By Ashley Dunk
Today in Library and Archives Canada’s blog series on Canadian Victoria Cross recipients, we remember Charles Smith Rutherford, who earned his Victoria Cross one hundred years ago today for his heroic actions on the battlefield.
Born on January 9, 1892, in Colborne, Ontario, Rutherford was a farmer before the war. On March 2, 1916, he enlisted in Toronto, Ontario, joining the 83rd Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a private. He arrived in France on June 10, 1916. Rutherford was a decorated soldier, earning the Military Medal on February 23, 1918, and the Military Cross on January 11, 1919. He was promoted to Lieutenant on April 28, 1918.
On August 26, 1918, while serving in the 5th Battle of the Scarpe, near Monchy, France, Rutherford was in command of an assault party. Finding himself noticeably ahead of his men, he observed an enemy party standing outside a pillbox. With his revolver, Rutherford beckoned them to come to him. Instead, they waved for him to approach. Through skillful bluffing, he convinced the enemy soldiers that they were surrounded. The party of 45 men, which included two officers and three machine guns, surrendered to him.
After capturing the party, he persuaded one of the enemy officers to stop a nearby machine gun from firing, which then allowed Rutherford’s men to advance to his position.
Beyond the pillbox, Rutherford saw that some of his assault party was held up by heavy machine-gun fire from another pillbox. With the support of the rest of his party, he attacked the pillbox with a Lewis gun section, successfully capturing an additional 35 prisoners and their machine guns. His leadership enabled his assault party to continue its advance.
As reported in the London Gazette two months later:
The bold and gallant action of this officer contributed very materially to the capture of the main objective and was a wonderful inspiration to all ranks in pressing home the attack on a very strong position.
London Gazette, No. 31012, November 12, 1918
On March 20, 1919, Rutherford was discharged through general demobilization.
He died in Ottawa, Ontario, on June 11, 1989, at the age of 97.
Library and Archives Canada holds the digitized service file of Lieutenant Charles Smith Rutherford.
Ashley Dunk is a project assistant in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division of the Public Services Branch at Library and Archives Canada.