New York: John Lane Company, 1918. First Edition. Hardcover. This unusual and elusive book is about a U.S. volunteer from California, Harry Butters, who volunteered and lost his life in the British Army during the first world war more than half a year before the U.S. formally entered the war in 1917. This first edition is notable for inclusion of a striking September 10, 1916 tribute letter about Butters by Winston Churchill, originally published in the Observer.
This particular copy is one of only two of which we are aware that retain the original dust jacket, The jacket is of particular note for referring on the front face to the Appreciation by “Colonel the Honourable | WINSTON CHURCHILL, M.P.”, although significant loss to this copy leaves only part of the printed reference to Churchill intact. The jacket is illustrated and printed red and black on ivory paper. The virtue of this example lies in its rarity, not its condition; the jacket is very rough, soiled and with a 3.5 x 5 inch triangular loss at the lower front face, losses to a maximum depth of .75 inch at the upper spine and upper left front face, and splits and chipping at the flap folds. Despite the front face loss, we can still see that Churchill's letter was deemed significant enough to be advertised on the dust jacket's front face. We have fitted the jacket with a clear, removable, archival quality protector.
The book itself approaches very good minus condition. The blue cloth binding remains square and tight with bright gilt and little wear, though it does show some faint irregularities to the color. Differential toning to the endpapers corresponds to the dust jacket flaps and confirms that this copy has spent life jacketed. We find no previous ownership marks. Spotting appears confined to the endsheets and page edges. A small moisture stain affects the lower right corner of the final ten pages.
Butters joined the British army in early 1915 and was killed on August 31, 1916 at the age of twenty-four as a Second Lieutenant of Royal Field Artillery. Churchill's letter is titled in the book as "Colonel Winston Churchill's Letter." Butters' service at the front had coincided with Churchill's, and they had met "quite by chance in his observation post near Ploegsteert".
Churchill began the First World War as the powerful First Lord of the Admiralty, but was scapegoated for the Dardanelles disaster and forced out of the Government in May 1915. By November 1915, Churchill was serving at the Front, spending part of his political exile as a lieutenant colonel leading a battalion in the trenches, where he would serve until his May 1916 return to London.
Churchill's tribute to Butters was of course a political comment to the as-yet neutral United States about "not merely national causes but international causes of the highest importance" that "must now be decided by arms." Nonetheless, the letter is also a poignant comment on this particular life and loss. Churchill speaks specifically of Butters' choice to return to the front after injury and of being charmed by Butters' "extraordinary fund of wit and gaiety" when the two met at the front. "I venture to put these few lines on paper not because his sacrifice and story differ from those of so many others in these hard days, but because, coming of his own free will, with no national call or obligation, a stranger from across the ocean, to fight and die in our ranks, he had it in his power to pay a tribute to our cause of exceptional value." This is of course a sophisticated letter with a broader purpose, but nonetheless also a deeply personal and sentimental paean, perhaps echoing the risk that Churchill himself had taken with his own service on the front, as well as foreshadowing the moral appeal Churchill would make as Prime Minister to a neutral United States a quarter of a century later during the Second World War
Reference: Cohen B18.1. Item #003276