Eltham Roll of Honour: Flt. Lt. Donald Hemphill Rutter, 5 Apr 1945, Varrelbusch, Germany

RUTTER, Donald Hemphill, Flt. Lt., 410262
(KIA 5 Apr 1945, Varrelbusch, Germany)
Flt. Lt. Donald Rutter, 1943 (Page 2002, p163)

Donald Hemphill Rutter was born 5 January 1922 in Melbourne, the youngest child of Hubert and Beulah Alice (Simpson) Rutter, after Hubert Jnr. (Joe), David in 1915 and June in 1917. Their father was a notable figure in Eltham and beyond, with a career as a mining manager in Australia and Malaya. He served in the AIF in the First World War. While growing up at ‘Yarra Braes’, Eltham, their father was an Eltham Shire Councillor in the 1920s, shire president in 1928 and a leading figure in establishing the Shire of Eltham War Memorial League, which was responsible for building the Shire of Eltham War Memorial tower at Kangaroo Ground, near where the Shire Offices were located until the 1930s. The Rutter name was commemorated after the war at Eltham High School with one of the schoolhouses named ‘Rutter House’ and at Geelong Grammar School until the 1960s where a ‘Rutter Badge’ was awarded to junior boys for leadership.

When their childhood home, ‘Yarra Braes’ was destroyed in the devasting Black Friday bushfire, 13 January 1939, Hubert and Beulah relocated to Toorak. Tragedy struck the family again December 19, 1940 when daughter June was killed after falling from the Heidelberg train on to an adjacent track into the path of a Reservoir train at Victoria Park station.

Like his older brother David, Don was educated at Geelong Grammar School. Upon leaving school he entered Trinity College at the University of Melbourne to study Agricultural Science. While still at student, he enlisted at Melbourne as an Air Craftsman in the R.A.A.F., 5 December 1941, his father Hubert of Toorak listed as next of kin; just four days before his older brother David was killed. Three days later Pearl Harbour was attacked by the Japanese. With the loss of his sister a year earlier, the circumstances must have felt dire for the Rutter family.

Don was initially posted to No. 4 Initial Training School at Mount Breckan, Victor Harbor in South Australia then on 25 April 1942 to No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School at Parafield, South Australia. From there, on 10 August 1942, Donald was posted to No. 7 Service Flying Training School at Deniliquin, New South Wales where he undertook Intermediate and Advanced training. He was discharged from the R.A.A.F. at 7 SFTS on 16 December 1942 upon being awarded his Flying Badge and granted a commission as Pilot Officer effective 17 December 1942. His training involved flying CAC Wirraway, de Havilland DH-82 and Hawker Typhoon aircraft, he being most proficient in the latter.

Flt. Lt. Donald Hemphill Rutter, 410262 (AWM)

Don was then posted to No. 1 Embarkation Depot on 22 December for embarkation to the United Kingdom. He embarked from Melbourne on 15 January 1943 on attachment to the R.A.F. Upon disembarkation he was posted to 11 Personnel Despatch and Reception Depot (14 March 1943), 7 (P) Advanced Flying Unit (25 May 1943) where he undertook advanced flying training and on 17 June 1943, promoted to Flying Officer. His next posting was 55 Operational Training Unit (6 July 1943) where he was given operational training and then R.A.F. Station Lealing (5 October 1943) from where he was assigned to 247 ‘China-British’ Squadron (18 November 1943).

On 27 May 1944 Don was posted (sick), admitted to Military Hospital at 16 Personnel Transit Centre N/E with head injuries, his status recorded as being dangerously injured in a motor transport accident at RAF Hurn, Hampshire. According to Affleck (2002), he was severely injured when his head hit the branch of a tree whilst riding in a truck at night, at the tree fringed aerodrome. The base of his skull was fractured. He was admitted to 53 Mile Field hospital. On 31 May he was recovering consciousness and was transferred to St Hugh’s Military Hospital (Head Injuries), Oxford. His prognosis was expected to fully recover with no localised damage and back to flying duties in several months. On 17 June 1944 he was posted to 1 Personnel Holding Unit at Morecambe, the Midland Hotel, which had been requisitioned as an R.A.F. Hospital, until returning to 247 Squadron at R.A.F. Castletown, Caithness, Gloucester on 10 October 1944. On 17 December 1944 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant shortly before the squadron moved to Heldon, Holland, in January 1945.

