Canada, Clan Carruthers

Clan Carruthers: John Clement ‘Cap’ Carruthers, 54th Brigade CEF

iu-7From our beginnings in Annandale, Dumfriesshire, southwest Scotland, our family have spread far and wide, and in many cases have and still are making a difference to communities around the world.

We are continually on the look out for stories of our family and we are glad that this was brought to our attention by one of our Canadian members.  We therefore thank them for that. In times of crisis it is always good to celebrate the strength of character of others, especially if its one of our own.

Having read this fascinating piece to the end, we felt it appropriate to reproduce it on full, with credit to the author and place of publication. The Reiver spirit lives on in our name, wherever we hail. Scottish ancestry is a thing to be proud of, not to be ignored and for that reason we share this with you. 

The piece was written by Greg Scott from Nelson BC, it was published by the admin of the page ‘The 54th Canadian (Kootenay) Infantry Battalion 1915-1919’ and reproduced with their kind permission. Further research was carried out for the Society by Gary Carruthers of Australia

Who were the 54th (Kootenay) CEF Brigade

The first photograph shows the entire battalion (1111 men and 36 officers) and includes the brass band and the battalion mascot “Koots“, a black bear cub who can be seen just above the word “C.E.F.”.

440px-New_Names_Canadian_WW1_recruiting_posterThe 54th Canadian Infantry Battalion was one of over 260 battalions raised to fight with the Allies in the First World War. The term Kootenay came from the indigenous tribe that had lived in the area and this the region itself. The 54th Battalion was authorized on the 7th November 1914, and embarked for Britain on 22 November 1915. From there it was moved across the English Channel and disembarked in France on 14 August 1916. It fought bravely as part of the 11th Infantry Brigade, 4th Canadian Division under the command of Major General David Watson. It served in both the Western Front in France and Flanders (Belgium). The 4th Canadian Division was a part of the Canadian Corps in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, (part of the Battle of Arras), which attacked and defeated the Germans, driving them from the ridge. This forced the German 6th Amy to retreat to the Oppy–Méricourt line in the Pas de Calais


As a result, the Canadians became known as masters of offensive warfare and were recognised as an elite fighting force. This was attributed to their technical and tactical innovation, meticulous planning, powerful artillery support and extensive military training. 

The battalion was disbanded on 30 August 1920 but while active, it was commanded by:
  • Lt-Col A.G.H. Kemball, CB, DSO 22 November 1915 – 1 March 1917
  • Lt.-Col. V.V. Harvey, DSO, 2 March 1917 – 24 August 1917
  • Lt.-Col. A.B. Carey, CMG, DSO, 24 August 1917-Demobilization
To reflect their bravery and activity in and during the war, the 54th Battalion was awarded the following battle honours: SOMME, 1916, Ancre Heights, Ancre, 1916, ARRAS, 1917, ’18, Vimy, 1917,  HILL 70, Ypres 1917, Passchendaele, AMIENS, Scarpe, 1918, Drocourt-Quéant, HINDENBURG LINE, Canal du Nord, VALENCIENNES, SAMBRE, FRANCE AND FLANDERS, 1916-18. This is the story of one of those lads, one of our own, who signed on to ‘do their bit’.
John Clement ‘Cap’ Carruthers: Military Information Name: CARRUTHERS, JOHN CLEMENT Rank: QMS (Quarter Master Sergeant) Regimental Number: 443515 Date of Birth:1871-02-19 Group: Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) Below are copies of Caps, attestation papers.

An attestation paper is an agreement to be in the army and to be loyal to it. It is an agreement to serve and to be attached to any arm of the service for a certain amount of time.

