Herbert James Button was born and raised in Chelmsford, served in the army before the war, and became a policeman. He was recalled to his regiment at the start of the war, crossed to France and was killed near Ypres in November 1914. His mother lived in Rainsford Road.
Percy was born in Chelmsford on 13th January 1890, the eldest son of James Daniel Button and Sarah Jane Button. He was christened at St Mary’s Church, Chelmsford on the 10th January 1891. At that time his father was described as a car-man of 3 Marriage’s Square, Chelmsford. Herbert’s father had been born c1859 at Hawkwell; his mother c1858 in Broomfield. The couple married in 1888.
Herbert was joined by a younger brother, George Button, who was born in Chelmsford in 1893.
The 1891 census found four month-old at 14 Marriage’s Square, off New Street, Chelmsford, living with his parents. His father was employed as a brewer’s drayman. Five years later James was dead, having been found dead on a wagon near Maldon.
BUTTON, HERBERT JAMES,
Private, 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards
The same day’s EssexWeekly News contained the following report:
“P.c. Button, who was a constable in the Essex Constabulary, stationed at Dovercourt, and who left to rejoin the Grenadier Guards at the outbreak of the war, has been killed in action; also P.c. Gundry, of the G.E.R. Police. who was stationed at Parkeston Quay, and was in the same company of Grenadiers as Button.”
News of his colleague’s death inspired an officer to compose some poetry as a farewell to his friend, who left behind his widowed mother at 74 Rainsford Road, Chelmsford. It was published in the Essex County Chronicle of 15th January 1915:
At the time of the 1901 census Herbert, aged ten, was living with his widowed mother (a charwoman) and younger brother at 22 Rainsford Road, Chelmsford. A decade later the 1911 census found Herbert’s mother and brother at 74 Rainsford Road (later renumbered - a cottage which, along with two others, stood in the ‘wedge’ between Rainsford Road and Primrose Hill). His brother was a printer’s labourer.
Herbert served in the Grenadier Guards and then joined the Essex County Constabulary from the army on 7th January 1913. He was stationed as Police Constable 522 at Dovercourt. With the outbreak of war he was recalled to the army and joined at Warley on 5th August 1914. He entered France on 12th September 1914.
The Essex County Chronicle of 16th October 1914 reported, under the headline ‘Harwich policeman in the trenches’ (see below-left), that Percy had written to his inspector, describing his experiences at the front.
The same newspaper of 6th November 1914 carried another report under the headline “Chelmsford man in the trenches’ (see below-left).
But by then Herbert had been dead for five days - killed in action on 1st November 1914 near Ypres while serving as Private 14584 in the 2nd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards.
The battalion became part of the 7th Division which was ordered to aid the westward evacuation of the Belgium army. With that task completed the division entrenched in front of Ypres where it halted the advancing German army.
Herbert’s death was reported in the Essex County Chronicle on 11th December 1914:
Herbert has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium (Panel 9 and 11), on the Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford, on the memorial at Essex Police Headquarters, and by the Chelmsford Parish Great War Memorial in Chelmsford Cathedral. Herbert was entitled to the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal.
Herbert’s mother died in the summer of 1916, aged 60. His brother George was listed in the 1918 register of electors at 74 Rainsford Road - he died in 1939.