Thursday, 6 February 2014

John Robert McGruther

                   John Robert (Jock) McGruther

                                                   Written by David Bell

                                                                 1915 ~ 1944


Uncle Jock, as we all know him, is without doubt our family hero, even though he died long before most of us were born. At this writing (February 2014) Colin Bell would be the only surviving family member to have living memories of him. But so legendary is he to our family history that we all feel a close connection to him and still affectionately refer to him as 'Uncle Jock'. In death - as he was in life - he is still an important part of the family.
Jock was born 25 June, 1915 to John Honi Ruki Pohepohe McGruther and Daisy Mary Te Kurawhakairi Ormsby at Tamahere New Zealand and named John Robert - John after his father and Robert after his grandfather Robert McGruther. He was the first of 6 children, the other five being Moana Joy who died as an infant, the twins who were stillborn, Colin who was born at Waerengahika near Gisborne, and lastly Jean, also born at Waerengahika.

                             Above: Infant Jock photo dated 1st January, 1916.

  Above: The McGruther three.

  Above: The Waerengahika Native School.
Jock was five years old (1920) when he moved with his parents to Waerengahika, a school about eight miles from Gisborne. His father had secured a teaching job at the Waerengahika boarding school for Maori boys. He was too young to be a pupil at his father's school so he attended the small nearby Waerengahika primary school. Then in 1924 the family embarked on a life-changing adventure; his parents obtained positions on the island of Mangaia in the Cooks group; his father as the head teacher over the three island schools and his mother as the island nurse. 
  Mangaia, an isolated island in the South Pacific.


Above: Jock and Colin outside Puketotara in their Kings School uniforms.

Jock lived for three glorious years on Mangaia living like a native. It was a young boy's paradise. The three children immersed themselves in the island life and became fluent speakers of the local tongue. Jock and the family returned to New Zealand in 1927 when his parent's first furlough came due. Sadly for Jock and Colin, they would not return to Mangaia after the holiday. Instead they were enrolled into the prestigious King's College in Auckland. Only Jean went back with her parents and then only because she came down with a serious illness, otherwise she too would have been shipped off to boarding school.  

                                      Jock (near left) on a school outing
Jock did well at King's College. He was a studious and diligent student, excelling academically as well as on the sports field. A quote from an article in the King's College Courier (2009) written by Major W. G. Caughey, a King's College student from 1933 to 1938, gives an insight as to how well respected Jock was by his fellow students:

 When I entered the junior dormitory in St. John's House as a small boy, it was not long before I selected my heroes or role models from amongst the senior boys. Three have remained constantly in my memory for seventy-five years. I feel privileged to have known these men and hope that younger Old Collegians will be inspired by their examples.
Jock McGruther was one of these heroes; he continues: 

Jock was a quiet, confident leader who earned great respect from the boys in the House. He was Head of House in 1933 and his fine example ensured that the House ran smoothly. In 1934 Jock was Head Boy of the College, played for the 1st XV Rugby team and was awarded the Foster Prize. In 1935 he taught at King's School and attended Auckland University.

Major Caughey commented further on Jock's military history but more will be said on this later. 


Below: Kings College in its early days
From an early age Jock had a serious and conscientious disposition; he seemed very mature for one so young. These traits showed during his time at Kings College where he displayed a strong sense of responsibility toward all aspects of his education. He had a very spiritual side to his nature and was a devout attender at chapel and communion and received his King's College Confirmation under the hands of the Archbishop of New Zealand on 23 June 1929. In 1935 he finished his studies at King's and attended the Auckland University. While studying at university he also did some teaching at King's School.

