Military History

The Highest Honour #40 | William Ruthven | John Ryan

By The Cove October 17, 2021


Lieutenant William (Rusty) Ruthven VC (1893 - 1970, 76yo)

William Ruthven was born on 21 May 1893 at Collingwood, Victoria.  At the completion of schooling he became a mechanical engineer. He enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force on 16 April 1915.

He departed Australia with reinforcements for the 22nd Battalion in August eventually landing at Gallipoli in October. In March 1916, the 22nd Battalion moved to France and on 17 April 1916 during his first tour of duty Ruthven was wounded. He rejoined the unit in August at the Somme where he was promoted to Lance Corporal. On 26 January 1917 he was confirmed in the rank of Sergeant.

On 19 May 1918 Ruthven took part in an attack near Ville-sur-Ancre. When his Company Commander was wounded, he assumed command but soon the advance was held up by heavy machine gun fire. Unhesitating, he ran at the machine gun post, bombed it, bayoneted one of the crew and captured the gun. Then, encountering enemy coming out of a shelter, he wounded two and captured six. Having reorganised his men and formed a post, he noticed further enemy movement in a nearby sunken road. Armed only with a revolver, he shot two men and captured thirty-two. He spent the rest of the day, under fire, supervising, consolidating and encouraging his men. For his actions he was awarded the VC.

On 11 June 1918 near Méricourt, Ruthven was wounded once again, and on 01 July 1918, was commissioned to Second Lieutenant. He returned to Australia in October 1918 with several other Victoria Cross winners to assist recruiting and received a hero's welcome in Melbourne. He was promoted to Lieutenant and on 11 December 1918 his AIF appointment came to an end.

During World War 2 Ruthven served with the 3rd Australian Garrison Battalion and other garrison units, including those centred at Murchison, Victoria's largest prisoner-of-war camp. In August 1944 he ceased full-time duty, as a Major.

Ruthven kept close links with other VC winners and the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia. He died on 12 January 1970 in Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital and was cremated with military honours.

Private Edward John Francis Ryan VC (1890 - 1941, 51yo)

John Ryan was born on 09 February 1890 at Tumut, New South Wales. At the completion of his education he worked as a labourer in his local area before joining the Australian Imperial Force on 01 December 1915.

Upon enlistment, Ryan was posted to the 2nd Reinforcements for the 55th Battalion. He departed from Sydney on 14 April 1916 eventually joining up with his unit at Fleurbaix, France, in September 1916. 

During the 55th Battalion's attack near Bellicourt in September 1918 Ryan, despite heavy fire, was one of the first to reach the enemy trench. A fierce counter-attack drove the Australians back to the Le Catelet line trenches where a bombing party at their rear placed them in a critical position. Ryan quickly organised and led a party to attack the Germans with bombs and bayonets. Reaching the position with only three men, Ryan and his party killed three Germans on the flank and then Ryan alone rushed the remainder with bombs and drove them back across no man's land. He fell wounded but his action saved a highly dangerous situation and enabled the trench to be retaken. For his actions, Ryan was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Ryan rejoined his battalion in December 1918 and on 22 May 1919 received his Victoria Cross from King George V at Buckingham Palace. He returned to Sydney on 24 October  1919 and was discharged from the AIF on 10 January 1920. The post-war years were not good for Ryan and many other returned serviceman who found it hard to adjust back to civilian life and retain a job. He died of pneumonia in the Royal Melbourne Hospital on 03 June 1941 and was buried with military honours in the Catholic section of Springvale cemetery where eight VC winners formed a guard of honour.


Portrait

Biography

The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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