Dick was born in Whangarei, Northland, New Zealand, on 29th November 1929. When Dick was born, his father, Cuthbert “Peter” Butler, was 32 years of age and his mother, Mary Butler (née Somner), 31.
In his Birth Certificate, he is named Richard, but he never used the name, preferring to be known as Dick – and always was.
He was the eldest of three sons born to Peter and Mary. The two younger boys were – Norman John “Norm” (20 August 1933) and Peter (11 July 1940).
According to the 1925 and 1928 Electoral Rolls, the family lived somewhere on Kamo Road, Whangarei, but according to Dick’s Birth Certificate, they were living in Mill Road at the time.
They later moved to Jessie Street, Whangarei, New Zealand, which his parents bought from his maternal grandmother, Maria Somner in 1932. Maria had purchased the property three years earlier. The called the property “Wharepuke” which, before you ask, is Maori for “house on the hill”. The property which would then have been described as a farmlet shared a boundary with Mackesy Bush Reserve and was overlooked by Mount Parahaka, an old bush-clad volcanic cone that is a Whangarei landmark. Whether she moved there when she bought it or later when Dick’s parents moved, we do not know, but she certainly lived with them until at least 1935 and perhaps up to the time of her death in 1937.
At a little over two acres, there was certainly room enough for Dick and me to roam free as well as for it to be run as a small poultry farm from which we sold eggs under the Wharepuke name. If it was required or not at that time, the eggs were individually rubber-stamped with an oval-shaped “Wharepuke” brand mark. It is likely that we also sold dressed poultry but, whether we did or not, one of my mother’s specialties, roast chicken with thyme and onion stuffing, appeared on our dinner plates on most Sundays.
As was the custom of the day, separate from the house was the gable-roofed “motor shed”, as it was then called, to house our black box-like Austin Seven. Back then in New Zealand anyway, the term garage was used only for the place where you took your motor vehicle for service or repair. As was not unusual Da did his own “grease and oil changes” and used the trench-like pit in the floor of the garage to do so. When not in use, the pit was covered with what I remember as very oil-stained planks, that my brother and I were warned never to go near – but we did, of course.
Dick also had his first car, a rather handsome pedal car – on which I was allowed a ride from time to time.
Apart from roaming free, we also played “Cowboys and Indians” as boys did at the time and for which hand-made bows and arrows were essential.
Both Dick and I attended St Joseph’s Convent while we were still living at Jessie Street, but I have no knowledge of how we got to school. There certainly would not have been any school buses and, as it was too far to walk, I presume our father drove us there in the Austin.
It would have been about this time that Dick received his First Communion, an important event in the religious life of every Catholic child. Its importance was often recognised with a medal or a certificate or both, This is a copy of Dick’s Certificate dated 4 October 1936:
At three, I would have been too young to remember the event – and, shamed as I am to admit it, I cannot remember mine.
Nor have I any memory of the Fancy Dress Party reported below, but if it was in the paper it must be right!
The photo that follows is of all the school pupils in 1939 and was published in the “Northern Advocate” on 6 July 1993 announcing the planning of a forthcoming reunion :
In January 1940, Dick was one of the fortunate 600 Northland children who were able, courtesy the Northern Advocate’s “Kupe Club NZ Centennial Exhibition Trip”, to make a week-long visit to Wellington to view the Exhibition. That the Trip was well organised is clearly evident from this excerpt from the “Sailing Instructions” published in the “Northern Advocate” on 9th January 1940:
And, as the following clipping from the “Northern Advocate” of 2 April 1940, the trip was worthy of a report as far away as Britain:
Another item from the “Northern Advocate” reports on Dick’s prize-winning scholastic achievements at St Joseph’s Convent in 1940:
In July 1941, we moved closer to the centre of Whangarei, where my father built an office to accommodate his growing accounting and secretarial business. I daresay that it was no coincidence that this just happened to be conveniently next to our new home – and within walking distance of the primary school, Dick and his brothers attended.
There was great excitement in Whangarei in 1941 when it became the base for a remarkable salvage story – to recover gold from the “Niagara” sunk by German mines. Although I cannot be sure how we managed it, but both Dick and I somehow managed to get down to the wharf where the salvage ship “Claymore” was moored and watch as she was being prepared for the operation. The salvage itself is quite famous and well-worth reading about. But, we were there!