Jock, Head Boy at King's College 1933

King's College 1st XV rugby team, Jock seated right front.
In 1936 he decided to suspend his university studies to attend to a problem back on the family farm at Puketotara. This was the farm that his pioneering grandparents, Arthur and Matire (Matilda) Ormsby had broken in from the bush over many years. Puketotara is a rural district about ten miles south of Pirongia on the road to Kawhia. It consisted of about three hundred acres of pasture and a fine old Victorian-style homestead. Grandfather Arthur had died in 1926 and Granny Matire in 1935. Before Matire died she bequeathed the farm to Daisy and John. They, of course, were in Mangaia and weren't due to return until 1937 when their final contract terminated. John hired a manager to run the farm but things weren't going to plan. The farm was becoming run down and stock and equipment was disappearing. It was one of Daisy's sisters who alerted him to the situation and it was clear that it needed urgent attention before everything was gone. Knowing what the farm meant to his family he returned to Puketotara and set about restoring it. He was joined by his younger sister Jean at the end of 1936 after she finished her years at Queen Victoria Boarding School. The farm was where his parents intended to spend their retirement.

John and Daisy came home in 1937 amid much joy and rejoicing. With them they brought a shipload of artefacts, objects d'art, gifts, and valuable documents and old books. Sadly, nearly all of these were lost in a devastating fire many years later. John's fifteen years of experience on Mangaia, where he rose to become the New Zealand Government's Resident Agent, made him a valuable commodity and he was offered government positions but he turned them down in favour of farming Puketotara.

Above: An aerial view of the Puketotara district as it is today.
They were happy times with the family together again after so many years of separation. But the happy times were not to last long; the clouds of war were gathering above the whole country. Germany was on the rampage through Europe and Great Britain had been drawn into it and was seeking assistance from the Commonwealth. New Zealand was staunchly behind the motherland so it wasn't long before the call for soldiers went out. Jock and his brother Colin enlisted and were immediately sent to Narrow Neck Military Camp for officer training in 1939. Thus began Jock's career that was to last from 1939 to his death in Italy in 1944.

                        Jock, front row centre at Narrow Neck Military Camp 1939                

When the training was completed Jock received his commission as a Lieutenant assigned to the Eighteenth Battalion, thirty-fourth anti-tank battery, to serve in the
Middle East and stationed in Egypt. 

There was a great sense of mission, going to war to serve your country and fight for the freedom and liberty of your people, and the family had great pride in its two valiant boys resplendent in their officers’ uniforms. It all seemed like a great and noble adventure. It was not long before everyone began to realise just how ignoble it was and how great the price of such an adventure. Nevertheless, Jock and Colin began their service full of youthful enthusiasm and determination. They wrote home from the front regularly. A few chosen letters from Jock give some insights into his life as soldier in Egypt early in the war. The following is an excerpt from the book, Waireti (pages 138 to 151), a biography of his sister Jean Waireti. Please be aware that the book was written in first person style, as if it were Jean telling her own story. It was written, however, by her son David after her passing. 

AT FIRST My brothers’ letters were filled with descriptions of sights and experiences they never dreamed possible only a few months ago. Jock was fascinated by Egypt, immersing himself as often as he could in the culture and history of that exotic, ancient land. But, for all its history and culture, it was a hot, dry place and a world away from the rolling green pastures of the Waikato. In the place of green hills stretched endless plains of sand; except along the Nile where the rich, fertile silt sustained a profusion of horticultural abundance. Instead of the cool Waikato rain he sweltered under a fiery desert sun that heated the air until it seemed almost too hot to breathe. When it did rain it was invariably a deluge that lay in great floods upon the dry sand, and when the winds came billowing in from the desert they carried with them countless tonnes of sand which blacked out the sun and covered everything in grit. In one of his earlier letters home he wrote:

Dear People, just a line to let you know we are still fit and well – at least I am and from all reports Colin is too. We are still in the desert and have experienced several dust storms during the last week. One is just dying down now. The other day our tent was covered in dust and on my bed it was three inches deep and when we cleaned the place out we had to shovel the stuff into boxes. It’s great fun and puts everyone in the best of tempers – I don’t think. However, I had to laugh when I came into the tent after lunch and saw the heap of dust on my bed. I wouldn't mind seeing a few grass paddocks now – just for a change.
In another he wrote:

Dear People, just a line for Christmas and to thank you very much for your letters and papers. It was good to get news of the farm and to hear that all was well. Jean said that there were quite a few cows with hard quarters, though. They will have to be watched. By Jove, I wouldn't mind a drop of fresh milk for a change. We have tinned milk and water. It’s not bad, however. Lately we have been getting Aussie butter which is quite good. Before that we had margarine. It’s pretty foul on its own but on hot toast it’s not bad at all. I bought a primus and when we go out in the desert it is jolly handy...I haven’t seen Colin for a long time but from all reports he is quite well. I hope to see him during the next few days...I myself am very well. The weather is quite cold now and we feel it because our blood is getting thinner. I bought myself a good greatcoat the other day and it’s a great investment. You have no idea how cold it is when you are sleeping out in the desert. I nearly froze the other night.  We were nearly washed out by a rainstorm a couple of days ago. All the tents that were dug down in wadis were filled with water about three feet deep and the day after we had a bad dust storm. I’d rather have the rain...Christmas will soon be here now and I think it will be a peaceful one for us. Anyhow, the chaps are preparing for it...most of the companies are piling stuff up for  dinner...Well dears, I must go to work now, so cheerio for the present. Thanks so much for the wire. It was a beauty – a real farm one. Happy birthday, Mother, and a merry Christmas and a happy new year to you all. Love from Jock. 2699 2/Lt., J.R. McGruther, 18th Bn., N.Z.E.F. Middle East Force.

In return the boys loved getting letters from home and in those days letter writing was the predominant form of long distance communication. My soldier brothers particularly enjoyed news of the farm no matter how trivial. In another letter one sees how important letters were to them and I often wondered how lonely it must have been for soldiers who didn’t receive much communication from home. It wasn’t so with our family, we were prolific letter writers. Jock wrote:

Dear People, Just a short note to thank you very much for your last letters which arrived this weekend. One was written from Otorohanga (Jean’s and Mother’s) and the other from Te Awamutu while you were waiting for football, Daddy...Both Colin and I are very well at present. We are at Maadi. The boys have been having a great weekend after being in the desert. By Jove, it was great to get back to a bit of green country after all the dust out there. To make things better there was mail waiting for us here. At present the air mail service is very good. Even out in the desert we are getting one mail a week.

Egypt is a wonderful country for agriculture. The ground always seems to have something green in it. As we go to Cairo in the train we can see green corn standing from eight to ten feet high. Also, we can see cotton being picked.
I’m finding it very hard to write tonight as everyone is talking around me. My mind is wandering from the subject. I haven’t done much this weekend except go out to dinner with Alan Pyatt at our millionaire friend’s home. We had a very pleasant evening and went to the pictures after that. The late session starts at about ten here which is good because people don’t have dinner until about eight thirty p.m. Oh, I forgot to tell you of one of my latest achievements, I can open a beer bottle with a tin hat, tobacco tin etc. Not bad for me, eh?
I’m glad to see the football is going well and that you have been elected president, Daddy. I suppose if things don’t happen we may be playing here in a couple of months. The trouble is that it’s not much good playing in the sand because it gets right up into your lungs. Well dears, I haven’t much news to tell you so I’ll close now. Cheerio for the present and love to you all. Your loving son and brother, Jock.

Sometimes the letters from home were slow arriving
Dear Mother and Daddy, It is now over three months since I have received any mail from home...I got resigned to the fact there is no mail each week when the other chaps get their mail. Now I’ve pounded out my feelings on the matter, I’ll give you what news I can. I am very fit and well at present. I haven’t seen Colin for some time but he was quite well when I last saw him. The weather is very hot at present, especially in the afternoons. We work in the morning only and in the afternoon we either sleep or go down to the baths for a swim. There is a very delightful sporting club in Maadi and most of the officers have joined it. Our sub is about seven shillings a month which is very cheap for all the benefits we get. There is a very nice club house with lawns and trees all around. There are tennis courts, squash courts, bowling greens, cricket and football grounds, a swimming bath, hot and cold showers, and lovely flower gardens. I go down there for a couple of hours as often as I can in order to get a change from camp life. You ought to see the array of beauty down at the baths, too. There are really beautiful women in Egypt. I've not spoken to one ever since I've been here.
Owing to the hot weather it has been decided to have regular outings for each unit. We have picnics about the middle of each week. The week before last we went to the barrage, one of the irrigation contact points for the Nile. It was a great trip about twenty five miles from Maadi and we passed through cultivated areas all along the way there. We saw the primitive methods of irrigation by buckets, by water wheels with bullocks walking round and round, and by a couple of men turning a cylinder with a spiral-way inside so the water travels from the bottom to the top. The barrage itself is a great feat of engineering. It controls the level of the Nile and if it were to break down Egypt would be properly in the soup.

