CARRUTHERS, WALLACE BRUCE MATTHEWS, militia officer; b. 13 Feb. 1863 in Kingston, Upper Canada, youngest of the six children of John Carruthers and Mary Matthews; m. there 11 Dec. 1901 Henrietta MacPherson (d. 1905); they had no children; d. there 21 Oct. 1910.
Bruce Carruthers’s father was a Scottish immigrant who became a successful grocer in Kingston. A generous benefactor of Queen’s College and Chalmers Presbyterian Church, he was also a supporter of the Royal Military College of Canada. It was here that Bruce, who shared his father’s interests, received his higher education. On graduating in 1883 he was commissioned a lieutenant in the 21st Hussars of the British army and served in Ireland until he resigned four years later. Back in Kingston, he became a lieutenant and then a captain in the 14th Battalion of Rifles. In October 1899, in order to take part in the South African War, he enlisted as a sergeant in the 2nd (Special Service) battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry. During a year in South Africa he fought in the battle of Paardeberg as well as in clashes leading up to the capture of Pretoria.
After returning to Canada in November 1900, Carruthers volunteered for further South African service and joined the 2nd regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles, as a lieutenant. The high point of his second tour was the action of Boschbult on 31 March 1902. A British force including the 2nd CMR was attacked by a commando of Boers, and Carruthers and 30 men were left as part of a screen, behind which the main body began to entrench. The screen collapsed during a withdrawal and Carruthers and 20 Canadians were cut off. Against tremendous odds, they fought until 17 had been killed or wounded and they had run out of ammunition. The London Standard reported that Carruthers’s clothes “were perforated with bullets.” Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain sent congratulations to the Canadian government, and Carruthers was promoted captain.
The South African campaign had seen the widespread employment of heliographs, semaphore, flags, and lamps for tactical signalling, and Carruthers had been impressed by the need for a unit which would provide proper training in the use of these systems. After his return to Canada in July 1902, he gave a paper on signalling at the Royal Military College Club and strongly urged the establishment of a signal corps. He seems also to have begun a campaign to persuade militia headquarters of the advantages of such a course, and he won the support of Lord Dundonald [Cochrane*], the commanding officer of the militia, who was intent on a program of modernization. On 24 Oct. 1903 a general order created an independent signal corps, the first in the British empire and the ancestor of the present Royal Canadian Corps of Signals. Carruthers was appointed one of two inspectors of signalling, with the rank of major, on 3 Feb. 1904, and he set up his headquarters in Kingston. He was responsible to the Militia Council for the supervision of instruction and practice in signalling and for the inspection of signallers and their equipment. Training began in earnest in 1905 at the summer militia instructional camps or in provisional schools established in eight cities. Several hundred militiamen qualified as signallers during the next few years, and in its report for 1908 the Militia Council praised “the high standard of efficiency attained by this corps and the valuable work done by the members in training the militia.” In that year the corps had 13 sections across the country and was firmly established as a separate branch, developments in which Carruthers had taken a leading part. A reorganization of the corps on 20 March 1906 had resulted in his being made its commanding officer, with the title of assistant adjutant general for signalling.
Carruthers was prominent in the social life of Kingston. He was a governor of the Queen’s College School of Mining and the Kingston General Hospital and belonged to the St Andrew’s Society and the Kingston Yacht Club. Between 1890 and 1904 he was one of the city’s leading Liberals, serving as president of the Young Liberals Club and as a member of the Reform Association of Kingston. While a student he had been a keen football player, and when the Ontario Rugby Football Union was formed in 1883 he became its vice-president. In 1904 he was president of the Royal Military College Club.
Though a victim of tuberculosis, Carruthers remained active until two weeks before his death. He was given a huge military funeral at Chalmers Presbyterian Church and was buried in the Cataraqui Cemetery.
AO, RG 80-5, no.1901-207250. Chalmers United Church (Kingston), File information concerning W. B. M. Carruthers. NA, RG 38, 17. Daily British Whig, 22, 24 Oct., 1910. H. G. Hart, The new annual army list . . . (London), 1885, 1888. History of the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, 1903–1961, ed. J. S. Moir (Ottawa, 1962). R. A. Preston, Canada’s RMC: a history of the Royal Military College (Toronto, 1969).