In 1942 Dick got his first bike. He didn’t keep it long, however, as having ridden down to the Whangarei wharf he somehow or other rode it over the edge of the wharf and broke his arm seriously enough to require a plate and pinning!! The event was reported in the “Northern Advocate” of 27th April as follows:
Our parents acknowledged the un-named Rating’s assistance in this notice in the Personal column of the “Northern Advocate” on the same day:
I had always understood that he had hit an RNZN Patrol Boat on his way into the water but, given that it was wartime, “a small vessel” might have been a more secure description! Anyway, this is what the Patrol Boat looked like.
That the fracture was serious enough to need pinning was doubtless because of an earlier break that I found out about recently from my discovery of this report in the “Northern Advocate” of 19th March 1941.
My bedroom at our Bank Street home faced the street and Dick’s was between mine and my parents whose bedroom was at the rear of the house. When grounded for whatever reason, Dick found my bedroom window a convenient, silent and secure exit and entrance when he was out “on-the-tiles” – or whatever!
All three of us completed our secondary education at St Patrick’s College in Silverstream. Thanks to the Archives there, we have copies of the school magazine, “The Blue & White” for the years we were there. Some of these make quite interesting reading, including this intriguing entry about Dick, from 1946:
“April 25th–Anzac Day. Uniforms: Solemn Requiem Mass at 9 am. Father Ward was the preacher. At the end of Mass, the Last Post was sounded by Brian Hasler. Football practice in the afternoon. Dick Butler has many enthusiastic helpers in his new hobby.”???
The only other evidence I have of Dick’s attendance at St Pat’s and of his academic record there is this copy of his School Certificate awarded on completion of three years study and the associated examination:
After leaving St Pat’s, Dick started with the “Northern Advocate” as a cadet reporter and continued to live at home. This photo of him is likely to have been taken in the early 1950s – and certainly before 1953:
Dick moved with the family when they bought the Kamo property in 1947. Always interested in sport, it was while he lived in Kamo that he was able to further that interest, playing both Rugby Union Football (of course) and Table Tennis with local Kamo clubs. He was also a member of the Kamo Athletics Club where he competed mainly in longer distance events. And, according to this report, did so successfully, at least once:
It was during this time that he also joined the St John’s Ambulance Service as a volunteer and got to drive the rather “posh” Austin Princess Vanden Plas Ambulance. I got to get a ride in it too, once, when Dick and his fellow “Ambo” were in Auckland having brought a patient down from Whangarei.
Sometime in 1950 Dick bought a semi-derelict 1934 6 cylinder Vauxhall car and rebuilt it. He later drove it to Wellington and, after a few days catching up with friends there, picked me up at Silverstream for the return trip home. I’m not sure what the route was or how long the trip took but, as one of the photos below will testify, we certainly drove over the Rimutaka Ranges, which not being the usual route north must have been to prove his “rebuild” would make it. We must have stayed with friends of his on the way home but apart from a vague recollection of a stop near Hamilton – and a party there – my memory banks are empty.
This a much better photo of the results of his handiwork, found recently by Judy:
Dick was still living at home in Kamo at this time and, I think, continued to do so until he went overseas – of which more, later.
There had been some thought that part of the Kamo property could be cultivated to grow vegetables and, to this end, this Trusty Tractor was bought.
I don’t think the market garden idea ever came to fruition, but I do have clear memories of Dick ploughing and harrowing “the top paddock” with the trusty “Trusty”!
In 1953 Dick took some time off or was granted leave of absence from the “Advocate” to travel overseas and left on the “Rangitane” from Wellington on 3 November.
On the Passenger List of the “Rangitane” on which he sailed to England, he entered 7 Duart Avenue, Prestwick, Scotland, (where lived his Uncle Richard Jago Butler) as his proposed address in the United Kingdom. As a sad aside, Richard J. died of a heart attack less than twelve months later.
I had assumed that he and Gwen Forsyth, a nurse from Whangarei, who he was later to marry, travelled together to England. Gwen, however, did not arrive until August 1955, travelling on the “Rangitiki” also from Wellington.
Dick and Gwen’s engagement in England was announced in the “Northern Advocate” as follows:
While away he wrote frequently to his parents and younger brother Peter. I was privileged to be able to compile the hundred or so aerograms, letters, postcards and the like and these have been published in PDF format under the title of “Dick’s Travel Journals – 1953 to 1957”. They are available via email or Dropbox on request.