There are beautiful gardens and lawns on the islands in this area and we had a great picnic. Last, we went to the Grotto Aquarium ...this is a large artificial cave in a park and houses all kinds of fish. We had a nice quiet day there too. There are some beautiful homes on the island and also one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. Last night Alan Pyatt and I went to the home of a millionaire. It was terribly hot outside and I was sweating like a pig. As soon as we got into the sitting room we noticed the difference in temperature. The room was air cooled and conditioned. Mrs Aboud, the lady of the house, and her daughter were there and they were very nice and made us feel at home immediately. We were invited for drinks and after we had been there a while the lady from next door and an English officer friend came in...Mrs Aboud asked us to take pot luck and stay for supper (I chuckled at the pot luck; it was a four course meal).We had a very interesting evening. Mrs Aboud married an Egyptian Pasha and is a very fine character. She has travelled a great deal and knows much of the inside workings of big business and politics.

Well dears, how are you all? You know, every time I go into Cairo past the cultivations and see the corn and all the crops I can’t help thinking of the poor old cows at home and how hard it is to milk them. It is a marvellous country for growth here, by Jove, and do the fellahin work!  If we worked as hard in N.Z. the place would be a paradise for the farmers to gaze on. The more I go about this place the more I marvel at the riches of the Nile valley. Egypt really is a wonderful country for all its heat and smells.

How are Jean, Peter, little Peter and Maki? I was thrilled at that passage about the little chap in your cable. You should see how some of our great big burly chaps play around with the little children when we are on a picnic. I suppose it makes them a bit homesick too.
How are all the relatives? I suppose you people are feeling the pinch now. We are going to have a lot more to face up to before we are clear of this mess. Europe is going to have a very hard winter this year and the dominions will have to go eyes out to keep England in supplies.
Well dears, I must close now, with love to you all. God bless you. Your loving son, Jock. 2699 2/Lt J.R. McGruther, 18th Bn.

Jock was what I might term religious in a balanced way, for want of a better description. He took his faith quite seriously and was sensitive to spiritual things. Even during his high school years at Kings College he was a faithful attendee at chapel and other matters of religion, so it is no surprise that with his posting to the Middle East he jumped at the opportunity to experience the history and culture of the Holy Land. In a fascinating letter dated April the first, nineteen forty one he wrote:

Dear People, I received my first mail today, one from you, Daddy, and one from Vernon Jackson. It was great to hear from you and to hear that you were well.

 I am in the best of health at present and am finding this country very interesting indeed. You ought to see the orange groves and taste the oranges. I’ve never tasted anything like them. I haven’t had to buy any at all yet. Our man seems to be able to get them for us and keep us well supplied. He is a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia and can’t speak English very well.
I have been to Tel Aviv, the newest Jewish city here. It is on the sea coast and quite a nice place. Do you remember reading in the papers where the captains of two refugee ships had beached their ships in order to land their passengers? I saw the ships about fifty yards from the shore.
You see Arabs here with their long white headdresses and flowing white robes riding camels and donkeys. I saw a big Arab in his native dress riding a beautiful grey horse the other day. It was a fine sight. You ought to see the loads the little mules carry, too. You see a big man with his feet dangling almost to the ground and sometimes carrying a couple of full sacks too. They usually sit right on the rump.

Next Sunday I hope to go to Jerusalem. I had planned to go on Easter Sunday but I couldn’t go at the last minute. The other chaps who went had a most interesting time. They went into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre then saw the Jews at the Wailing Wall and many other interesting sights connected with Easter.