On 31 March Don was listed “missing air operations from United Kingdom” for a short period but later reported as “safe” when he returned to his unit the next day. At about 18.00 hours, whilst flying Typhoon IB JP443 in a formation of aircraft on an armed reconnaissance of the Enschede area, the formation sighted a large amount of transport on the road between Holten and Lochem, and proceeded to attack it. The ‘flak’ was most intense and Don was last seen when he went down firing cannon into a target, his No. 2, W/O Brown going down on some of the ‘flak’ positions. Brown stated the ‘flak’ was so thick that he stayed at deck level to avoid it, and probably due to his limited visibility, saw no sign of Don’s aircraft leaving the target area or crashing into the ground. Nothing was heard over the radio transmission. Visibility was poor with cloud base at about 3,000 feet in patches. The aircraft had been badly hit by ‘flak’ causing engine failure, but he was able to land safely behind the Allied lines at Bocholt, Germany about 50km away.

On April 5, 1945, Don was again reported missing in air operations, target Stoppenburg, Essen, Germany. Though his Squadron Leader hoped he may have the same luck and turn up safe again, the situation looked grim, his status upgraded by Overseas Headquarters to ‘Presumed dead’. Don, flying Typhoon IB SW526 and five others had been strafing transports on the Alhorn Road between Oldenburg and Cloppenburg. The six aircraft in the attack left seventeen vehicles destroyed and twelve damaged, for the loss of Rutter’s plane (Affleck 2002).

Don’s Squadron Leader wrote to his father, Hubert, on April 7 describing the incident: –

“Your son was detailed to fly in a formation of Rocket Firing Typhoon proceeding on an Armed Reconnaissance of the Cloppenburg area. Arriving over the target, a large amount of enemy motor transport was seen, and on the formation leaders instructions, all aircraft dived to attack. I myself had been down to attack, and had warned all pilots over the wireless, about the danger of high tension wires which stretched across the road. Pulling up from the attack, Yellow Leader reported to me that Don was missing, and that he was going down to look for him. This he did but could see no sign, and so I ordered all the squadron to circle the area, in the hopes of seeing him on the ground – but there was no sign of his aircraft. In view of the foregoing, I think there is quite a good chance of his having made a safe landing, for we saw no fire on the ground, which would have probably been the case if he had flown into the high tension cables. His aircraft may have been hit by ‘flak’, and forced him down.”

His Squadron Leader further wrote: –

“Although your son had only been with us for five weeks since recovering from his accident at Hurn, I knew him in the old days of 247, and was all too pleased to have one of the old hands back with us, as his experience and reliability were a definite asset to the Squadron.”

Later that year after the war had ended, Hubert Rutter received several reports that his son had been seen alive, one being an Air Letter dated November 4, 1945 from 486013, L.A.C.W. Ross, C., his son’s fiancée, in which a friend of hers had met an Australian fighter pilot in London who had seen Don Rutter in Osnabruck, Germany (about 90km from Varrelbusch), around the beginning of October. This was later confirmed by the officer in question to be incorrect. Another letter in December from a girl in England who had read in the paper that Don Rutter, Vic. had flown one of the aircraft in Display over London on VE Day. The Air Force and Hubert both realised that these reports must be mistaken or misidentifications as there was simply no explanation as to why Don would not have contacted his family by that time if he were still alive. Such was the anguish of grieving parents, their son’s plane not found to confirm the fact for certain. Hubert wrote to the Air Force in frustration, failing to understand how the plane could disappear when it crashed in a relatively populated area.

In June 1947, the location of Don’s aircraft was confirmed, the site visited by Investigating Officer, F/Off. C.J. Drysdale accompanied by Herr Segers, farmer of Bether Moor, Varrelbusch. Herr Segers stated that on the 4/5 April 1945 about 0900 hours, a small single engine British aircraft crashed about 350 metres from his house. It caught fire just before it crashed and exploded on impact. He thought it had been brought down by flak from Varrelbusch airfield and that three other aircraft of the same type were in the vicinity. His son saw part of a body in a hole in the aircraft but by the time he visited the scene later, the swamp had enveloped it leaving a hole full of water. At the time F/Off. Drysdale inspected the scene, two years later, what remained was a large hole about 50 feet in diameter full of filthy swamp water with parts of an aircraft littered all around. He believed the pilot was still in the hole. Analysis of various aircraft parts confirmed it was Don’s Typhoon.

