Colin McGruther: The War Years, 1939 ~ 1944
Written by David BellAbove: Colin and other Officers, Egypt 1943
Hopu Hopu Military Camp
October 1st 1939.
At Last I am a soldier and a good life it is although pretty strenuous. I thought home was the only place where one worked on Sundays, but today I have been going solidly since I got up at 6 a.m. (600 hours army time).
I have only snatched time to write this by getting someone else to do my work for me. I suppose by now you have heard that I landed the job of Company Quarter Master Sergeant for D Company (C.Q.M.S. for short). A good job as far as pay is concerned but with a lot of work attached to it, especially when the next two thousand arrive on Tuesday.
The other Quarter Masters tell me that they don't expect to be able to leave the camp even for a few hours leave for at least eight weeks. After a lot of red tape yesterday I managed to get off last night and the others wondered how I did it. However, it was either last night or not for another eight weeks. I do practically no drill now but see to the issuing of all stores.
Somehow I will have to find time to sew on my stripes, two on my tunic and two on my greatcoat. In addition I have a crown to put on above each chevron.
The advantages of wearing a uniform were brought home to me yesterday when I went out. I had a date in Hamilton at 1715 hours and did not leave here until 1700 hours. I was advised to do it by hitch-hiking. No sooner had I got out the gate when I heard someone say, "Where are you going soldier?" On replying Hamilton he said hop in, and away I went.
Well, it is time I shut up shop. Goodbye, with love from Colin.
D Company Rifle Battalion,
Please send me some tobacco, no chips 'till 13th.
With this short letter Colin began his military career; a career that would take him to foreign lands and into the jaws of World War Two. For this important part of his life's history we will rely almost exclusively on the many letters he wrote to his family from the front lines. In them we gain wonderful insights into not only his personality, adventures and antics, but also the dangers and hardships he faced.
What we also learn about Colin from his letters is his irrepressible optimism and courageous spirit. Seldom does he complain about his hardships and sufferings, and when he does it is usually with humor. Yet we know that things were tough for him at times but his letters home were always positive, entertaining, and uplifting, suggesting that he was ever thoughtful of his loved ones.
He began his war journey at the Hopu Hopu Military Camp near Hamilton, New Zealand. From the first line on that first letter home it is clear he took to military life with enthusiasm, and, knowing his more adventurous nature, it seems that this was something he was born for. He was also a very resourceful character as is evident in the letter where he wheedled a days leave when all his colleagues claimed it impossible.
In another letter we learn a bit more of camp life at Hopu Hopu and some of his high-jinks and the discomfort of the seemingly constant rounds of inoculations:
Today is Sunday and although I am Orderly Sergeant I have quite a lot of leisure time. I overstayed my leave by one hour last Sunday and officially was severely reprimanded for it. Actually, nothing was said about it. Monday Labour Day we spent marching with all gear on in the morning to sweat out the effects of the weekend. In the afternoon we had inter-unit sports. Then straight after breakfast on Tuesday morning all our Company were inoculated for the second time and believe me it was twice as bad as the first. We went straight to bed and ten minutes after the sweat was pouring out of us. Then followed headache, stomachache, and stiffening of the whole right side. At about midday I got the cold shivers - sweating and shivering all over at the same time. It was not until Thursday morning that I felt anything like fit again. The stiffness in the right shoulder did not wear off until Friday afternoon when we went for a route march and did Battalion field maneuvers.
Also in this letter we get another glimpse of the mischievous side to his character when he came to the aid of two inebriated camp soldiers; made all the more mischievous because being a Sergeant he was supposed to be one of the upholders of discipline. He writes:
By the way, I got Saturday afternoon and evening off and went into Hamilton. When I got to the camp gates last night I had to play the Good Samaritan to two chaps who would not have been let in. I told them to give me their passes and put one in front of me and the other behind. The one behind supported himself by hanging on to my greatcoat straps while I practically carried the other past the guard. Once safely in I left them to their own devices.
My time is up now so I'll say cheerio.
With love from Colin.
After a while at Hopu Hopu he was transferred to the training camp in Papakura where he stayed until his posting to Cairo, Egypt. It appears he had a good start because a letter dated 17 January has him on his way to Egypt enjoying the delights of the luxury liner S.S Orion.
Dear Mom, Pop, etc.,
I now have to write a letter to conform to the army's standard of censorship. There is so much you are not allowed to write that it is a job to decide what in the eyes of the enemy would be military information. However, our letters are censored by our officers so if you see the blue pencil through any of this you'll what it means. Rub it out carefully and you'll find a close military secret.
As you know we are on a luxury liner and officers and Sergeants have the best that the First Class accommodations has to offer. In some cases Sergeants have better staterooms than any of the officers. I am in a double stateroom with an A.S.C. Staff Sergeant. It has three windows opening onto C Deck and is self-contained with every convenience. We also have our own cabin steward who brings in our tea and biscuits at 0630 hours and makes our beds and cleans up our cabin. As for mess, the First Class Dining Saloon has been partitioned off in the middle; one side being for the officers and the other for us. There also we have our own table stewards who hover over us like angels.They are all English and measure up to my conception of Jeeves. When I look at the menu and am bamboozled by their advanced French dishes, our steward (Nobby, we call him), says, "May I suggest the little steak Parissienne Sir?" You know the style.
If we are not feeling well we tell Nobby our complaint and he orders our meal accordingly. After our meals we always adjourn to the lounge for coffee and (if you are not broke) drinks. the prices for cigarettes on board here are astounding. Capstan, Gold Flake, Westminster, and Bachelors are 3 pence for ten and one shilling and three pence for fifty. Cravena and English Players are 3 and a half pence for ten. this is to name only a few brands you know.
Gin is 2 shillings and 4 pence per quart, whiskey about 3 shillings and 2 pence, and beer (the best English bottled beer - Bass, Guinness etc.) are 8 pence per bottle.
It sounds from this letter that Colin must have thought himself in heaven and that if this was war long may it continue. The letter continues:
They have made a big monetary concession to us aboard this boat. Our New Zealand pound has the same purchasing power as a Bank of England note. I think I told you that before we left we were told that we could not take more than two pounds out of the country with us; i.e. N.Z. notes. To get over this many chaps bought Australian notes as Bank of England notes were scarce. When they went to spend them they found they were worth less than a N.Z. note on this ship, and yet, to come by an Aussie one pound note cost them about 2 shillings N.Z. currency.