I went later on in the morning to Tel Aviv. We had quite an interesting day. We got our taxi to drive through the Arab town of Jaffa on the way. It is something like Cairo with its native bazaars. Tel Aviv itself is quite a westernized town except that everything is so square. All the houses are square with flat roofs. The place is full of Jews from all over Europe.
We did a bit of shopping, went for a walk along the beach and spent the afternoon at the pictures. In both Egypt and Palestine French is the most common language besides Arabic and you can get anywhere if you can speak French. However, in the pictures here you see three languages printed on the screen. English is spoken and French is printed underneath.

By Jove, it’s great to be in a place where you can look out on green trees and green wheat fields after being in the desert. I see by your letter that you have had a very wet season. I wish we could have had some of your rain. The sand of the desert is full of dust and when the winds blow it’s awful. We had two very wet days when we first arrived here and it was a treat. It’s raining again tonight and the atmosphere is being cleared a bit after some very hot weather.

You people don’t know what a good country New Zealand is until you get out here. The East is very interesting but I can’t say I’m in love with the place. I just stopped for a moment to deal with a couple of flying beetles which had settled on my bed.
My roommate is an Englishman and is a jolly decent sort. He thinks England is the only place in the world. I argue with him and tell him New Zealand is. By Jove, I often think of you people and wish I were home with the old cows. It’s good to hear you have the paddocks fenced off and the turnips have taken well. I hope the hay pans out well too.

How are all the neighbours? Give my love to them will you please? How’s the little chap? I often think of him. I suppose he will be talking soon. Well dears, I’ll sign off for tonight, cheerio for the present and love to you all, Jock.

In another letter dated July the eleventh he enthralled us with some more of his experiences in Palestine.

I told you in my last letter that I hoped to go to Jerusalem last Sunday. Well, I got there alright. It was a lovely day. I went with an Australian and an Englishman. We got a taxi to take us to the bus stop where another car gave us a lift right into Jerusalem. The road is tar-sealed all the way and there is room for two big buses to pass each other quite comfortably. The bends, however, have Kawhia Road licked into a cocked hat! Jerusalem is about three thousand feet above sea level too.  The country up in the hills is very barren with practically no vegetation.
Jerusalem itself is divided into two parts, the old city and the new. The new city is like Tel Aviv or any other modern town, but the old city is most interesting.

We were on our way to find out something about the place and a guide came up and said he would take us around for twelve shillings so we accepted. He took us down past the Citadel at the Jaffa Gate into the old part of the city. Then we went down a street about seven or eight feet wide and closed in on top. On either side there were stalls of all sorts of goods.  We went a little way down this then our guide took us off into another side street which was in the Christian-Jewish quarters. It was also narrow with a bazaar. The next turning we took found us going down cobbled steps, very slippery and worn with age. One more turn and we were at the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There is huge scaffolding around the building which was put up after an earthquake which endangered the dome. 

The place itself is very dingy and unimpressive to look at and not at all clean like our own churches. It is owned by five different sects. As soon as we entered there was a strong smell of incense. Our guide showed us the position of the cross on Calvary. We saw all the Stations of the Cross right from the beginning. We saw the crack in the rock which was supposed to have been caused by the earthquake at the crucifixion. We saw the actual prison in which Jesus was held, the very seat in which he was chained to the wall, and the holes in which he had to place his legs. The prison of the two thieves was underneath. Next, we saw the tomb of Joseph of Aramathea. Finally we saw the sepulchre.  When we first went into the church the Armenians were having their service and the procession was chanting its way around the sepulchre. After we left the church we were taken down the streets which are about eight feet above the old level to the Station of the Cross. Finally we ended up at the second Station in the street of Ecce Homo. This was a French convent and I thought it was the only church in which there was a holy atmosphere. A Sister took us into the church of Ecce Homo first and we sat down in silence for a while. Then she spoke to us for a few minutes. There was quite a big party of soldiers at this stage. Then she took us underneath and down to the old Roman barracks and the actual second Station of the Cross and then over a road that led up to Calvary. Here she got everyone to kneel down and pray for those at home.

