Last story for World War II veteran Keith Ruttley

Keith Leyton Ruttley was born in 1923 at Narrabri. He was the third of five children.

When Keith was one, the family moved to Baradine in a four-wheel sulky.

A year later, his father bought a Dodge tourer, an open car with side curtains that were carried and put up when it rained. They put chains on the tyres when they came to boggy patches.

This car came in handy when Keith’s father became the district forester and he had to move around the area.

They lived in Canberra/Queanbeyan, Condobolin, Legume and in 1937 they lived in Forbes.

Keith said about Forbes: “I grew up in Forbes thanks to Scouting, learning skills that stay with you for life while earning each badge: ambulance, swimming, lifesaving, camping, athletics, cooking, rifle shooting, forestry, pioneering, map reading and carpentry.”

All of this led to Keith’s sporting achievements in lifesaving, swimming, diving, cricket and golf.

An Olympic swimming pool opened in Forbes when Keith was 14 years old. He was the junior swimming champion for the next three years. He also got his bronze and silver medallions in lifesaving.

In 1941, Keith settled in Casino. He worked in the bank and often transferred between banks in Barraba, Warwick and Innisfail.

On August 14, 1942, he joined the army in Townsville. He boarded the five-day troop train to Brisbane and went on to serve on Thursday Island and in New Guinea.

In 1946, after the war, he returned to Casino riding a BSA motorbike. When he was asked what BSA stood for, he said Bastard Stop Anywhere.

Keith decided he wanted to settle in Casino permanently, so rather than return to banking, he found permanent work with Forestry, and then with the Northern Rivers County Council, where he remained until his retirement.

He did not return to banking but he always had a good head for figures and dates that stayed with him forever.

Keith and Jean McDonald met playing tennis. Keith frequented Crossland’s Milk Bar where she worked, ordering many vanilla milkshakes. He was told he was three milkshakes behind another admirer, but he won Jean in the end.

They had three children – Denise, Debbie and Sheril.

Keith was focussed on imparting his head for figures to Denise at every opportunity, particularly during the evening dishwashing, followed by cribbage card games.

He loved astronomy and poetry.

Debbie and Sheril took Keith down the netball path where he soon became the Netball King, driving the girls to carnivals near and far.

Throughout these years, many evenings were spent in the floodlit backyard, teaching women the fine art of golf.

The backyard was maintained to greenkeeper standard, potted with practice putt-holes made from empty soup tins that often housed a family of redbacks.

Keith loved a road trip but there were strict baggage limits because the golf clubs always went in first.

Although golf was his passion, his family always came first in times of need. In Jean’s final days, she asked him, and he promised, to look after the girls, which he did to the end.

Keith’s side interest of lawnmowing led to him being asked to maintain the croquet lawn until they found a new greenkeeper. This is how he met his second wife Betty Engelberg who was caught in the rain walking to cards.

Betty had a daughter Marlies, who became stepdaughter to Keith.

Keith was an adventurer and loved to travel, whether it was a road trip or three months backpacking through Europe at the of age 76.

Over the years he visited New Zealand, America, Hawaii, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, UK and Norway during 9/11 when suddenly he couldn’t get back to Australia fast enough.

He took great delight in playing a round of golf in Norway and one at the holy grail and birthplace of golf, St Andrews – although it was with the limited vision of the white-out of a North Sea fog.

Keith’s road trips included driving up and down the East Coast from Cape York to Tasmania and most recently, 18 months ago to the Queensland Outback, following a series of Queensland opera performances as far out as Quilpie.

Friend and golfing buddy Trevor Wood said Keith played golf until his nineties when he broke his leg and couldn’t keep playing.

In 1978, he joined the Casino Veteran Golfers and there were 14 members. Keith was president, secretary and vice president of Casino Veterans, 23 times, Mr Wood said.

“He was a brilliant golfer right throughout his time,” he said.

Casino RSL Sub-branch secretary Owen Newell said Keith was the last World War II veteran in the Casino RSL Sub-branch and most probably the last in the Casino area.

“He will be missed not only by the Sub-branch but his presence on Anzac Day,” Mr Newell said.

“I was told that he has never missed an Anzac Day service.”

Keith Ruttley at an Anzac Day service in Casino. Photo: Contributed

One thing his family will miss the most is his stories – be it a family memory, local history, travel experience, a joke or witty remark or what the family often referred to as “a Ruttley story”.

Keith had one for every occasion, and rarely would they be a repeat of one you had already heard.

Vale Keith Ruttley, the story teller. Aged 99. Much-loved Dad and father-in-law to Denise and Eric, Debbie and David, Sheril and Des, and Jennifer (deceased). Stepdad to Marlies. Loved Pop and Big Poppy to grandchildren Michelle and Baz, Brad and Sandy, Nicole and Jason, Peter and Lisa, James and Aleisha, Scott, Matthew and great grandchildren Callym, Myka and Ethan, Jonah and Mia, India and Jesse, Ava and Jack.

Relatives and friends of Keith are invited to a celebration of his life on Tuesday, July 4 at 2pm at the Arentz Chapel, Parkview Funeral Home, 41 Walker St, Casino followed by private burial in Casino Lawn Cemetery.

Keith loved the poem The Man from Snowy River so here it is being read aloud. This one’s for you Keith.

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