At present am just recovering from a nasty and prolonged attack of vaccination-itis. I first felt the effects five days ago, the first symptoms being violent headaches which have only just disappeared. Following that an arm swelling to twice the normal size and the general setting in of pain down the left side. Tucker did not interest me and sleep avoided me. However, by tomorrow I will really be on deck again.
Before we sailed I told the boys I was a good sailor and pity help me if I had not lived up to it. I would have been the laughing stock of the Company.I have not lost or looked like losing a meal since we left.
Well, it is now time for dinner so I must change into my stiff shirt.
Cheerio for the present, love from Colin.
P.S. We have pictures here each second night. You can see the same one three times if you like.
All good things come to an end and in late January, 1940, the luxury liner gave way to heat, sand and stuffy tents. In a letter to his family back in New Zealand we read:
How do you like my new address? I can sum it up in one word: sand! Our camp is at Maadi, a distance of about ten miles from Cairo. All the New Zealanders are camped together so you can imagine it is a fair sized camp. What were my impressions when we landed in Egypt? We landed at Tawfik which is part of the port of Suez and also entrance to the Suez Canal. Everybody was sorry to leave the boat and the lap of luxury. The manner of going ashore was in rude contrast to the previous five weeks. We were all, officers included, herded like cattle into coal barges and towed ashore by tugs thence into filthy old railway carriages for our journey to Cairo, a distance of about eighty miles. After a few comments about the train he remarks on the scenery: When you are travelling over a new route by train one usually looks out of the window at the scenery most of the time. After a short time we didn't bother because there was only sand to see, also the windows had to be closed and shuttered to keep the sand from flying in...The way the army gets settled into new quarters is amazing. After being here only an hour and a half the whole battalion were settled in their tents having had their evening meal and been issued with all their bedding. the whole camp is pitched on the desert and this consists entirely of loose sand with which the slightest wind blows into everything. these winds blow for a short period every day.
officers and N.C.O's have to work night and day here; parades and fatigues during the day and night marches and compass work at night. After that is finished Sergeants have to instruct their junior N.C.O's on specialized work. the food here is pretty terrible and our standard ration is only half of what we were allowed in camp in New Zealand. as a result mess fees in the Sergeants' mess are pretty heavy...he writes about getting leave to look around or go to the city for a bit of entertainment. He was not impressed with Cairo: It's a horrible place. Stinking Gyppos everywhere who follow you everywhere trying to persuade you to buy their doubtful wares at exorbitant prices. We are getting accustomed to them now and tell them where to go in no uncertain terms.
Whenever we get leave we always go to British Army Sergeants' Messes of famous old regiments and believe me New Zealanders are always welcome and given a wonderful time. Last Saturday we reciprocated and what a night we had. There was about seventy visitors, so many from each mess including those that do their stuff in the air. It is the custom that when you are visiting from another unit's mess you do not pay for a drink.. He concludes by talking about the unit rugby team and closes with: I'll have to cut this short as I have a job of work to do. We poor Sergeants get no peace.
with love from Colin.
P.S. Big boy Mac should be able to say Uncle Colin by now.
In another letter to his father dated 11 September 1940 he writes:
At last I am putting pencil to paper and addressing it to you...he writes about some general things then goes on to say...Jock and I are both pretty fit but don't see much of each other as we are now posted in different areas. conditions in the desert are pretty tough but the boys are quite cheerful on the whole. One could not imagine a better crowd of chaps than we have in this 1st Echelon. They work together without any quarreling or fighting.
A few weeks ago we had a job to do as a battalion. One of the boys was traveling to the rations dump on the ration truck when he noticed a big McCormack-Deering tractor on the side of the road. To them it looked as if someone had just left it there and cleared out. On the way back he filled it up with petrol and drove it back to our camp. it is now the proud possession of our Battalion and has saved us hours of arduous toil. The same thing could be done with trucks if we needed them but we have all we want. I thought at the time how handy they would be on the farm.
He went on to say that most of the kiwis in his platoon were farmers and given the opportunity could talk farming for hours. Obviously the kiwis missed the green lands of home. He said that many would give pounds to sit down again in a cowshed with a bucket between their knees.
Not surprisingly, sports quickly became an important part of camp life and Colin was always heavily involved as both a player and tournament organizer of both cricket and desert rugby. Rugby was especially difficult in the heat and the sand tended to get in the throat and lungs.
Two weeks later on the 25 September, 1940, he was transferred from Egypt to a camp near the coast. In a letter to his sister Jean and her husband he writes:
Dear Jean and Pete,
I was very pleased to get your letter containing a little local gossip. We are now well away from Cairo and stationed in the boundless desert with one consolation; we are only two miles from the sea, the Mediterranean. This means more than a swim every other day. It means that the days are cooler on account of the breeze blowing in off the sea.
Everybody has more or less settled down to the life now and a few more years of it would make proper Bedouins out of us. There is one bugbear, the supply of beer is very irregular and not very great. This is really a catastrophe because a soldier in the desert cannot live without beer, or so he thinks. Talking of beer the local brew from Alexandria and Cairo is an insult to the name although one will get accustomed to it and like any brand if it is the only one he can get...Letter writing in the army is not as easy as it looks, there is very little to write about except one's meditations and they are liable to become morbid. The desert doesn't change and nothing grows on it...I could really write you a tremendous letter if there were no security regulations. You would then be able to make a battleground of a chess board and move your armies around like a General sitting in a drawing room in Cairo.
I got a very pleasant surprise the other day when we all received a parcel from the Patriotic Society. Mine contained a cake, a tin of Nestles coffee and milk, tin of tobacco, two hankies, tin of barley sugars, and a notebook, to say nothing of a female address from Taihape...I see very little of Jock now as he is stationed about fifteen miles from me but he is very fit as is yours truly, in fact I have only had to report to the M.O. once since I joined the army and that was for a dose of castor oil.
In two days time we (N.C.O's and officers) who were the advanced party into the camp, celebrate our year in the army and will we celebrate!
Well, it's time I closed down - nearly tucker time so cheerio with love from Colin.
No. 2695 Sgt McGruther
DCoy 18th Bn
To this point Colin had not seen action. But in 1941 that would all change.