A significant event at the Centennial Highland Games in 1953 was the opening of a “House of Memories” – now known as the Waipu Museum – and where is found the following family item originally left to my mother by her great-grandfather, Francis Somner, and passed on to the Museum by Dick.
And what is a stack ventilator, you ask? Well, not having seen or heard of such a thing, I deduced from its name that it was a device for cutting holes in a haystack to cool it down and prevent spontaneous combustion. And, what’s more, I found a photo to prove it.
How wrong was I? What Francis had invented was a little more complex than just a simple hole cutter. In fact, on the 7th April 1852, he registered the design of his “Stack or Rick Ventilator” with the UK Designs Office.
And, courtesy, the UK National Archives, this is a copy of that registered design:
On his return in 1957, he rejoined the Advocate and this photo of him at work was probably taken about then:
Dick married Gwenyth “Gwen” Julia Forsyth at Whakapara, Northland on 18th January 1958.
I do not recall there being a wedding breakfast as such but there was no shortage of “eats” on trestle tables on one side of the Hall. My recollection is of the friendliest gathering of family, friends and neighbours imaginable with little if anything in the way of formalities. In fact, the only clear recollection I have is of Dick and Gwen leading the dancing with Bridal Waltz, whereupon they were joined by couples of men and women, women and women and children of all ages. It was a truly happy occasion.
During his 17 years with the “Advocate”, he honed his journalistic skills both in Whangarei and, for a time, as the rural correspondent for the Kaipara district. Here, commissioned by the Maungaturoto Centennial Association, he wrote This Valley In The Hills, to celebrate the centennial of Maungaturoto. Although long out of print, it is still available through libraries both in New Zealand and Australia.
In 1966 he joined the NZ Government’s Tourist & Publicity Department as a Media Liaison Officer initially in Auckland. Here he and Gwen bought a house in Mount Albert at 7 Stewart Road, to be exact. It was here that their youngest, Paul, was born, the older children, Maurice (1958), Kerry (1959), Kathryn (1961) and Judy (1963) being born in Maunaturoro.
A promotion within the Tourist & Publicity Department required a transfer to Wellington to which the family moved in 1978. Here, after a short stay in a motel in Johnsonville, they bought in Tawa at 6 McLellan Street, where they lived until his retirement.
One of his personal responsibilities was to provide media liaison for distinguished visitors, including the British Royals who visited many times during his 23 years’ service.
During the 1983 tour by Charles, Diana and Prince William, he was to become the centre of media attention himself because he introduced a truck with tiered platforms to transport photographers speedily from place to place. It was dubbed, appropriately enough, the Dickmobile.
He was one of a select band of people who received an honour from the Queen at her personal request. For his services to the family, she made him a Member of the Victoria Order in 1974 and promoted him within the order in 1981.
During the Royal visit of Charles, Diana and William in 1983 Dick rated a mention in Hansard, as you’ll read here:
I have yet to find the Dominion article quoted, but I’ll keep looking.
Dick retired in late 1989 and he and Gwen returned to Whangarei to live, building a unit at 2a Princes Street, Whangarei. They had bought a property in Cable Bay, in the far North, much earlier than this and there had been some thought of making this their final retirement nest but while they visited and holidayed there frequently, the move never eventuated.
In mid-December 1997 we had a letter from Dick to let us know that Gwen had been diagnosed with bowel cancer earlier in the year. Despite surgery, it had spread to her liver and was inoperable.
Having been told that she was not expected to live until Christmas the planned family Christmas gathering was brought forward. As a result, their children, Kerry, Paul and Kathy flew in from overseas to join Maurice and Judy for a mid-November family Christmas celebration, the first time they had all been together since 1981. Gwen passed away on Christmas Day.
Regrettably but not unexpectedly, Dick did not survive her long, dying of a heart attack on 20th April 1998. I flew over for the funeral and was touched to be asked to deliver a funeral reading, namely, “Death is Nothing”, by Henry Scott-Holland.
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you,
and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just round the corner.
This I did even if a deal more nervously than I had hoped, though if anybody noticed they were too kind to mention it.
Both Gwen’s and Dick’s ashes were originally placed under a pohutukawa tree they had planted on the Cable Bay section. When the section was unexpectedly sold, the ashes were recovered and scattered near the Capitaine Bougainville Monument at Whananaki where, as Judy, wrote ” they still look out over the ocean”, as they had at Doubtless Bay.
