Seek out — less often sought than found — A soldiers grave
For 65 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 16 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.
Scott 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 29 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.
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 travelling 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”.
At the time Captain Carruthers, the title having been taken from his seafaring not a military past, was an advanced 44-years-old, perhaps considered too old for military service.
However, he felt just as young as he did when he was doing pioneer work in Oregon 30 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 off with a wish for conscription, which was not to occur in Canada for another two years.
From 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 55-years-old! He had lied about his birth date when he joined to get under the 45 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 55.
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 86, 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 97 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 11, 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.