In a letter dated 1 April 1941 he writes about ordinary things like sports matches, bridge games, other kiwi soldiers he keeps bumping into, military training, and a lot on how kind and accommodating the locals are to kiwi soldiers. For some reason New Zealanders were well liked by civilians and soldiers of other countries alike. Perhaps they were intrigued that they would come from so far away and from such a small country to fight in such a big war. To them they probably came from the furthermost corner of the world. What is significant about this letter is the lack of news about the front. Colin acknowledged this and explained that censorship regulations had tightened up considerably and that they were not allowed to write anything about their activities. He also intimated that the political situation in the East was being carefully monitored because their movements will be determined by it. He said that they had spent much of their time on training and he had become thoroughly expert in finding his way around the desert in the dark.
Action was not far away.
A week later he wrote to Jean and Peter. The letter was again just regular chit-chat due to heavy censorship but with one interesting mention of nuisance dogs around the camp.
This place we are in is lousy with dogs which do no work but bark on the slightest provocation or, like Chum, without any. It won't be long now before one gets a bullet. It seems the only things he was shooting at were targets and stray dogs. Then in May, 1941, action at last.
May 4th 1941
Dear Mother and Daddy,
At last I have the opportunity to write with some certainty of the letter going. I wrote several times from Greece but I understand all that mail had to be destroyed for fear that it would get into enemy hands and disclose the names of the units taking part in the operations.
Since leaving Egypt we have travelled many miles and in some novel conveyances. We have been practically all over the width and breadth of Greece and what a lovely country it is. The climate is very similar to our own but it is much more mountainous. I experienced my first big snowfall there and spent some bitterly cold nights in snow-filled trenches.
I don't Know what news you have had of the campaign but we have had no outside news as we had to jettison our wireless very early. We must consider ourselves a very lucky Division to get out of Greece with as few casualties and killed as we did. Neither Jock nor myself got a scratch and I had only four casualties in my platoon. we have been in dive-bombing and ground-strafing at its worst so we have a lot to be thankful for. I think the Hun must have a pretty wholesome respect for the N.Z. Division after what happened to him wherever he met us. His casualties and killed were tremendous. His must have been very nearly twenty-to-one and that will largely compensate for our loss of equipment.
On our arrival in Greece we spent about four days in Athens and visited the Acropolis and the Temple of Jupiter and various other ruins. Athens is a lovely city and the people could not do enough for us.
We are now in Crete, the Island of Doomed Men as Lord Haw Haw called it. I am writing this letter sitting under an olive tree with the pad on my knee. The island is absolutely covered with olive trees, grapes and vegetables but these unfortunately will not be ready for at least two months. Everybody is having a well-deserved rest and ready for whatever devilry Adolf is cooking up for us.
Well I must close now and I'll give you all the news when I get back to Egypt. Cheerio for the present. Love from Colin. Love to Pete and Jean and the rest.
2695 Sgt McGruther
D Coy 18th Bn
Middle East Forces.
During these dangerous times letters from home must have been wonderfully welcome and a boost to the spirit. The following is a letter dated 31st of May from his mother.
I wonder where you are at this moment and how you are faring dear son. Thank heaven for the firm conviction that "Our Refuge and Strength is closer than breathing, nearer than hands or feet. I will be with thee wherever thou goest. I will never fail thee, nor forsake thee." Then what of all the millions of suffering ones you will say as the thought comes to us all. My comfort then is to know that our years here are only a small part of life; the glorious Easter follows as surely as night follows day.
We were so thankful to have your letter and the two cables. we are now, as always, hungry for more but we know that you will write as time and opportunity permits. It is so long too since we had any letter from Jock. Do be sure to tell us all you can of him when you write and of any others of our friends and people there. Continually you are in our thoughts and prayers. Every Tuesday night at the Intercession held at St. John's, your name and Jock's are spoken with many, many others of the district.
I am writing this in bed. It is a quarter to six now and it is dark outside. Jack Frost is certainly abroad this morning. It is lovely to be able to pull the cord and have light to go on with what one wants to do.
Mac's cot is in our room and I've just had the usual session with him. If I could express myself well I could write pages about him. He is a most interesting and lovable child; talks a lot now and very clearly for his age. He loves the sound of Maori words; long names he will say and laugh delightedly. The usual morning routine is: I hear a little movement, then a call, "Maaaa," then I get up and he comes in with me for a while. If Daddy wakes up he says "Gro morni Gunny" and leans over to give Daddy a kiss. He is quite generous with his kisses if he knows they are wanted. Then he will lie as quietly as a little man of that age can. If I suggest 'cottie' he says "ont!" meaning he doesn't want. That word puzzled me for a long time, but Jean interpreted it. When it is time for the household to be moving he goes off to see his mummy and daddy. He is so hardy and fit. I suppose Jean and Daddy have told you how he likes to work around with others. He has a little hammer and loves to use it, especially if Daddy is using his tools. Sawing too he does.
The letter goes on to talk about repairs being done about the house, the elections, tax returns, Dede Beet's twenty-first with a hangi dinner followed by cards, and a new stove to be installed. The letter concludes:
Darling son, how we look forward to the day when the 'job is done' and welcome you home. God grant it may be soon. I don't think I'll be able to write to Jock today. It is so hard to write without interruptions ever so early in the morning. Share this with him if he is anywhere near you. Can you tell us a little more about yourselves without breaking censorship rules? are you near each other etc etc. Are your companies the same as when you went away? Are our letters addressed correctly?...I am trusting that you will be back in God's good time to have a rest and refreshing in your homes then gird yourselves again to help build that true world where all will follow the commandments of God and walk from henceforth in his holy ways.
All my love dear Colin, and Jock, and the love of all six of us home at present.
After the Greek campaign Colin stayed briefly on the island of Crete before being sent back to Cairo. On the 28th of May he wrote a letter to his parents explaining why and expressing his frustration at being separated from his fellow soldiers. He was on a troop ship on the Mediterranean Ocean.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
I have been finding it very hard to settle down since the Greek Campaign and to make matters worse am now separated from our boys who are still in Crete and, from my own experience of the Hun parachutists, going through hell.