Our guide then took us up on the roof and showed us the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives in the distance. Next we went to lunch at a hotel and in the afternoon went out to Bethlehem and on the way stopped at the Tomb of Rachel.

We entered the Church of the Nativity by a very small entrance about four feet high. There we saw the stable and the place where Jesus was born.  We also saw the manger. The church itself was built in 300 A.D.

It was a great day for us and we came away with very mixed feelings. If you look below the surface or think back over a trip like we had, it can create a profound impression.   But the feeling we all had as soon as we had seen the holy places was one of disappointment. I bought a little Testament in Bethlehem and I have been reading it in order to piece together the different stages of my trip that day. At the time I said I didn’t want to go back to Jerusalem but now I would very much like to do it with a good guide. Well dears, I must be off to bed now so cheerio for the present. God bless you all.
Your loving son Jock.  

There were many letters like these; always interesting, always of good things. I devoured every word and thrilled at the new and wonderful things he was experiencing. I fretted when his letters were late and hoped mine reached him in good time, the mail to and from the front not always constant. He never complained of the hardships and dangers he encountered at the front, but I knew his life in the Middle East wasn't all about ten foot high corn and beautiful gardens along the Nile. Or about trips around the Holy Land, officers clubs and beautiful Egyptian women he could admire but not touch. Neither was it a parade of picnics, parties, and four course dinners at the Pasha’s air conditioned mansion. I was well aware he faced all the dangers of combat, rumbling across the desert in a great metal machine that could at any time become his coffin.

Jock saw action in Crete, Greece, and Italy. While in Crete he was severely wounded and was sent to a field hospital for over a month before being repatriated back to New Zealand to complete his recovery. He received his injury around the twenty sixth of May, nineteen forty one. In a letter from his hospital bed he wrote: 

Dear little sister, it’s great to get your letters so regularly. They are a real tonic. I suppose you know by now I am in hospital. However, I am making very rapid progress and my wound is healing up nicely. It was one month on Monday since I was hit. I managed to survive Greece and the fighting part of Crete. It was when we were moving out during the day that a couple of M.E. 110 fighters attacked us. We lost a lot of men killed and wounded. I was lucky, I got one in the left arm above the elbow and it went right through missing the bone.
Greece was bad enough from the air but Crete was absolute hell. Our chaps were machine gunned from the ground and mortared, and they were bombed and machine gunned from the air. I was pretty lucky, I lost only two men. The boys were marvelous and have been all through their actions.

The parachute landings were a wonderful sight. For several days beforehand the enemy planes came over and bombed and machine gunned the area where their troops were to be dropped. On the morning of the landing we had just finished our breakfast when the bombers came over in force and strafed the area. Then came troop carriers and gliders. The air was full of planes. Then the troops dropped out from about three hundred feet. It was a marvelous sight. A lot of them never got to the ground alive and all in our area were cleaned out.

The navy saved us again. I can’t sing their praises enough. They had been having a tougher spin than we had and yet they couldn’t do enough for us when we got aboard.

I suppose you know that Colin is at O.C.T.U. now. He has to have a four month course. I am pretty certain he will do well. He has been to see me several times since I've been back.

I've been spoiled here in hospital. They are all very kind to the patients. There are three of us in our room, two Majors and ‘self all from 4th Brigade. We have a great time. We've made arrangements to take three of the Sisters out to dinner when we are better. They are great sorts.

Well, dear, I must close now. Thanks so much for your letters which I don’t deserve. God bless you all.

Your loving brother, Jock.

 About eleven days later we received a short note from him that was good news for all.

Dear Little Sister, I am on the eve of coming home for a spell. It will be six months before my arm will be fit again. The wound is practically healed but the wrist refuses to function. Just keep it to the family. Jock.  (End of quotations from the  book, Waireti).

Above: The formal letter from Wellington confirming his return.

Jock returned to Puketotara and after recovering sufficiently from his injury he was posted to  the Narrow Neck military camp where he remained for two years, leaving as Chief Instructor with the rank of Captain. 

