The beginning of the First World War went down in history as the shot that was heard around the world. Its echoes are still reaching people today, 100 years after the war began.
Phil Rutter always knew that he had a great-uncle — William Arthur Rutter, who served and died in France in the war — but not much else. Coldstream resident Rutter, born and raised in New Zealand, was already interested in history and had done some family research in England, where he met and married Lynn.
A surprise phone call earlier this year got Rutter searching for more details. Doug Goldthorpe of Bellingham, Wash., found a medal with William Arthur Rutter’s name on it in his late parents’ things and had no idea how it got there or how to get it back to the family where it belonged. He managed to find Rutter with the help of New Zealand Army records and tell him about it.
“I was amazed. There’s no explanation about how the medal got there but he thought we would like to have it,” said Rutter.
The record shows that William Arthur Rutter enlisted Oct. 19, 1915, at age 23, right off the farm. He joined the Second Battalion Auckland Regiment, did his training and embarked for Europe, landing in Alexandria, Egypt, March 13, 1916. He became a lance corporal and his regiment embarked for France April 8, 1916. He served during the spring offensive on the Somme where he was severely wounded in the chest and was admitted to the Third Canadian Stationary Hospital where he died March 30, 1918. He is buried at the Dullens Communal Cemetery near Amiens, France. William Authur Rutter was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, which were supposed to be sent to his parents in New Zealand.
“No one knows if the medals were sent or received. I even wondered if the family would have wanted them because it would have been a reminder of the loss of their son,” said Rutter.
It turned out that when he approached the New Zealand Army for the records that one of the staff members was a cousin of his that he didn’t know about who helped with the research. He also appreciated the help from Christine Clement, a genealogist and researcher in New Zealand.
Rutter’s grandson, William James Rutter, 10, was excited to hear about the medal and the distant relative he was named for.
“I have almost the same name and I’m going to get the medal for when he was in the war 100 years ago. I realize I came from somebody,” he said.
Goldthorpe and his wife visited Vernon at the end of July and have presented the British War medal to William James.
Phil Rutter hopes the other medal, the Victory War Medal, will turn up somehow.
He had known his grandfather, Herbert Rutter, who was the younger brother of William Arthur Rutter, survived the war and went back to New Zealand where he married the woman William Arthur had been engaged to when he enlisted.
“My grandfather told me a sad story that I always remembered when we were raising our family. After the trauma of the war, he went a little wild for awhile and his father said in exasperation, ‘The wrong son came home from the war.’ My grandfather said he always remembered that and felt unworthy after that. It made me think that we should be careful and as kind as possible about what we say to people, especially young people,” he said.
“Finding out about the medal and its background has been very meaningful to me. It gives me something to really focus on on November 11. I’ve always gone to services and taken my hat off but this makes it real, that William Arthur gave his life for his country. And I think about all the young men and the civilians who were lost in the war, the children they might have had, the contributions and achievements they might have made.”
Rutter and his wife are planning to do more family research in New Zealand and in France.