I was in Crete for almost a fortnight and then packed off to Egypt to get a commission. That is some consolation but I would rather lose all hope of getting it than miss being with the boys in action. I suppose by the time you get this it will be all over and no matter which way it goes the Hun will pay dearly. We were ready for him when I was there and praying for him to have a shot at us. We have a whole lot more in our favour there than we had in Greece. At the moment I am killing time waiting to go to the O.C.T.U. which will probably be in about a weeks time. I have seen Tunney Piller and Alf deThierry who are also over here and all quite fit. Tom Bardsley was smashed up but not very seriously. we had a nice trip back from Crete and were not molested at any stage. A sight I will never forget was when we ran into the Mediterranean fleet in 'line ahead' at full steam. We had travelling on our ship Generals and staff and part of the British Embassy from Athens.
The heat here now is even worse than it was this time last year. It wouldn't be so bad if we had olive groves to shelter under. I received your cable the other day and it is practically the only mail I have had since before we sailed for Greece.
Well, I must drop Jean a line. What with the heat and uncertainty of things one finds it very hard to concentrate on letter writing. Cheerio for the present,
Love from Colin.
The following is that letter to his sister Jean and her husband Peter.
Dear Jean and Pete,
It's just as well you know what a rotten correspondent I am as it saves me from making excuses. Of late I feel worse than ever at the game. Jock and I got through the Greek Campaign safely but there is now the Defense of Crete which unfortunately I cannot take part in as I now belong to that horrible band commonly known as Base Wallahs. I have been unfortunate with mail lately apart from a cable the other day and one on my birthday. I have not had any mail since leaving Egypt for Greece.
This last comment indicates a stretch of eight months from September (his birthday month) to May without mail due to strict security, the authorities being anxious that the enemy might intercept any correspondence that could give them clues to the movements of the allied troops. All letters would have been held or even destroyed.
I suppose that my mail will chase me all over the Middle East. By now you will have heard all about how the local lads are. Being separated from my unit as I am I don't get the chance to check up on how they came out of it. I am a bit worried about Tom McClunie who I think may be a prisoner of war. I ran into Dave Allport and Jack Wards the other day both looking very fit, Jack in particular. He said he thought Bill Beet and Putty were over here.
It's several days since I started this epistle so if I don't finish it quickly it will take me a year to post. I cannot get into the mood for letter writing so I'll say cheerio fro the moment.
Love from Colin
2695 Sgt McGruther
DCoy 18th Bn
Middle East Forces
Then, on the 9th of June he wrote home:
Dear Mother and Daddy,
Now that the battle of Crete is over and done we can breathe again. Jock was wounded in the arm and very lucky to get away with that. Providence must have been on my side for had I stayed in Crete even a miracle could not have saved me from certain destruction.
I know we can say without hesitation that our New Zealand troops have proved themselves second to none and streets ahead of any we have ever fought alongside.
He told of an older couple who lived in Palestine who wanted to entertain some New Zealand soldiers who had evacuated Greece. The wife was born in New Zealand but left aged two. Her father was a Colonel in New Zealand during the Maori wars. He said they were wonderful to him especially during a time when he really wanted a place of peace and quiet and the comfort of a home. His letter continues:
I have not gone into Cadet School yet, it has been postponed until the 20th of this month. I went to the hospital yesterday and saw Tom Bardsley who by now will be boarding the boat for home. It is a pity that I did not know sooner that he was there as I could have sent something with him. However, you will see him not long after you get this letter. He has been pretty badly shaken up but a bit of home will make all the difference to him.
I have now had three letters altogether from you and Jean so I suppose I must regard the others as lost. I also received a parcel which I was very glad to get. Could you send me a few N.Z. and Island stamps. I want them for some cute English children I know.
What is left of the Battalion from Crete and Greece is now on their weeks leave and I am helping to hold the fort while they are away. Two days ago I had a nasty spill off a motor bike making a terrible mess of my face. As a result I won't feel like going out for some weeks.
Well, I must close now , cheerio from Colin.
He must have been nursing his broken face because the next letter home was dated 9th September, a good four months later.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
I have been neglecting my letter writing of late, more than usual, that is. I can think of several reasons. One is very unsettled here and have a lot to think about. Work has been steadily increasing from week to week. As a result we all have to do extra work every night and one never gets to bed before eleven. We are generally free between one in the afternoon and five but one either has a siesta or does some of one's extra work. Lastly, I don't like the idea of them censoring my mail here. They are very strict and I am afraid that they use the mail as one of their methods of judging a person. That is the bugbear here. You feel that even your sleep isn't your own. In everything you do you feel that an official eye is on you. The only way to get out of that atmosphere is to get out of the barracks to a private house which can only be done in the weekends, not because we aren't allowed out during the week but you simply can't do it and keep up with your work.
I have, however, all the conveniences in the barracks, in particular plenty of water for showers and baths. We also have a nice swimming bath, electric lights etc. The food is pretty poor. I told you in a letter a week or two ago that I would be coming out late in December. I made a mistake. I don't go out until,I think the exact date is October the 18th. Anyway, it is a few months course and are we looking forward to it! Last Saturday night we held a ball at a garrison not far from here. It was a wonderful show, the second of its kind we've had since I came here.
Keeping up with the movements and whereabouts of others from Pirongia, Puketotara and surrounds, was an important part of life in combat. Colin shares with his parents what little information he has about the boys they knew. He mentions one Kiri who got word to him of the battalion he was in and Colin promised to visit with him as soon as he was able. Also Allan McKay who was in hospital with a poisoned leg, Jack Haslett with his leg in plaster - not from battle but due to a horse riding accident and Roy Bowden who was posted to the navy in Alexandria. Also, word had got back of Bill Burke who was cruising around the North Sea, Iceland and the Atlantic. He rounds it all off with a few lines about the cricket team and the approaching start of the football season. His closing words are:
Well, I can't think of much more news and really must have some shut-eye. Cheerio for the present.
Love from Colin.
P.S. Have just received Peter's cable. Congratulations Mr and Mrs Bell. What are you going to call him? Did you have a good trip, Jock? Were the boys envious when they saw a letter from you marked Pirongia?
The congratulations were for the birth of Jean and Peter's second child whom they named Colin after him. His brother Jock was home on leave.
His next letter home was written on the 24th of November. Having completed his course and tour of duty at the previous barracks he was moved to an English barracks to do a weaponry course which he found amusing because it was all about the very weapons he had been using since the war began. He was thoroughly enjoying the new place. He writes: I am in the most pleasant surroundings I have been in since arriving in the Middle East, except perhaps one or two places in Greece. Here, however, it is an absolute rest cure...the Mess, like all Tommy Messes, is luxurious and the food is amazing. The only trouble is that Mess fees and all sorts of extras are pretty tough. If I remember rightly Jock was here at one time so he will know what it's like. I am sharing a room with a South African and an Australian, both good blokes. Not many miles from here are several old Aussie friends of mine who are coming to see me any day now.
