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Eltham Roll of Honour: Flying Off. David Rutter, 9 Dec 1941, Bir El Gubbi, Libya

RUTTER, David, Flying Off., 833 (400833)
(KIA 9 Dec 1941, Bir El Gubbi, Libya)
Flying Off. David Rutter, 1942 (Page 2002, p162)

David Rutter was born 2 August 1915 in Armadale, second son of Hubert and Beulah Alice (Simpson) Rutter after Hubert Jnr. (Joe), followed by June in 1917 and Donald in 1922. 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.

The childhood home, ‘Yarra Braes’ was destroyed in the devasting Black Friday bushfire, 13 January 1939 and Beulah relocated to Toorak, Hubert working in Western Australia. 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.

A mining engineer by profession, having graduated from the University of Melbourne at a ceremony held at Wilson Hall on December 21, 1937, David was working with the Zinc Corporation, part of the Broken Hill Pty Ltd in Broken Hill when he resigned to join the R.A.A.F.. At the time, David was Secretary and a popular member of the Broken Hill Aero Club. He had previously been a member of the Officer Training Corps at Geelong Grammar for three years whilst at school. He also had an Advanced “A” license with 45 hours solo flying experience in de Havilland DH-60 and DH-82 aircraft.

David was officially enlisted as an Air Cadet in the R.A.A.F., March 4, 1940, at Parafield, South Australia and assigned to No. 1 Elementary Flying Training School at Parafield following which, he was posted to No. 1 Flying Training School 29 July 1940 at Point Cook, Victoria and No. 1 Air Observer’s School 18 November 1940 in Cootamundra, New South Wales. His training involved flying Avro Anson and CAC Wirraway aircraft, he being most proficient in the latter.

On 25 November 1940 David was posted to general duties at 22 Squadron at Richmond, New South Wales. His next of kin was listed as his mother, Mrs Hubert Rutter of Toorak. Following training, David was promoted to Pilot Officer on 24 September 1940 and to Flying Officer on 24 September 1941.

David embarked for overseas service on 1 November 1941, assigned to 3 Squadron at Aboukir in the Middle East. At the time of his embarkation, David wrote a letter of thanks for the generous embarkation kits provided by the Australian Comforts Fund, which was countersigned by T. Threlkeld, H. Graham, H.H. Schlaeffer, Donald King and I. Furniss. He wrote: –

“We felt we must write to thank you personally for the parcel of comforts provided for each of us on departure overseas. Actually our scale of issue in the Air Force is very generous, but the collection of articles so carefully selected fills in the gaps which would otherwise remain. More than this is the sense of the close bond your work represents — the personal effort and sacrifice of the folk at home for those of us privileged to fight for our country and the things we love. This is just to assure you that your efforts are greatly appreciated.”

By December 4 David was on flying duties in a Curtiss P40 Tomahawk in the Second Libyan Campaign. That same day, the squadron was the first in the Desert Air Force to commence being equipped with the new Curtiss P40E Kittyhawk 1A; whilst not much faster than the Tomahawk, it packed a greater punch. Five days later, according to 3 Squadron Association website, December 9, at 10:35, nine 3 Squadron Tomahawks, with ten from 112 Squadron RAF, whilst sweeping the Tobruk-El Gobi area, were bounced out of the sun approximately 14 miles north of Bir El Gubi, in the general vicinity of south El Adem by six Messerschmitt Bf-109s of I/JG27. Dave Rutter in Curtiss Tomahawk IIB AK378, Rex Wilson (AN457), and Tiny Cameron (AK499) were shot down by Oberleutnant Gerhard Homuth, Unteroffizier Grimm and Oberleutnant Hugo Schneider respectively. Both David and Wilson were killed. An account of the incident as told by Royal Artillery Officer, Captain D.A. Temple to David’s father is recorded in Geelong Grammarians at World War Two (Affleck 2002): –

“My battery was moving forward as part of a brigade group to outflank the enemy near Bir el Gubbi, well south in the desert, and to force him to retire from Tobruk. He was very sensitive to this action and reacted violently in the air. We had casualties and lost vehicles as a result. About midday we were attacked by eighteen Messerschmitts who were having things very much their own way until a smaller number of our planes (about ten arrived – Kittyhawks, I think. They immediately dived in to attack and a tremendous aerial battle ensued only about 200 feet immediately above us. Thanks to this, we suffered no further casualties. Directly above, I saw one of our planes on the tail of a German one and fired hard into it, causing it to crash in flames about four miles away, but we saw also another German plane open fire on ours. The plane – your son’s – was hit, and became out of control. It was so low, we could see the pilot trying to gain control and make some sort of landing. You must remember that I those early days planes were few and valuable and anything that could be landed could be reconditioned. In a few seconds it was obvious that the plane must crash and that it was too low for a parachute jump with safety. However the pilot did jump, but from only about 100 feet, and the parachute did not open.”

The Royal Artillery members buried David where he fell, about 14 miles north of Bir el Gubbi. Captain Temple read the burial service from the Field Service Pocket Book. A driver fabricated a cross from some wooden boxes in the vehicles. The coordinates of his grave recorded as accurately as possible for retrieval later.
David was the German Ace Homuth’s 30th victim. Though initially reported missing in air operations, his record was later revised to killed in action and his body recovered. According to the Wikinorthia article “The Rutter Family of Eltham”, David is buried in the El Alamein War Cemetery, Marsa Matruh, Egypt but there is no evidence from CWGC to corroborate this.

David is commemorated on Column 245, Alamein Memorial, Egypt.

RUTTER, F/O. DAVID, 400833. R.A.A.F.
9th December 1941. Age 26.
Son of Hubert and Beulah Rutter, of Armadale, Victoria, Australia.
B.M.Eng. (Melbourne)

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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

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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.