not so much opportunity for staff at management and lower levels to engage with one another, and so, as he put it in an effort ‘to break down the walls which separated us’, and ‘in a spirit of sportsmanship’, initiated the annual golf outing to Delgany. Delgany Golf Club was founded in 1908, and as a result of research on the membership lists kindly carried out by former President, John Berkery, we now know that G.B. Butler became a member of the club on the 3 May 1919, explaining the personal connections with it being the chosen venue to host the ‘AARBEE Golf Society’ as it soon became known. Butler and other serious golfers, then as today, played singles in the morning – for the AARBEE Cup from 1927 onwards, while following the lunch break the real fun began when golfing members of staff were paired up with non–golfers for the four–ball competition. The pairings and handicapping system applied depended on the strengths and weaknesses of each pair, on the prevailing weather conditions, and often led to a vast number of golf shots played, but it generally it proved a fun day out for all.
By all accounts, Butler’s aspirations to bring people together and build his team were fulfilled. Writing in 1947, to mark the 21st anniversary of the outing, he reflected positively on what the outing had achieved:
‘I am due to retire in less than 18 months. The best piece of advice I could give to my successor on the welfare of the office is: “Do everything in your power to foster and keep alive the AARBEE Golfing Society”.’
But there was also a poignant and deeply personal reason why Butler wished the annual event to continue for future generations. In June 1941, less than a month after the 15th golf outing had taken place, Butler’s younger son Leslie had been killed in action as a result of an air crash during the Second World War.
In their early married life, George and his wife Annie (née Hamilton) lived in Cherryfield Avenue, off Sandford Road in Ranelagh, Dublin. There they had two sons: Arthur Hamilton and Leslie Booker – both of whom were baptized in Sandford parish church. Arthur was born in 1912, and following an education at the High School Dublin and Friar’s School Wales, entered Trinity College to pursue theological training for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1935, serving initially as curate in Monkstown Dublin (1935–37) and Minor Canon of St Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin (1937–38), before transferring to London where he soon signed up as a temporary chaplain to the forces (1939–45), also serving as a senior military chaplain (1939–45) for which he was awarded the MBE (Mil.) at the end of the War. He returned to Ireland as rector of Monkstown in Dublin from 1945–58, when he was elected as bishop of the diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, 1958–69, and finally as bishop of Connor, from 1969 until his retirement in 1981.
Leslie, his younger brother, was born on the 15 May 1916, and baptized a month later in Sandford Church on the 14 June 1916. After his schooling was completed, he followed his father into the service of the Representative Church Body, entering Church House as a junior clerk on the 14 March 1934 – a month before his 18th birthday. He was a keen sportsman, considered by colleagues to be game for the fun of the day, and on his third attempt, he won the ARRBEE Cup in 1937. Three years later life would take a more serious turn, when he made the decision to sign up for service in the Royal Air Force on the 12 August 1940 following the outbreak of the War. Initially he served as a wireless operator, then as an air gunner and also progressed to the rank of sergeant.
Back in Dublin, the following year, on 22 May 1941, the 15th annual staff golf outing took place, but according staff memoranda, had to be ‘held in restricted fashion’ – owing to the petrol shortage, which involved many of the participants cycling all the way down to Delgany. Leslie’s father, George, who won the ARRBEE Cup that year, had arrived to the first tee ‘in cycle spats with clips’! On the eve of the outing from the RAF base in Killafrana (now Kalafrana), Malta, Leslie sent the following goodwill message to all his colleagues back in Dublin, which has been preserved amongst staff memorabilia:
‘Should I not be with you in person I am certainly with you in spirit and I trust that 1942 will see me in your midst once again. May you have a glorious day with plenty of sunshine – and things!! Good luck and all the best for 1941.’
The staff reciprocated by sending a ‘GOOD LUCK LESLIE goes out from all of us this day’, wishing him ‘God’s speed’.
Sadly, however, expectations that Butler could rejoin his colleagues by 1942 were not to be fulfilled. In early June 1941, his family had learned that he was reported missing in action. At a select vestry meeting held on 23 June 1941 at St Phillip’s parish church Milltown (the sister church of Sandford where the Butlers had worshipped since moving from Cherryfield Avenue to Cowper Road in Milltown during the 1930s) where George was a vestry member, he sent his apologies for absence. The minutes of this meeting record that:
‘The Select Vestry learned with regret that one of their number, Mr L.B. Butler, Sergeant, Royal Air Force, had been reported missing while on active service’.
A few days later the family’s worst fears were confirmed when it was learned that Leslie Booker Butler had been killed on active service from Killafrana on the 16 June 1941 – within three weeks of sending his goodwill message to colleagues at the RCB and just a month after his 25th birthday – within the wider context of fierce fighting and counter–offensive in the air war over the Mediterranean.
A simple death notice published in The Irish Times recorded the family’s tragic loss – the result of ‘an aircraft crash’.
Butler’s body was later recovered: a metal plate fixed to the wall at the entrance of Kalkara Naval Cemetery in Malta records that he was one of 1,500 servicemen from the Second World War to be buried there – see http://website.lineone.net/~stephaniebidmead/kalkara.htm.
No memorial service appears to have taken place as no mention of such a service is recorded in the preacher’s books of either St Philip’s Milltown or Sandford churches (available in the RCB Library collections). However the family later presented a case and contents of embroidered liturgical colours (used on the communion table, pulpit and reading desk in accordance with the changing liturgical calendar) ‘to the parish church of St Philip Milltown in proud and happy memory’ of their fallen son which has been in the vestry room of that church since.
Liturgical colours cabinet with commemorative plaque in the vestry room of the church of St Philip, Milltown, presented in memory of Leslie Butler.
We are grateful to Ruth Potterton, parishioner, for these images.
The staff of the RCB also chose to remember their lost colleague, and the following year in 1942, the Leslie Butler Trophy was presented ‘in proud and happy memory…by his colleagues on the staff of the Representative Church Body for annual competition’. The trophy is poignantly also inscribed with the key dates of Leslie’s life, and, as well as the names of all the winning golfers of the trophy in the seventy years since its presentation.
For further archival information please contact:
Dr Susan Hood