The Excellent Background Research of Mr Greg Scott (Historian) 

For sixty-five years this was the story of John Clement Carruthers’ grave in the Soldier’s section of the Nelson Cemetery. While the position and number of the grave was recorded, no headstone graced the barren spot.  This fact was discovered by local historian Greg Scott, while he was researching “A Cathedral Whispers “, a guidebook to the stained glass windows of St. Saviour’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral. Among the sixteen memorial stained glass windows in the Church is one “In Loving Memory of John Clement (Cap) Carruthers 1862 – 1948”. Furthermore, Carruthers is also commemorated on the James Balding plaque next to the Church’s Columbarium. It is interesting that to be so remembered with both a window and a plaque, there would be no headstone.

Cap-Carruthers-no-stoneOP-1.jpgScott took it upon himself to investigate whether the Commonwealth War Graves Commission or any other veterans organization could rectify this oversight, as he holds the opinion that veterans should be remembered with a marker whether they died in action or not. From this project, and with the support of, among others, Perry Hale from Nelson’s Branch 51, Royal Canadian Legion, Floyd Low of the 54th Battalion website and Ean Gower of St. Saviour’s Church, a successful application was made to the Federal Government’s Last Post Fund. This culminated last October 29th when City of Nelson workers erected the monument over Carruthers’ grave. The Last Post Fund, among other things, administers the Unmarked Grave Program which is meant to provide military markers for unmarked Veterans graves. The Fund also reimbursed the City of Nelson its costs for erecting the gravestone.

The ‘Captain”.

Born in Portsmouth, England, John “Cap” Carruthers came to the Kootenays in 1897, living in Rossland prior to moving to Nelson. Making Nelson his headquarters, he was engaged in traveling for several mercantile firms throughout southern British Columbia. During the First World War, Cap enlisted in the locally raised 54th Kootenay Battalion. The Nelson Daily News noted when the popular Carruthers enlisted in 1915, that he “set an example to the eligible young men of Nelson who have not yet taken to the colours”.

54th collar badge

At the time ‘Captain’ Carruthers, the title having been taken from his seafaring not a military past. He was an advanced 44 years old just under the military age of acceptance, perhaps considered too old for military service. However, he felt just as young as he did when he was doing pioneer work in Oregon thirty years before and to quote him, “I am in pretty good shape now, a trifle over weight, perhaps, but by the time the boys go under canvas I will be as fit as the best of them”.  A number of dinners, “smokers” and other events were held in Nelson prior to the departure of the 54th Battalion in June of 1915 including a “Patriotic Demonstration”, which took place in front of the Nelson Court House. During this demonstration, which was attended by not only many local citizens but upwards of 200 members of the 54th, Carruthers gave a rousing speech that confirmed his love of the Empire and the justness of the cause. In his speech, he stated that the path to duty leads to the recruiting office. He went on to admonish middle aged men for not enlisting while, at the same time, they urged younger men to prove their worth by enlisting. This was capped it off with a wish for conscription, which was not to occur in Canada for another two blood soaked years.

Carruthers-final.jpgFrom Nelson, the Battalion was sent for training at Camp Vernon where Carruthers soon found himself promoted to corporal in the Battalion’s quartermaster section. In this regard, his background as a manufacturers agent augmented by his maritime training would serve him well, as a quartermaster is responsible for regimental supply and stores. In a reminisce, fellow quartermaster, H.H. Gill remembers Cap as a “Good old scout” in arranging for Cap and himself to “go find some bottles for a few of the boys” while they were in transit in Montreal. Cap promptly disappeared leaving Gill to fend for himself but “fixed it up” when Gill nearly missed the embarkation boat. By the time the Battalion left for England on the “Saxonia” in November 1915, Cap had been promoted to Quartermaster Sergeant and would eventually attain the rank of Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant while in France. He is said to have turned down an officer’s commission in order to stay with “his boys”, as a commission would have meant a return to base camp in England and eventual redeployment to another battalion.

The Battalion arrived in France in August 1916 and was in action by the following October. However, Cap was soon before a medical board and in June 1917, he was returned to England as “being physically unfit for further service”. Sent home to Canada, he was officially discharged in February 1918 with the rank of Warrant Officer 2 and, it is noted, a new pair of glasses.