Before I left Cairo Betty and Nick (an English couple resident in Cairo who became his close friends), whom I have often spoken of and whom Jock has met, gave me a letter of introduction to Betty's brother who lives in Jerusalem. He is a big stock broker...Betty, Nick and family, incidentally, are amazing people. They cannot do enough for us. Their home is ours to walk into whenever we are in town whether they are at home or not. We take full advantage of this especially to bathe and get properly cleaned up before going out. I have three pairs of really good silk stockings here which they gave me to send home. You will have heard by the wireless that things have started in the Western Desert and by the time this reaches you we should know the outcome. This is the only fly in the ointment that I am not up there with the boys. The letter ends here because the last page is missing.
Thus ended 1941, a year where he saw action in Greece but missed out on the Crete Campaign because he was sent back to Egypt for Cadet training and to receive a commission. It was a year where he felt the frustration of not being with his company and his fellow soldiers but tempered somewhat in one letter by the sobering observation that had he gone to Crete he most likely would not have made it out. Going by his letters it was a year of hard study, frustration, and endless work around the barracks. Nonetheless, he made many new friendships and managed to squeeze in some good times. But things were about to change.
Nineteen forty-two saw Colin stationed in Egypt anxiously waiting for a posting to a battalion so he could get back into action. Being stuck in the barracks was beginning to drive him crazy. In a letter written on the 5th of January he talks once again of his English friends Nick and Betty. They obviously made a strong impression on him because they pop up quite regularly in his letters. Nick was a boy in the last war (W.W. 2) whose father often invited kiwi soldiers into their home and Nick always remembered them. Now, he and Betty are doing the same some thirty years later.Then, six months on in a letter to Jean and Peter he gives his impressions of Palestine:
Dear Jean and Pete,
Just a line to let you know I am alright and kicking. As you probably know by now I am in Palestine not far from the Syrian border. We are in ideal surroundings apart from Greece the nearest thing to New Zealand since I left home. There is an added attraction in that we are right on the Mediterranean and have as good a beach here any I have struck. most of my afternoons are spent in the water or out of it stripped to be kissed by the sun and have I been kissed. I am now as brown as a berry and very fit. The rest of my spare time here is spent running the cricket here in the camp and an occasional game of tennis. My tennis, I'm afraid, had been sadly neglected since I came overseas, although I find I haven't quite forgotten how to wield a raquette. I have now seen most of the things one should see in Palestine and am not very thrilled about it, mainly on account of the way it is dished out to us. Everything of biblical interest has been commercialized and this is particularly noticeable when the guide adopts his most sanctimonious attitude and voice and in the same manner asks for so many millimes. I still find, however, more interest in these places than I ever could muster over the pyramids etc of Egypt. Several weeks ago Bill Beet and Huia Roa were in this camp. Neither have changed and both looked very fit, Bill in particular. there is only one big drawback to this village and that is the prices one has to pay outside. Your money goes nowhere. As a result most of my time is spent in camp which is no hardship as it is the best camp I have been in since being over here.
The crowd have just come in from the pictures and are now having supper or a nightcap. By the way, we also have an army cinema here which is also a very good show. As you know I was never a great film fan but I have been to more pictures here than I have been for many years.
Next time you write, Jean, would you give me detailed accounts of Jock's doings, whereabouts, unit, tank, etc. as people keep asking me and as he never writes I can't answer them. How are the kids? I have never been written to before by proud parents but I can't imagine being prouder because when I read your letters I can read between the lines ans see that if you ad your way I would hear about nothing else but the infants. I've come to the end of my letter so will say cheerio .
With love from Colin.
Another letter from Palestine tells us about some of the amusements he and his camp-mates engaged in. There was obviously a lot of down time between campaigns and Colin was quick to take the opportunity for a bit of fun whenever it appeared.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
I am still in Palestine and at the same camp.Unfortunately I did not take leave to visit Syria as I thought it would have been no time before I would be joining a unit up there. Now, however, I will be on my way back to Egypt again in a few days time and it may be ages before we are back on the job again in this part of the world. we are going to miss this camp very much, the beach in particular. One could not get better swimming anywhere and although it is getting pretty warm here it cannot hold a candle to Egypt.
I had an unfortunate but amusing experience the other night. I left here in a truck to see some friends in Tel Aviv which is about forty miles away. This truck was supposed to be leaving there for home at five o'clock in the afternoon. I met the boys again at five and they had postponed the departure until nine thirty. I therefore had to kill time with them in one of the numerous cabarets there called the Yorkon which Jock would know quite well. At about nine o'clock two great friends of mine from the Division came in and persuaded us without any difficulty to wait and go back to camp with them at midnight. Incidentally, they had a big Humber staff car which was an added attraction. By midnight we had run up a fair-sized bill and as I had only intended staying until five did not have enough to cover my share of the expenses. I intended seeing the boys at midnight and getting them to fix it up for me. after a lot of argument (obviously with the cabaret management) I had to hand over my hat and Sam Brown to get out of the place. We then went to our rendezvous and waited an hour for our car which did not arrive. There we were, the three of us, with no money, forty miles from home and no transport. we made the best of things and curled up in the back of an Australian truck in the car park until morning.
We woke at daybreak on Sunday morning very sorry for ourselves and made our way to the waterfront. There we met one of the boys from our Mess making his way to the bus stop. He also had missed a lift and stayed because he hadn't enough for a taxi. He had five hundred mills however which was just enough to get the four of us to the crossroads three miles from our camp.
You can imagine our feelings as we sneaked in, my own in particular with no Sam Brown or hat. By extreme cunning and fieldcraft we managed to get into our hut just as church parade was coming out. We immediately set to work to make ourselves presentable. I only had time to do this before I was to leave for Nablus to play an all day cricket match. I made arrangements before I left to get my gear back from Te Aviv. Can you imagine how tired I felt when we finally got home from Nablus late on Sunday night having won our game by ten wickets. Did I tell you that May's husband, Athol Morrison from Warkworth is in our Mess here. He is a very nice chap. I also had a note from Ben Cattran the other day as he passed through a transit camp on his way down.
well folks, I can't think of any more news so will say cheerio for the present.
