Edward Owen Rutter was educated at St Paul’s School, London and worked in the North Borneo civil service as a magistrate and district officer between 1910 and 19015, when he returned to England to enlist in the army. On 21 June 1915 he was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the 7th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment. The battalion left for France in September 1915 and in November moved to Marseilles and then on to the Salonica Front in present-day Macedonia. During their time in Salonica the Wiltshires saw action at the Battle of Horseshoe Hill in August 1916, and the Battles of Doiran, in April and May 1917. In June 1918 the Battalion returned to France, arriving at Serqueux on 1 July 1918, where it was attached to the 50th (Northumbrian) Division.
It was during his time in Salonica that Rutter wrote the poem for which he is best known – The Song of Tiadatha – a parody of Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha. Using the pseudonym ‘Klip-Klip’ Rutter submitted the poem in sections to the Balkan News, a daily troop newspaper which ran from 1915 to 1919. The poems were popular with the troops and were printed in book form in Salonica in 1919, then republished in London by T. Fisher Unwin in 1920.
Tiadatha (a pun on ‘Tired Arthur’) is a young man about town who volunteers at the start of the Great War, seeing action in France and Salonica before being wounded and returning home to London on leave. Rutter wrote that he got the idea for the poem when he found a copy of The Song of Hiawatha in a signaller’s dugout in Salonica. He created his composite character, Tiadatha, from a number of fellow Wiltshires officers whose real-life experiences are in the poems.
After the first verses were well-received by fellow Salonican troops […] the nature of the poem changes from simply a parody of Hiawatha to a mock-epic of life on the Salonican front. Andrew Scragg, see below.
After the war, Rutter went on to become a successful writer. During the Second World War he worked for the War Office as well as writing a number of patriotic books about the British War effort. He died on 2 August 1944.
Andrew Scragg sums up The Song of Tiadatha as
not great literature. It is popularist, middle-brow doggerel, shifting between the silly, the satiric and the moving, but it retains an importance if we consider it in the context within which it was written and its reception in Salonica and in England both at the time of writing and over the last ninety years.
Edward Owen Rutter’s Poems:
- The Song of Tiadatha – XII Tiadatha’s Battle
- The Song of Tiadatha – V Tiadatha in France
- The Song of Tiadatha – II The Training of Tiadatha
- The Song of Tiadatha – I The Joining of Tiadatha
You can read The Song of Tiadatha in full at archive.org
and compare it with The Song of Hiawatha also at archive.org
Resources for Edward Owen Rutter
Andrew Scragg: ‘Reconsidering a “Neglected Classic” and Widening the Canon of World War I Poetry: The Song of Tiadatha‘, English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, Volume 57, Number 4, 2014, pp. 463-479