Arthur Rutter was the youngest of my great-grandfather William Rutter’s children, born when he was over 60 in 1889. I think as the youngest son he must have been a special favourite of his mother Lucy; his father too no doubt, but he died in 1904 aged 76. He was still alive when this picture was taken. Arthur must have been ten or eleven at the time. He was a young man of 22 when the First World War broke out. He was working in the family business as a baker in Stradbroke, Suffolk, and was engaged to be married to Dollie Thirkettle, whose sister Margaret married his brother Hedley. Hedley, also a baker, lived until 1982.
This picture of Arthur was taken when he was only a boy. In this he is wearing a sailor suit. He joined the Cambridgeshire Regiment in 1916 and by 1917 he was in France, a private in the Essex Regiment. He had just been made a Lewis gunner. These letters to his mother were the last ones he sent. The Germans had decided to abandon the Somme front in February 1917 and they began Operation Alberich, the scorched earth withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. The British forces who had been fighting the Battle of the Somme from the summer to the autumn 1916 with huge losses, were left to follow them under heavy shellfire.
Same Address, Feb 6th ’17
Thankx very much for parcel; razor, soap, socks etc which I received today. It was good of you to send so promptly, the socks are handy this cold weather, as I wear two pairs to keep my feet from frost-bite. Am glad to say I am still alright and quite well. Only the frosty weather makes me as hungry as a hunter. I suppose its being out in it all day & night, in fact you have to eat a lot to keep body warm. Could do with a beef patty now. I think nothing of eating half a loaf of bread at a time, when I can get it. It’s a Franc a loaf here. I hope you are well and going on alright. I have seen a lot of R. G. and chaps but can’t get on the track of Lennie. F. J. must be very near me according to Dollie’s letter but haven’t seen him yet. Let me know how “B.” got on next time you write, With much love and many thanks from Arthur
P.S. The Oxo cubes are very nice + convenient to use. Enjoy them very much. Thankx for sending.
It was cold February weather and with the U–boat threat it was getting increasingly difficult to import certain foods such as tea and sugar. Lord Devonport, the government Food Controller, wanted to avoid rationing but was urging the nation to economise by eating such foods as streaky rather than lean bacon. Rationing was finally introduced for certain foods towards the end of 1917.
Feb 15th ’17 B.E.F. France
Just a few lines to let you know I am still alright & quite well. The weather shows no sign of breaking here. Very cold and frosty, with snow everywhere, & the ground hard as a rock. I expect you are having much the same kind of weather. I do not want any clothes, but I should like some eatables when you have time. Being out in the cold makes one very hungry. I see by the paper you are supposed to be on rations now; never mind, -as long as we are winning. Only we are concerned to know the businesses are to be carried on if this lasts through the summer, but we hardly think it can. Please tell Dollie I received the paper she sent alright. Am thankful to say have escaped injury so far, and hope to come through this alright,and get back home to help you once again. Roll on the day! No time for more, With much love from Arthur
P.S. I wonder if the mistletoe will grow on the apple tree?
P.P.S. Next time you write add the words “Lewis Gunner Section”, as I am a Lewis gunner now.
The next letter includes important news about Arthur’s future. He has been put forward as a potential officer. This would mean a month’s furlough back in England, a welcome break from France. It is a feature of the time that he was required to get a reference as to his “good moral character”.
B.E.F. France, Feb 19th
Just a few lines to let you know I am quite well and hoping you are the same. Now I have some news to tell you. I have been asked to put in for a commission, so have done so. I have been and seen my Captain and he has submitted my name etc. Today I had to go to the Orderly Room and fill up a form applying for one. I will have to see the Colonel and Brigadier General, and if I am lucky I may be in “Blighty” shortly on a month’s furlong. I had to give a name for reference as to my good moral character for the last four years so gave the Revd H. S. Marriott. When you see him you might ask to be so kind as to ask him as to do this for me. I haven’t much time to write to him myself as we are in reserve and may be in action any minute. I hope I have done the right thing. I think it is best to take the opportunity while it is offered! I will let you know how I get on.
With much love, Arthur
p.s. We have had no mail for two days.
During the following week he was sent to the front and had a terrible time. So far Arthur had avoided injury, although his chums were going down with trench foot and worse.
Same Address, Feb 24th 1917
At last I have got a chance to write & let you know we came out of the trenches today. That is some of us, some didn’t. We had it rather rough this time as our relief was four days late, and the thaw and heavy rain made the trenches knee-deep in mud & water. Nearly half our chaps are gone in hospital with “trench feet”. Could do with your parcel now. Haven’t had any mail up for four days now, worse luck. We lost some nice chaps this time am sorry to say. When we were going in we had to advance for over two miles over open ground, no cover whatever and no communication trench. The corporal of our platoon was in front of me, he got shot through the head, stone dead. I just stopped and had a look at him, & had to go on. Poor chaps, they laid there for four days, & some of them wounded. It seems a shame but some of the dead are never buried. They lay about all over the place. Some of them with gold rings on their fingers, & wrist watches. Some of the fellows go out and take off their valuables etc, but I can’t do that. It seems like sacriledge to rob the dead, although of course the things are no further use to them. Well I had some very near things & had chums drop on both sides of me but came through alright. We are in a nice big town now, about ten miles from the line. It was a treat to get a wash etc, & have a clean up. You wouldn’t have known me, I was so plastered up with mud. Well no time for more now, let Dollie read this as will write to her tomorrow, hope parcel will come up today.
With much love, Arthur
P.S. Will tell you more when I come home.
Dear Mrs Rutter,
I have just received your wire regarding your son A Rutter 41442. I am sorry to have to inform you that he was killed in action on the afternoon of March 14th by a shell. The same shell killed four men, and though aid came at once they were all dead when the stretcher bearers came up. He was buried that night, and you will be notified as to the location of his grave later on. I was very sorry to lose your son as he was a cheery man and well liked by his commander. As we are away from the telegraph this will reach you as soon as a wire.
Sincerely Yours. C.W. Ritson,
O.C.B. Coy, 13th Cresc
The information given in the letter of the commanding officer of B Company (above) is somewhat at odds with that at Thiepval Commonwealth War Grave memorial, where Arthur Rutter is recorded as one of 72,000 men who have no known grave. In the circumstances we must forgive his mistake.
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In October 2014 a group of children from Stradbroke High School visited France and left a Poppy and Cross at Thiepval as a memorial to Arthur Rutter.
THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIANS IN WW1