Recovery operations commenced on 28 February 1949 but due to bad weather and constant flooding, was called off the next day. Operations recommenced April 3 but abandoned again due to heavy rain and flooding. They were further recommenced on 11 April at which time the fuselage of the aircraft was located at a depth of ten feet, at least two feet of liquid mud still covering it. It was not until 19 April that the first remains were recovered. Operations continued a further two days at which point the fuselage lay exposed, embedded in sand, in an upright position but due to continual collapsing of the pit, the operation was ceased.

A letter in Don’s service file initially sent to his father at Armadale, Victoria, dated July 13, 1949 states: –

“The Missing, Research and Enquiry Service has located your son’s aircraft and recovered his body. The aircraft was found submerged in swampy country at Bether Moor, near Varrelbusch. Varrelbusch is about five miles north of Cloppenburg.”

“A farmer who saw the aircraft crash stated that it exploded on impact and there could be no doubt your son was killed instantaneously.”

“Examination of the wreckage after it had been extricated from the swamp corroborates the statement.”

“Your son has been laid to rest in Plot 10, Row B, Grave No. 3 in the Hanover-Limmer British Military Cemetery. The grave will be cared for in perpetuity by the Imperial War Graves Commission.”

The letter crossed paths with one from Hubert advising of his new address at Mount James, Meekathara in Western Australia, Don’s mother Beulah having died in 1946, and was resent August 16. Hubert was apparently concerned to know whether his son had died instantly or after the crash. A further letter on file dated 20 September 1949 reassured Hubert that there was no doubt his son was killed instantaneously from the explosion when his aircraft crashed. It elaborates that his aircraft was shot down in flames and exploded on impact indicating that F/Lt. Rutter was killed instantly. From the location of the crash, it was probable the aircraft had been hit by anti-aircraft fire from the Varrelbusch airfield.

An online forum discussing the loss of Typhoon JP443 on March 31st has confused this incident and Don’s fatal crash five days later, however it is mentioned that the aircraft was found submerged in a swamp near the former Varrelbusch air base. A comment as recent as July 2020 confirms the impact crater from the crash is still visible today.

Donald is buried in Hanover War Cemetery, Germany, Grave 10. B. 3.

5th April 1945. Age 23.
Son of Hubert and Beulah Alice Rutter, of Riverton, Western Australia.

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“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

  • Sgt. George Williams
  • Sgt. Reginald E. Sims
  • L/Cpl. George Moore
  • L/Cpl. Henry G. Philips
  • L/Cpl. John C. Bell
  • Pte. Geoffrey Grant
  • Pte. George Sommerville
  • Pte. George Brown
  • Pte. John Brown
  • Pte. William Bond
  • Pte. Thomas Cameron
  • Pte. Alfred Cassells
  • Pte. Robert Meadows
  • Pte. Walter Mosley
  • Pte. James Pryor
  • Pte. William Prior
  • Pte. Edward Barrett
  • Pte. William Crellin
  • Pte. Henry Norman
  • Pte. Edward Bird
  • Pte. Arthur Brown
  • Pte. Roslyn Stevens
  • Pte. Herbert Creed
  • Pte. Charles Bromfield
  • Pte. Kenneth Sharp
  • Pte. Henry McAlary
  • Capt. S.M. Gahan
  • Plt. Off. D. Rutter
  • Flt. Off. D.H. Rutter
  • Flt. Sgt. S.M. Mclean
  • Flt. Sgt. L. Ingram
  • Sgt. C.D. Dunlop
  • Cpl. T. Feldbauer
  • Cpl. A.C. Clerke
  • Spr. G.E. Castledine
  • Pte. J. Butherway
  • Pte. K.F. Field

Soldiers of the Shire of Eltham remembered on the Eltham Roll of Honour for their supreme sacrifice; located in the Eltham War Memorial Hall

#VictoriaRemembers   #VPDay75
The Eltham Roll of Honour: Second World War

Read the stories of all the men from the Shire of Eltham who sacrificed their lives in the Second World War and to whom the Eltham War Memorial is dedicated.

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