His next letter is dated the 7th of August, some seven months later. He was back in action and this August letter was written while recovering from wounds in a Cairo hospital; the long period between letters most likely due to a ban on letter writing during battle operations, the first news his parents would have had that he was in action probably the telegram they received on the 10th of August notifying them he was wounded. The telegram simply stated: Much regret to inform you that your son C.O. McGruther has been reported wounded (stop). The Prime Minister desires me to convey to you on behalf of the Government his sincere wishes for a speedy recovery.
Minister of Defence.
There was no other information and heaven knows what his parents must have been feeling when they got that short, terse message. It would be up to Colin to fill them in and depending on the severity of his injuries a letter from him might be weeks or months away. Luckily, his injuries were not life-threatening so he was able to write almost right away. He would have received them in the first week of August because his letter home was written on the 7th of that month.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
Just a line to let you know I am well on the way to recovery and hope it won't be more than a month before I am again back with the Battalion. It was a novel experience for me to ride in an ambulance and go through all the necessary stages of being evacuated from the front line. They couldn't do enough for us and I happened to know quite a few of the doctors who attended to us on the way down.Since the campaign started I have written you several short notes but doubt if any of them left the desert. The dispatch of mail became of secondary importance as we back-peddled to our present line. The greatest loss we suffered was that of John Gray which you will no doubt have heard about by now. None could speak highly enough of him. I have had no news of any of the relations or lads from the district. Their units have never been anywhere near ours. However, their names don't appear in the casualties lists so I presume that up to a week ago they were all going strong. If anything had happened to them you would know before us. I am in a hospital near the Canal area and will probably get a weeks convalescent at the rest home in Cairo when I leave here. I will then have the time and opportunity to find out how everyone I know has fared. Legitimate news is scarce so will close this note so cheerio for the present.
Love from Colin.
P.S. Have had no word from you for ages, love to Pete, Jean, Maki, and the relatives.
Then from hospital in Cairo, 18th of August:
Dear Mother and Daddy,
I am well on the way to recovery and feeling as fit as a fiddle. I shall probably be discharged from here in two weeks time. He was discharged 31st of August according to the telegram to Mr J. McGruther from F. Jones, Minister of Defence.
I have a weeks convalescence leave and then rejoin the unit. I have enjoyed the rest here but will be glad to get back to the Battalion again. When I was evacuated from up above the only gear I had left was my boots, stockings, shirt, shorts, and pullover, the last three items in shreds. I wish I had a photo taken as I must have looked like a hobo! I wasn't feeling much like taking an interest in my appearance at that stage. I have been out of bed now for several days and yesterday took a trip with several others to the officers shop to replenish our sadly depleted wardrobes. after having done our shopping we went to the United (undecipherable name) club and had a couple of beers, lunch and then back to the hospital.
The cinema here is only fifty yards from our ward so that whenever there is anything like a reasonable picture on we usually go along. It is one of the many army cinemas owned by Shafto who is supposed to be an Australian (undecipherable). He is amassing a fortune by showing indifferent pictures that came out with the first talking machines. His machines must be of the same vintage. Jock knows all about them and has probably told you of two 'cinema incidents'.
Once a week a Mrs Blackwood, a N.Z. woman married to an English army officer and living out here before the war, comes to this hospital and delivers the N.Z.E.F. Times, a packet of cigarettes, and a packet of sweets. She must be a busy woman coming here once a week as this is an English hospital and very few New Zealanders are admitted here. Also, it is quite a distance from Cairo from her headquarters.
My fellow patients here are a great lot and a mixture of everything. I thought when I got here I would have to concentrate on letter writing to pass the time away but I find it hard to settle down to it. I am also one of the Bridge Big Four. As soon as I was admitted here I was pounced on and asked if I played Bridge. I replied in the affirmative. When I was allowed to go along and play with them the four started. We cut for partners, deal etc. and the game began. They seemed to me to be talking a lot of tripe but the play appeared to be perfectly normal until the third hand when the three of them bid practically every suit and our opponents finished up by pushing each other up until one bid a little slow (or slam). I realised then that they were playing 'contract' - which I had never seen played before - while I was playing 'auction'. They then explained the different conventions to me and we have carried on ever since until now I am regarded a pretty fair player...well folks I can't think of any more news except that is now months since I had any mail from N.Z. Cheerio for the present.
Love from Colin.
At home news of his wounding got about very quickly with well-wishing letters flooding in to John and Daisy from all quarters. A list of those who sent letters included: C. J. Morris, someone from Titirangi, his old St John's Housemaster from Kings College, J. A. McKenzie, the Gisborne Herald, Bee from Waiuku and probably many more. The main newspapers also published weekly lists of the New Zealand casualties and Colin's name was among them.
On the 8th of September or October (there is some confusion with the date of this letter) he wrote a lengthy and informative letter home with some fascinating insights into his battle exploits.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
I am now back in circulation again and have been up here several days now. My stay in hospital was a bit longer than I expected but it was a very pleasant rest and everyone was kindness itself. From there I went to our rest home in Cairo where I had a hectic few days before returning to base. Orders awaited me there to report immediately on arrival to the Military Secretary. He told me that my C.O. would like me back as soon as possible but that I could wait another fortnight if I wanted to. On telling him I could be ready to leave in an hours time he told me that transport would pick me up the next morning.As a result I consider myself very fortunate in getting back so quickly while others who came out of hospital a fortnight before me are still cooling their heels in base. Betty and Nick somehow heard of my injury very early and visited our N.Z. hospital in Cairo to see me but nobody knew where I was so I got a note and a parcel from them. They were very pleased to see me when I got to Cairo and in the few days I was there I saw quite a lot of them.
With me in Cairo were five old football friends both from the Battalion, Andy McBeath who was an original and who was Adjutant and is now on a staff course, and Jack McCowan who rejoined the Battalion with me. As you can imagine we had a pretty hectic four days. We got a very warm welcome on returning to the unit and everyone was surprised to see us so soon. On the quiet we were told we were 'b' fools for not staying as long as we could in base.
One of the first things I had to do was to strip off and show my 'honourable scars' as they are called; which, by the way, are completely healed and I am none the worse for them. My cheekbone was fractured but has set of its own accord and although slightly out of plumb it is quite unnoticeable. I lost one tooth - not a front one - and another is getting looser every day. In a very short time I will have to get a bush dentist on the job, probably my batman.