This an early photo of Dick, probably taken in 1932 or 1933:
Norm, Peter, Dick probably in the late 1940s or early 1950s
“The Evening Post”, 7 May 1998, Edition 3, Page 5.
By: Ewan Audrey
Respected media minder for kings, queens and jokers.
Richard (Dick) Butler, State media liaison officer: B Whangarei, November 11, 1929; ed St Patrick’s College, Silverstream; m 1958 Gwen Forsyth 3s 2d; d Whangarei, April 20, 1998.
Keeping an eye on the media when they’re chasing Royalty is not a job for the faint-hearted.
Dick Butler was not faint of heart, and he knew how to keep bolshie press photographers in line.
During the 1983 tour by Charles, Diana and Prince William, he was to become the centre of media attention himself because he introduced a truck with tiered platforms to transport photographers speedily from place to place.
It was dubbed the Dickmobile, which he took in good humour.
Butler was on chatting terms with several Royal families, prime ministers and presidents.
His favourites were the British Royals who visited many times during the 23 years he was involved with media liaison for distinguished visitors.
He was to have a little difference of opinion with Princess Anne over the number of times he helped with her tours. He thought it was four; she thought it was five. They sat down and worked it out, and she was right. He hadn’t included a half-hour stopover when she was on her way home from visiting Kiribati.
Prince Edward tried a prank on him once, and it worked well. He put his arm in a sling as he returned to Timaru from Mt Peel Station, and said it was worth it just to see the horrified look on Butler’s face. She made him a member of the Victoria Order in 1974 and promoted him within the order in 1981.
During his varied career, Butler worked as an ambulance driver and as a journalist on the Northern Advocate and for the Tourist and Publicity Department’s information and publicity services where he relieved as a ministerial press secretary on several occasions. He was chief information officer for Civil Defence for three years.
He wrote This Valley In The Hills, to celebrate the centennial of Maungaturoto and was particularly interested in historical research on Maori settlements in Northland.
When Butler retired in 1989 he returned to Northland where he alternated between his home in Whangarei and a holiday place at Cable Bay. In earlier days he worked with Jaycees, scouts and guides and participated in many sports. He was a rugby referee for 15 years.
Recent tragic events took a toll on him. His wife died on Christmas Day and a grandson was then killed when hit by a train on his way to school. He died suddenly as he was packing his bag for a trip to Cable Bay.
“The Northern Advocate”, Whangarei. NZ.
Journalist whom prince chauffeured dies.
A former Northern Advocate reporter who was once chauffeured by royalty has died suddenly.
Dick Butler, 68, of Whangarei, began his working career in 1947 at the Advocate. He became a media liaison officer involved with the Internal Affairs Special Visitors Branch from 1984 to 1989.
He died at his Whangarei home on April 20.
Mr Butler’s latter career involved frequent contact with the British royal family.
He was involved as media liaison officer with four royal visits, although he once recounted in a national magazine a conversation with Princess Anne in which she maintained it was five.
In the end I said, hang on, let’s look at this. And it appeared she’d counted a half hour stopover on her way back from Kiribati’s independence celebrations as a visit? Mr Butler was reported as saying.
A keen fisherman and sportsman, Mr Butler is survived by his children Kathryn Butler, Judy Ward, Maurice, Kerry, and Paul Butler. Mr Butler’s wife, Gwen, died last year.
Mrs Ward said her father who retired in 1989, used to recall various anecdotes from his career.
One incident in particular in the late 1960s stood out – an occasion when royalty decided to chauffeur Mr Butler instead of vice-versa.
Mrs Ward said the royal in question was Prince Edward, who was teaching at Wanganui Collegiate at the time. The prince decided it was time he drove Mr Butler about. On alighting from the car’s driver seat, Prince Edward duly opened Mr Butler’s door and fetched his luggage.
Mr Butler used to recall the prince as being? really down-to-earth? Mrs Ward said.
Mr Butler’s royal contact was the culmination of a career which included stints overseas and time as a senior press officer for government departments in the northern North Island.
For his services to royalty, Mr Butler was vested a member of the Royal Victorian Order of the Queen in 1974 and a lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order following a 1981 royal visit.
