James Butler

Wartime memories of evacuation and life with the Irish Fusiliers.


In 1939 James lived with his family near London Bridge. During the war their home was destroyed by bombing and they moved into a newly built council house close to Millwall Football Ground, which had electricity and hot water. Although the house was nice, James compared the experience to that of ‘emigrating’.


As the bombing intensified James and his siblings were evacuated to Somerset. He describes the experience as ‘one of the most wonderful things that ever happened to me’. James felt like an ‘animal’ whilst he waited to be selected. Although he did not wish to be separated from his siblings one of his older sisters was billeted quickly. At midnight James still had not found a place to stay. Eventually he was billeted with a childless couple who he became very close to. The man of the house was the local station master and James has fond memories of time spent at Burnham on Sea railway station. One of his most vivid war time memories is of the August Bank Holiday, 1941, when James’ family made a surprise visit to Burnham on Sea. They could not afford to stay at the local hotel and were invited to sleep in the couple’s spare bedroom. Before they all went to the pub for a drink, James remembers seeing bottles of beer in his father’s suitcase, which he had brought with him as he did not know whether they sold beer in Somerset!  As an adult James and his wife revisited the couple who cared for him during the war many times. 

Service with the Irish Fusiliers

As the war progressed James and his siblings returned to London. The bombing continued and he recalls the rockets which fell during raids. He ‘had quite a few lucky escapes.’ James was called up and joined the Irish Fusiliers. He was sent to Northern Ireland with his cousin and neighbour. None of them had any experience of serving in the forces. The place which they were sent to had a reputation for being ‘the worst army place in the world – and it was’. Conditions were poor, with forty men stationed per hut and minimal washing facilities. Despite this James prefers to recall humerous times. Due to employment shortages men from the Republic of Ireland emigrated to Britain where they were subsequently called up. If they refused to serve they were sent back to Ireland, passing through the camp where James was stationed. If men were missing at roll call, he was sent to look for them. If he found escapees hiding in craters, he told them to stay quiet in order to avoid detection, enabling them to return home where they could not be forced back into service. However, James jokes that he usually had a ‘girl’ with him who would shout ‘there’s one!’

Although the climate was cold, James recalls his training in Northern Ireland, describing the view from the foot of the mountains, as ‘one of the most beautiful places in the world’.  

This page was added by Malin Lundin on 05/04/2012.