By: Deb Robert
Unflappable doesn’t begin to describe Lieutenant Charles Smith Rutherford’s capacity to remain calm in the face of danger. It was August 26th, 1918, in Monchy-le-Preux, France, when he found himself some distance from his men while leading an assault party. Unexpectedly coming across the enemy, Rutherford, armed only with a pistol, fooled a party of 45 German soldiers with three machine guns into thinking they were surrounded and took them all prisoner.
It was a masterful bluff and one he would brazenly repeat to capture a nearby pillbox, enabling his men to advance further. In total, 80 Germans were deceived by Rutherford’s wily determination.
It was a feat worthy of a Victoria Cross, handed to him by the King of England at Buckingham Palace no less. “Such a very brave man,” says Sid Giddings of Georgina Military Museum. “He had seen a lot of action and was wounded even before the incident that got him the Victoria Cross; how he convinced the Germans to come out, solo and armed with just a pistol, what deception.”
Wounded twice fighting battles in Belgium and France, Rutherford is regarded as one of Canada’s most prolific soldiers, holder of the Military Medal, Military Cross and Victoria Cross. With all that he endured, it’s extraordinary that Rutherford would live to be almost 100. Following the war, he established a dairy farm in 1921 near his birthplace of Colborne and married Helen Haig, with whom he had four children.
Rutherford had strong ties to Georgina. In the 1950s, he and his brother-in-law ran a general and dry goods store in Keswick. Rutherford was also a senior member of the Sutton Royal Canadian Legion.
The Georgina Military Museum has an entire display case dedicated to Rutherford, which includes write-ups of his amazing deeds, photos as a young soldier, and a Victoria Cross replica. “Visitors are quite wowed that we have a local Victoria Cross winner,” says Sid. “Very few people are aware of that. We always make a point of pushing that one home.” Rutherford was one of 73 Canadian soldiers to be awarded a Victoria Cross in WW1.
Rutherford died in 1989, at age 97, as the last WW1 Victoria Cross recipient.
It’s been over 100 years since Rutherford strode bravely across the battlefield with his fellow defenders of freedom. Georgina is lucky to have a special place to hold their tales of courage. Says Sid, “We are fortunate to have artifacts donated by our local veterans and the background stories that go with them.”