William “Rusty” Ruthven, VC – awarded for actions on 20 May 1918

William “Rusty” Ruthven, VC (21 May 1893– 12 January 1970) was an Australian soldier and state Labor politician. For actions in the First World War he was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross.

Born in Collingwood, Victoria, William Ruthven was educated locally at the Vere Street State School. He became a mechanical engineer and was employed in the timber industry prior to his enlistment in April 1915. He stood only 168 centimetres (5 ft 6 in) tall, just above the minimum height requirement.

He was 24 years old, and a sergeant in the 22nd Battalion, (Victoria), 2nd Division, Australian Imperial Force during the First World War when at Ville-sur-Ancre on 19 May 1918, the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC. The citation reads:

For most conspicuous bravery and initiative in action. During the advance Sjt. Ruthven’s company suffered numerous casualties, and his company commander was severely wounded. He thereupon assumed command of this portion of the assault, took charge of the company headquarters, and rallied the section in his vicinity. As the leading wave approached its objective it was subjected to heavy fire from an enemy machine-gun at close range. Without hesitation he at once sprang out, threw a [Mills] bomb which landed beside the post, and rushed the position, bayoneting one of the crew and capturing the gun. He then encountered some of the enemy coming out of a shelter. He wounded two, captured six others in the same position, and handed them over to an escort from the leading wave, which had now reached the objective. Sjt. Ruthven then reorganised the men in his vicinity and established a post in the second objective. Observing enemy movement in a sunken road near by, he, without hesitation and armed only with a revolver, went over the open alone and rushed the position, shooting two enemy who refused to come out of their dug-outs. He then single-handed mopped up this post and captured the whole of the garrison, amounting in all to thirty-two, and kept them until assistance arrived to escort them back to our lines. During the remainder of the day this gallant non-commissioned officer set a splendid example of leadership, moving up and down his position under fire, supervising consolidation and encouraging his men. Throughout the whole operation he showed the most magnificent courage and determination, inspiring everyone by his fine fighting spirit, his remarkable courage, and his dashing action.

He was wounded in June 1918 and in July was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant. Later in the war he returned to Australia and was promoted to lieutenant and campaigned with other VC winners on a recruiting drive. He was demobilised in December 1918. In early 1919, his VC was stolen from his home, along with several other items. Police arrested the culprits and the medal was returned with a note apologising for the theft. Ruthven was the timekeeper for the Collingwood Football Club from 1939 until his death. His nephew Allan Ruthven played for Fitzroy.

During the Second World War, Ruthven served with the 3rd Australian Garrison Battalion and other garrison units, including those centred at Murchison, Victoria’s largest prisoner-of-war camp. He achieved the rank of major.

He was elected a councillor in the Melbourne municipality of Collingwood, and in 1945 was elected as mayor. He sat in the Victorian Legislative Assembly from 1945 until 1955 as the Australian Labor Party member for the electoral district of Preston, then following a redistribution, represented the electoral district of Reservoir until his retirement in 1961.