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Thomas Rutherford (1887-1918)

Houghton joiner awarded Military Medal serving in Canadian Expeditionary Force

Thomas Rutherford was born in February 1887 in Houghton-le-Spring. The next census shows that, in 1891, his Scottish-born father, John Rutherford, was a jobbing gardener who had married Jane Johns in Tynemouth in 1876. By 1901 he was a caretaker for the Urban District Council, and four years later he had died, leaving Jane with six children. The 1911 census shows that all the family were still living with their mother in Edwin Street, Houghton-le-Spring and that Thomas, now aged 24, was working as a joiner in the building trade.

It is not known when Thomas arrived in Canada, but by 1915 he was living in Hamilton, Ontario, was working as a carpenter and had joined the local militia. He enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 27 July 1915, posted to the 76th Battalion with the regimental number 141116, and within four weeks had had been appointed quartermaster sergeant (QMS) at their base at Camp Niagara. The battalion sailed to England from Halifax, Nova Scotia, leaving Canada on 23 April 1916 on the SS Empress of Britain to be billeted on arrival in the camp at West Sandling, Kent. Here, Thomas became acting battalion QMS. Transferred to the 36th Battalion in July as a corporal, the following month he was playing football on the line when he fell on his wrist with the full weight of his body, breaking both bones in his forearm. In hospital at Shorncliffe, he was transferred to Ramsgate and not discharged until November when he spent time at Hastings at the Canadian Corps Depot. Returning to the 36th at West Sandling in January 1917, after a Medical Board had said that although there was some deformity to his wrist there was no disability, he became QMS with the 3rd Reserve Battalion until July, when he reverted to being sergeant at his own request. Four months later, again at his own request, he reverted to the rank of private so that he could go overseas with the 4th Battalion.

He joined the 4th as a reinforcement after their losses at Passchendaele, and after five months was appointed lance corporal to complete the establishment. In September 1918 he was again promoted, this time to lance sergeant. In the fighting at Cagnicourt on 3 September, where there were many casualties, Sergeant Rutherford was wounded in his back, but after treatment at No. 11 Field Ambulance returned to duty the same day. Within a month the battalion was preparing for battle at Cambrai and on 1 October 1918 they attacked Abancourt. The battalion war diary states “they fought forward with unsurpassed bravery under murderous machine gun and artillery fire”.

For his part in this attack Thomas Rutherford was awarded the Military Medal, however he was also killed. He is buried in Sancourt British Cemetery, south east of Douai.

Civil Parish: Houghton le Spring

Birth date: 01-Feb-1887

Death date: 01-Oct-1918

Armed force/civilian: Army

Residence: Church Street, Houghton-le-Spring (1891 census)
12 Newbottle Street, Houghton-le-Spring (1901 census)
25 Edwin Street, Houghton-le-Spring (1911 census)
Hamilton, Ontario (enlistment papers)

Religion: Church of England

Employment: Joiner (1911 census)

Family: John Rutherford, Jane Ann Rutherford nee Johns
Siblings: Annie Rutherford, John Rutherford, Edith Rutherford (died in infancy), Emily Rutherford, William Rutherford, George Rutherford

Military service:

Lance Sergeant
76th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force
36th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force
Canadian Corps Depot
4th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force

Medal(s): British War Medal, Victory Medal
Awards: Military Medal

Gender: Male

Contributed by Jean Longstaff, Durham

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