At this time his true age had finally caught up with him, which no doubt was a major cause of the physical condition that led to his discharge. You see, Cap was fifty-five years old! He had lied about his birth date when he joined to get under the forty-five year maximum age limit, claiming he was born in 1871 not 1862.

While his job should not have put him directly in the trenches, he would have been close enough to have been considered in combat. Imagine being in the infamous front-line conditions of the First World War at an age of fifty-five!!

After the War

By 1920 he was again gainfully employed in his old profession, this time as a travelling representative of Turner & Beeton, the pioneer Victoria dry goods store, and he remained in the mercantile business until advancing age forced his retirement. Incidentally in 1938, he was invited back to Rossland by the Sisters of St. Joseph to attend the dedication of a building expansion of the Mater Misericordia Hospital. Cap had been their first patient at the opening of the hospital in June 1897.


Upon his death in 1948 at age eighty-six, a large funeral was held at St. Saviour’s with his flag draped casket borne through the Church by members of the Canadian Legion. The service of burial was conducted by Rev. Thomas Leadbeater, who at ninety-seven years of age is still with us living in Nelson’s Mountain Lakes Seniors Community. He was assisted by Major Turner Lee of the 54th Battalion who read the lesson. A Legion graveside service followed at the Nelson Cemetery, after which poppies were deposited on the casket. This past November 11th, during the annual decorating of the Soldier’s graves, it was the Legion’s privilege to again place poppies on John “Cap” Carruthers’ grave, this time on his headstone.  Lest We Forget!

Scottish Ancestry (CCSI Genealogy Research by Gary Carruthers)

Clan carruthers crest and Tartan AM in crestWe know for definite that ‘Cap; was born in Portsmouth, England of Scottish Parents. This would fit closely with the movement of Carruthers from their home in the Southwest of Scotland around this time, and for quite a few years beforehand.  

What our genealogists have found: 

John Clement Carruthers was born 1862 at Portsmouth, Hampshire, England and died 18 June 1948 at Nelson, Kootenay, British Columbia.

1871 Census for Residents of 7 Militia Stores, Northampton: Parents: John Carruthers, aged 44, born in Scotland, he was a Staff Sgt Militia Retired and his wife Maria Carruthers nee Walters, aged 30, was born in Ireland. Children:   John (Clements) aged 9, born in Portsmouth, UK; Helena aged, aged 7, born in Devonport, UK; Thomas aged 5, born in Ireland. Brother in law:  George Walters aged 39, Brewers labourer, born Ireland
John Clement Carruthers & Family 1871 Census
1871 Northampton Census

On 26 Dec 1879, John Clement Carruthers went to Scotland, land of his father’s birth, to became bound to George Smith & Sons in Glasgow as an Indentured Apprentice (Merchant Marine) and completed the 4 years in 1883. On 9 Jan 1885, two years later, he qualified for his 2nd Mates Certificate in the Merchant Shipping, in Glasgow at the age of 23.

In 1898 he is listed in the City Directory for Nelson, British Columbia, where on the 25 May 1915 he enlisted in the Canadian Military for WWI giving in part, the following information: 

*His profession – Agent & Commercial Traveller *His Next of Kin – Maria (his mother) living at 1577 Great Western Rd, Anniesland,   Glasgow. *His Dob – is falsely listed in Canadian military records as 19 Jul 1871

(The ‘Doc’ lied about his age in order to fit the recruitment age of below 45).

John Clement Carruthers - Canada WWI
Original Attestation Papers (first page with notes of clarificaton)
It would appear that John Clements Carruthers’ father John, had died before 1915.
What a wonderful story of honour and willingness to ‘do the right thing’ for his country and friends especially at this time of international crises and fear. He obviously became an inspiration to all who knew him in his Battalion, and continued to remain that way in his civilian life until his sad passing in 1948, in Nelson, Canada.  Another Carruthers, never to be forgotten. 

Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote grey


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