He didn't have to return to the front lines; his wounding was sufficient to allow him to see the rest of the war out at home, but he was desperate to get back to be with his comrades. He returned to the Second N.Z.E.F. fighting front in January 1944 and was posted to the 24th Battalion as a company Commander with the rank of Major.
It was a fateful decision; he was killed in action just seven months later on 14 July, 1944.
The circumstances of his death were sketchy. It wasn't until sometime after the war a clearer account was given by R.M. Burdon in his book, Official History of 24 Battalion. In it we read:

Jock was killed in action at Monte Camurcina (south west of Florence). At this point in the war the 2 New Zealand Division was attempting to dislodge the enemy which was standing firm south of Arezzo in order to delay the advance up the Arno valley. In June, 2 Battalion had advanced through Sora and Captain McGruther, commanding C Company, had occupied a castle dominating Sora. In July, 2 New Zealand Division joined the concentration of forces in the push north. By 13 July C Company was moving forward towards Monte Camurcina, half way between Lignano and Cavadenti and Major McGruther installed his advanced company headquarters in a house near the summit of Mt. Camurcina. On the morning of 14 July the headquarters was being heavily mortared from about 7 am. Shortly before 10 am Major McGruther was badly wounded by shellfire. Sergeant Thompson promptly came up from the RAP to carry him out, only to find on arrival that he had died in the meantime. The second-in-command, Captain Casling-Cottle took over the company.
On 28 November, 2017, an eyewitness account was obtained that gives a priceless insight into that fateful day and an indication of the great respect his fellow soldiers had for him.

My grandfather was seriously wounded by the same shell that mortally wounded Jock. His name was Lance Corporal Jack Ryland Franks 

Lance Corporal Jack Ryland Franks

I always remember the wound in his bicep where the shrapnel went through and lodged near his heart. It remained there the rest of his life and eventually contributed to his death

The story my grandmother tells is the Germans were shooting the roof off the house they were sheltering in and Jock had just ordered granddad to go to battalion headquarters to let them know what was happening when the shell landed.

Obviously I never knew Jock but I loved and respected my granddad immensely, and I know he respected Jock as well because his death was always remembered.

The dreaded telegram informing the family of Jock's death

His death was a devastating blow to the family. So much promise was seen in him; he was naturally looked up to as the one who would lead and guide the family in the years to come. He was hugely respected and admired by all who knew him. Candice Costley (nee Bell) gave a good description of him in a research paper she wrote as a high school student. It reads:

John Robert McGruther was a man of great courage, a man that will never be forgotten. This man was my great-uncle...Uncle Jock was twenty nine years of age when he was killed in action, and it was a tragic loss to all those who knew him. He was a man of courage and determination who fought bravely for his country. He brought honour to his small farming community, his family and most of all to himself. He is a man who I think has made a big difference. He will never be forgotten, his memories and heroic story will live on forever through the generations of my family. 

In doing this project I have found out a great deal about my uncle, someone of great significance to my family, whom I never really took the time to learn about before. Through his example my Nana (his little sister Jean) has insisted on teaching her children the importance of hard work and courage. These teachings have in turn been passed on through the generations therefore having, in some small way, an influence on myself. 
Major Jock McGruther was laid to rest at the Assisi War Cemetery in Italy. His first grave was marked by a simple cross but later was shifted to its permanent site where it remains to this day with a white marble headstone.     

                                Above: Jock's first grave and marker

                         Above: the permanent grave site and headstone, Assisi
The Assisi War Cemetery is situated in a peaceful and picturesque valley with a backdrop of green hills. Jock's grave is listed as grave 1, plot 6, row 4

Above: A view of the Assisi cemetery with the hills in the background.
  Above: The ‘Great Cross’ at the cemetery entrance

   Above: A view across the well-kept grounds
The loss of our Uncle Jock in the prime of his life is testimony to the waste and stupidity of war. Not only did his death cause immense grief and suffering for his parents, family and others, it also deprived future generations the blessings and benefits they could have obtained from a man who by all reports was an exceptional human being, leaving us to wonder what might have been. 
Thus ends this report on John Robert McGruther. His body could not be brought home to rest in his beloved home soil. Instead, he rests in Italy where he fell defending our liberty.  



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