We have seen some very good dogfights lately and fortunately all have been in our favour. The pilots in our planes that were shot down have all managed to bale out in our lines. When a Jerry happens to parachute into our lines there is a wild stampede to be the first on the spot when he hits terra-firma. You can well imagine the valuable instruments he would have on his person. They are generally so worried about their fate at that stage that they are most open handed. They seem to have the mistaken idea that we don't take prisoners. If they only knew it, our chaps are more likely to give them a spot (if they have it which is rarely) and always a packet of cigarettes. Our chaps are not too popular with interrogating officers on that account as by the time these prisoners have been through their hands they are so cocky that they won't divulge the important information they might have given had they not been made to feel so much at home.
The flies and heat are not nearly so bad as they were before and things generally are much quieter. The position has become more static and everyone now is getting a bit more sleep. Also, we are getting two hot meals a day. We all feel very confident of the outcome here and although we are in fixed positions we are worrying him day and night. As a result the odds on our side are mounting daily.
It is less than a fortnight now when I will have been in the army three years. How time flies. No doubt those of us who joined the same day will get together and celebrate with something. the number in this Battalion would barely reach double figures today, although there are some of ours in base and also mixed in other Battalions. I don't think it will be very long now before we are given a rest and so may celebrate it in civilization.
I seem to have spread myself pretty well in this epistle but hope it doesn't sound too mournful as I don't feel it, in fact, I have seldom been in better spirits. Give my love to Jean, Pete, kids, Maki and relations and also Jock. Mail, I hardly ever see. It may be chasing me. I hope so. Cheerio for the present,
Love, Colin McGruther.
He remained at the front until November when he received a new posting. His abilities and experience as a soldier and officer must have been recognised by his superiors because his new job was to instruct new arrivals in the arts of warfare and survival strategies in the Middle East. No doubt this period of preparation would have been of paramount importance to the green rookies and may even have been instrumental in preventing many casualties or deaths. In a letter written on the 22nd of November we learn:
Dear Mother and Daddy,
As you can see by my address I have a new job. I am back in the same institution I graduated from just over a year ago. I am told it is an honour and I believe I am the first of their products to return as an instructor. You may be pleased about it but I certainly am not, although it has its compensations. At the moment I am feeling the responsibility a bit, not from my lack of knowledge but whether my judgement of so many blokes will be right. However, I am settling down and will have plenty to do in a six month tour of duty. The location of this place was shifted at the time of the flap and we are now right beside the stronghold where Richard Coeur de Lion made his name. By the time I finish here I will have spent a pretty large chunk of my overseas service in this country.
If one does one's job properly here one's leisure hours are few and as always I have been asked to run football. This afternoon, Sunday, we had a practice and I find that many of the team are well-known internationals. You will remember a clipping I sent you a year ago about my Empire team. Well, the same applies here.
I have met several cadets who we sent from our Regiment at different times and they were naturally very pleased to see someone from their old unit on the staff. I used to curse the saluting as a cadet but it is many times worse for me now. I am so heavily outnumbered. When I want to go to any part of the barracks I go via all the less frequented routes.
I was very sorry to leave the regiment at the beginning of the football season. It was the first time we could look forward to a full season on grass. We were all very fit and had a great team. I was in line for the center three quarter position...which was picked just after I left. At the moment I am resigned to my fate and have the consolation of knowing that when my time is up I am to rejoin the unit immediately no matter where they may be. This however is a Middle East appointment and 2 N.Z.E.F. have no claim on me until G.H.Q. release me. I am wondering where the war will be in six months time - on the Continent, I hope.
I had a very welcome letter from Jock not long ago. Here is an extract that will amuse you: 'You will be surprised to hear that I have fallen and got it badly this time. Her name is (Colin leaves this blank, obviously not wanting to give her name) and she is from (also blank). Please don't tell anyone about it'.
Needless to say I showed the letter to all the boys in the Mess who know Jock. They were tickled to bits as you can imagine, and over a few pints quoted anecdotes about him when he was in the Mess.
Jean is certainly an exception to the rule in the whole family when it comes to letter writing. I wish I had half her complaint, in fact I wish the whole family would get caught in this epidemic.
Poor Ben Catran and Jim Wynyard caught it this time. I am not sorry for them but their families. They have to bear the brunt of these things as always. We all realise that over here.
Well folks, I must close this epistle and no doubt you will be pleased that I will be as safe as a church for at least six months. Love to Maki, Jean, Pete and kids, and relatives and yourselves.
The final letter for 1942 was written on December 11th.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
Christmas is not far away and I have settled down here and am making the best of a seemingly bad job. It is not as bad as I first expected although one is kept busy if one is to do the job properly which I intend to do. In fact, I am almost becoming wrapped up in it. It is quite interesting trying to classify such a mixture of men coming from all over the Empire. The main fly in the ointment is that while here I will be completely out of touch with the Division. I am doing my darndest to fly back and join them for three days over Christmas, that is all I can hope to get away from here. If that does not come off it will not be the same.
I received two parcels the other day from the local Patriotic Society and how welcome they were, especially the tobacco. These, by the way, are the first I have received from them except for one I got before Christmas 1940. Although you had written and told me of more. Would you thank the secretary or whoever it is for me and tell them how much I appreciated them. I shared them with some of my English friends in a midnight supper. It was almost like the old Prep. School days to me. I have had several from you in the last month or two; two during the last few days, one containing 300 Craven A (a luxury and unprocurable over here) and the other a tremendous parcel with everything in it including two packets of Greys. I also received one from the Browns. There are other things, Mother, I could do with urgently: a long-sleeved khaki pullover, some thin socks of the same colour, and a leather toilet container that I can sling around and carry my toilet gear in a small space.
The one big drawback about this place is that one has to be done up to the nines the whole time...My big asset in this line is my batman who is more concerned about it than me and thanks to him my brass and leather shines as well as anyone's in this place and if you know the regular British army you would know what that meant. He is a wonderful chap and my friends all remark about him that they wonder what I would do without him. About a fortnight before we went into the army he was on the high seas as a seaman which becomes obvious whenever we move and he slings my luggage about and also the way he handles porters and guards etc.
