A REMARKABLE story of bravery and loyalty has emerged from a family whose grandfather was awarded the Victoria Cross in the First World War.
Private John Henry Rutter saved his captain’s life twice, once carrying him to safety after he had been shot in the head by snipers and then rescuing him from the battlefield after he was knocked out in a gas attack – despite his own wrist being shattered by shrapnel.
He then returned to rescue another officer and take him to safety before he was also overcome by the fumes.
Private Rutter, from Little Leigh, convalesced in the Royal Infirmary at Shrewsbury and never returned to war after the incident, which happened during a 21-day battle near Ypres in early April 1915.
A total of 420 men were killed in the battle, including all of the eight men in the trenches with Private Rutter.
His story is chronicled in a series of postcards and letters he sent from the front to his wife Frances and eldest son Wesley, who was just three at the time.
His bravery was unknown to later generations of the family until these letters were uncovered.
Grandson Malcolm, who lives in Barnton, said: “I was only 11 when he died but I remember him well enough.
“I never knew about this, he never told me or discussed it and my dad Wesley never told me either.
“It brings tears to your eyes when you get involved with the letters.”
Malcolm thinks that his grandfather passed his documents to his youngest son Victor, who was also a military man, serving in Burma for six years in the Second World War. Victor’s daughter found the collection after he died and pieced the story together.
“We think my granddad was probably the first in the area to get something like that,” Malcolm said.
“One or two people in Barnton will be surprised when this comes out.”
Private Rutter lived at Heath Cottage, in Little Leigh, and worked at Brunner Mond when war started.
He was one of 600 volunteers from the company that joined up to serve their country and he served in The King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.
Brunner Mond promised to give £100 to the first of their employees to come back with a distinguished medal.
This was achieved by Private Rutter when he was awarded his VC and he used the prize to buy a family home in Spencer Street, in Barnton, where he lived until he died, aged 64.
Letters from the frontline
THE POIGNANT series of letters and postcards home makes for thought-provoking reading.
Private Rutter’s upbeat tone throughout the horror of the trenches truly does bring tears to your eyes, and the vividness of his first person account takes you to the front line.
You can imagine how cherished each missive would have been to his wife Frances and how she must have pored over every word.
In his letter to tell her about the VC, Private Rutter writes: “My dear wife, have you seen my name in the papers? I expect I have got the VC for bravery.
“I won’t tell you what for for if I did it would break your heart.”
A report in The Chronicle while Private Rutter was in hospital in Shrewsbury describes him as a ‘quiet, unassuming fellow’.
It goes on to state: “The distinguished decoration has not given him even a temporary spell of ‘swelled head’.
“He speaks as one who is just conscious that he has merely done his duty and makes no fuss.”
It describes how he first saved his officer, Captain Woodhead, when he was shot in the head while observing on a railway barricade, carrying him 200 yards while under fire.
The second rescue was also described.
“Suddenly the Germans turned on fluid gas and Captain Woodgate and his party were more or less overcome by fumes,” it said. “‘My officer,’ said Rutter, ‘was rendered unconscious and I, rushing forward, seized his body, which was up to its waist in mud and water, and carried him a distance of 50 yards’.”
He then returned to rescue Lieutenant McCulloch.
His shattered wrist meant that he could not return to the front.
The report states: “He is still a long way off being ready for the firing line, but, like the brave fellow he is, has not altogether given up hope ‘of having,’ as he says, ‘another pop at the Germans’.”