He will be remembered for the “Dickmobile”- a mobile platform he devised to allow photographers to get about without annoying crowds. – By Audrey Ewan
Other published material about Dick
New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, 15 Jan 1990
Other published material written by Dick
“This Valley in the Hills”
|Title||This Valley in the Hills: The Story of Maungaturoto, Brynderwyn, Bickerstaffe, Batley, Marohemo, Whakapirau|
|Compiled by||Dick Butler|
|Publisher||Maungaturoto Centennial Association, 1963|
The introduction to this book describes it as “our tribute to the memory of our forefathers. to the early settlers of the district, who came not knowing what the future would hold, with prospects and markets uncertain, but armed with courage, determination and the will to win through.” To mark the centennial of the advent of those early settlers this fine history was produced and tells the story of the people who laid the foundations of the township of Maungaturoto and the surrounding localities of Brenderwyn, Bickerstaffe, Batley, Marohemo and Whakapirau.
Compiled by Dick Butler for the District Centennial Association it provides a comprehensive account of the many stages in the development of the district, beginning with a chapter on the pre-European Maori tribes of the area, first encounters with the European Missionaries from the 1820s, followed by permanent settlers from the 1860s. The story continues by covering all important aspects of development including the troubles that occurred between Maori and the colonials, land purchases in the district, the Kauri timber days, the gradual development of the area becoming an important dairy farming centre, local government and civic organisations, education, transport and communications and the community and sporting groups that paralleled the achievement of commercial, industrial and economic progress. To a large extent the evolution from pioneering to established community was similar to that in other parts of NZ, but throughout this record there are indications that “this valley in the hills” was always a close-knit, caring and progressive society.
The book is available in several libraries including the NZ National Library and has the following link to Rootsweb at Ancestry: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nzwlsfhs/valley.html
Reports written for the “Nothern Advocate”
These are copies of two articles written by Dick while he was based in Maungaturoto – “Kaipara Oyster Farm” published on 21 May 1964 and the “Ruawai Dairy Company’s Diamond Jubilee” on 11 August of the same year:
- 29 Nov 1929 - Birth - ; Whangarei, New Zealand
- 20 Apr 1998 - Death - ; Whangarei, New Zealand
|PARENT (M) Cuthbert "Peter" Butler|
|Birth||24 Mar 1897||Croydon, Surrey, England|
|Death||25 Jan 1972||Public Hospital, Whangarei, New Zealand|
|Marriage||19 Apr 1927||to Mary Somner at St Francis Xavier''s Church, Whangarei, New Zealand|
|Father||Richard Jago Butler|
|Mother||Elizabeth Ann Greetham|
|PARENT (F) Mary Somner|
|Birth||28 Oct 1898||Waipu, New Zealand|
|Death||13 Aug 1989||Kamo Home, Kamo, New Zealand|
|Marriage||19 Apr 1927||to Cuthbert "Peter" Butler at St Francis Xavier''s Church, Whangarei, New Zealand|
|M||Norman John "Norm" Butler|
|Marriage||to Carol Anne Wendy Scott|
|Marriage||to Patricia Anne Barnes|
|M||Richard "Dick" Butler|
|Birth||29 Nov 1929||Whangarei, New Zealand|
|Death||20 Apr 1998||Whangarei, New Zealand|
|Marriage||18 Jan 1958||to Gwenyth Julia Forsyth|
|Marriage||to Sue Fendley|
|PARENT (M) Richard "Dick" Butler|
|Birth||29 Nov 1929||Whangarei, New Zealand|
|Death||20 Apr 1998||Whangarei, New Zealand|
|Marriage||18 Jan 1958||to Gwenyth Julia Forsyth|
|Father||Cuthbert "Peter" Butler|
|PARENT (F) Gwenyth Julia Forsyth|
|Birth||15 Apr 1931||Whangarei, New Zealand|
|Death||25 Dec 1997||Whangarei, New Zealand|
|Marriage||18 Jan 1958||to Richard "Dick" Butler|
|Father||Robert Samuel Forsyth|
|Marriage||to Susan Leslie Purchase|
|Marriage||to Carola Koster|
|F||Kathryn Joan Butler|
|Marriage||to Ian Dobson|
|Marriage||to Stephen Greg Udell|
|F||Judith Mary Butler|
|Marriage||to Martin Ward|
|[S5]||Private Family Reseach|
Sources and citations