Engineer Lieutenant Commander George Robert Rutledge, R.N.R. was born in 1878 in Timaru, New Zealand, the son of retired police Sergeant Charles Rutledge and Annie Rutledge. He was educated at the Riverton District High School, Southland and in 1894 started his apprenticeship with Messrs. John Anderson & Son’s, Canterbury Foundry, Christchurch, which he completed in 1899. During the course of his apprenticeship he attended the School of Engineering, Canterbury College, as a student. Engineering was first taught at Canterbury College (as Canterbury University then was) in 1885, and a school of engineering was set up in 1887.
In 1903 George Robert left Anderson’s having been employed in superintending the erection of dredging plants in different parts of the colonies. Then, in 1904, he decided to go to England, where he joined the White Star Line, serving on such ships as the Ionic, Delphic and Cedric. He also became a member of the Liverpool Branch of the Marine Engineers Association.
He was married to Alice Eliza Dance, in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1906.
Following the outbreak of World War 1, George Robert was given a commission in the Royal Naval Reserve as Engineer Lieutenant, in September 1914. He was then appointed to the former White Star Liner H.M.S. Teutonic and served on board Teutonic until October 1916. On 30th October, 1916 he joined H.M.S. Laurentic, when the ship was anchored in the harbour at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Just prior to this George had been promoted to the rank of Engineer Lieutenant Commander. He joined the Laurentic with Surgeon Rock and Engineer Lieutenant Mitchell, both of whom died in the sinking of the Laurentic.
It is not known if George Robert Rutledge had been on duty at the time when the Laurentic struck the two mines which were to eventually sink her, or if he had been resting. On his way up to the Boat Deck, he bumped into Engineer Lieutenant Neale, who asked him if there was anything they could do down below. Mr Rutledge replied that there wasn’t, and the two men went up to their boat stations. It is not known what lifeboat Engineer Lieutenant Commander Rutledge got in. His body was never recovered.
George Robert Rutledge is commemorated on the War Memorial plaque commemorating all members of The Liverpool Branch of The Marine Engineers Association who gave their lives during that war (memorial now missing). He is also remembered on his parent’s grave in Bromley cemetery, Christchurch City, Canterbury, New Zealand.
The family soon lost another son to the war when George’s brother Joseph was killed in action in France on the 31st of July 1917, while serving as a Lieutenant with the Royal Field Artillery.
George Robert’s widow Alice returned to Canterbury, New Zealand and died there on the 2nd of August 1943. She never remarried and is buried with her parents.
We are indebted to Peter Threlfall, World War 1 historian, for his invaluable contribution to the biography of George Robert Rutledge.
Crew lists. 387 CRE. Liverpool Record Office, Liverpool, England.
New Zealand Marriage Index, 1840–1950
Ancestry.com. New Zealand, Birth Index, 1840-1950
New Zealand Electoral Rolls, 1853–1981. Auckland, New Zealand
Ancestry.com. New Zealand, Cemetery Records, 1800-2007