Once again I have come in contact with horses. This time, however, I have got hold of a horse which is mine exclusively for my six months tour of duty. I have merely to get on the phone to have it brought to my room already saddled whenever I can get any spare time. That is about one short afternoon during the week and one day in the weekend.
Well folks, it is getting late and I must be up at 5:30 in the morning so I'll say cheerio with love from Colin.
P.S. Love to Jean, Jock, Pete, Maki and relations and a merry Christmas to all.
the first letter home in 1943 was written just after New Years day and gives news of his time as an instructor in Palestine.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
I have no news but thought I would drop you a line as I have a few spare moments. At the end of next week my first lot of men are being commissioned which means a pretty hectic time for me. They naturally are going to celebrate and of course I cannot get out of doing it with them, not that I want to. One gets quite attached to them after being in close touch with them for two months. We got together over Christmas and as a result my Christmas was much nicer than I expected it to be. We are all the best of friends now and what a boon that may turn out to be when sometime hence one is likely to be moved up with other Divisions and is almost certain to know someone wherever one may be. Although I hate being away from my Unit and Division I have quite enjoyed and got a lot of satisfaction out of trying to put them on the right track. My main aim has been trying to teach them to appreciate the crew they will have under them and I think I have succeeded.
I am sharing a room here with the only other New Zealander in the place (an instructor) and we turned it into New Zealand House on Christmas day. We dispensed drinks to all the Kiwi cadets in the place and it has made all the difference to our own and their lives. They, for once in the most regimental place in the Middle East, could relax. I am right out of touch with our Division now although friends in the Mess write to me regularly but of course cannot put on paper anything of military importance.
Well folks, lunch is ready and I have an important game of football on this afternoon so I'll close . Cheerio to all.
Upon reading these letters from Palestine we get the clear impression that Colin was a superb teacher and that the army clearly knew this because he was also a superb soldier and officer, something that would have made him a valuable asset on the battlefield. However, it is obvious that new officer cadets needed top quality training and only the best tried and proven officers would have been selected to teach them. From his letters we get the distinct impression that he was very dedicated to the job and thoroughly concerned for all aspects of the lives of his charges. As a result he became hugely respected and remembered by all who benefitted from his tutelage. His next letter home was on the 14th of January.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
I have just got back from a very pleasant five days leave which I had after turning out my first batch of officers. As you might well imagine their last week was a pretty hectic one with correcting final examination papers and different passing out ceremonies. I had to get on my feet at their final dinner and deliver an oration. I also had a big night in town after they left this place. That was on the first night of our leave. I then went to Tel Aviv to look up Alfred Marsack. I went down with Major Hicks who is the Chief Instructor. We went to one of the best pubs in the place and were having a drink when I decided it was time to make enquiries as to where I could find Alfred Marsack with whom I intended to stay. I saw two likely looking sorts in the form of an elderly looking chap in civilian clothes and an army Major. I approached them and found that they were going out to see Alfred on the following day and invited me to go along with them. Having had a couple of quick ones with them I went out for the evening with the Major. I met them again in the morning and had breakfast with them. Then came the bombshell. The old boy in civilians then came out with the following: "My name is so-and-so and I'm from the Air Ministry. I work with 'Casey'. Two things penetrated the old brain...Air Ministry and Casey. I knew they were big but restrained myself and with typical N.Z. nonchalance, replied with a non-committal, "Oh yes, my name is McGruther." He then rang Alfred and said he was bringing me out to dinner with them. We spent the morning driving around the country in their car then went out to Alfred's place where, to my surprise, I was admitted to a most hush-hush conference. When everything was over and they were gone I asked what he was and found that he was an Air Vice Marshall on some very important mission in the Middle East. His rank, by the way, is equivalent of a Lieutenant General in the army. Alfred himself, by the way, is holding a very important post here and his brother who was on sick leave is now Second-in-Charge in the R.A.F. in Cypress. That was the start of a very pleasant leave and now I am back and starting work again in the morning on a new batch.
At the end of this month there has been arranged a big rugby game; Dominions verses England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales to be played in Jerusalem in aid of the Red Cross. There are some well-known South Africans and Australians as well as several All Blacks playing in our team. Jack Best and Tom Morrison are two and there should be one or two more. My old team mate my old friend Frank Solomon is also playing. I am playing at centre. The opposition have twelve internationals so we will have to put our best foot forward. The game is being given great publicity and they are making elaborate arrangements for the entertainment of the two teams.
When I got back this evening I found two letters from you. I think I mentioned the parcel of tobacco and also one of cigarettes in a previous communique. They were very welcome. I got a tremendous Christmas parcel from Mrs Brown and one of cigarettes from Mr Brown. I had a letter from Doug the other day and he seemed to be enjoying life in England flying his Spitfire.
Well folks I am rather tired after my strenuous few days leave so will close this and get to bed. So cheerio for the present.
With love to all from Colin.
His next letter dated the 14th of February gives an insight into the nature of his job as an officer cadet instructor. He also states that this letter is 'idle chatter' but it offers a surprise or two in that he expresses his frustration at his brother Jock - who is back in New Zealand recuperating from his wounding - for not replying to his letters. We also get a little more information on how he spent his recreation time, especially riding his horse all over Palestine.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
News is scarce here but it's time I dropped you another line so I'll see how many pages I can fill with idle chatter.
By a considerable amount of wire-pulling I have every hope of getting away from here back to the unit two months before my time which is at the end of next month, in fact, just around about my birthday (25 March). I will then don the old beret and hop into a very big tank with heavy armour and big guns. They are wonderful things to handle and worth about 10,000 pounds. When I leave here I will have to spend a month or two polishing up my training. It will be a pleasant change going back to being the pupil after months of teaching. When I get home again you should have an expert mechanic, wireless and electrical technician. war is not what it was in 1918. It is amazing the things one has to know nowadays; weapons, of all shapes and sizes, all types of engines - diesel as well as the ordinary combustion including aero engines. With the guns we use we also have to be artillery-men. All that is in addition to the tactical side of things.
Yesterday I managed to get away on my horse for the whole afternoon. I went out with the Doctor and the wife of the District Commissioner for this part of the country. She is an English woman and a very good horsewoman. We went for miles and finally called in at a roadside café and had afternoon tea. Then, home to dinner and I remembered I would have had a bit of a celebration...yesterday was the was the anniversary of our landing in the Middle East. Three years is a long to have to live in uniform and so much has happened in that time. The only other in this place with whom I could have celebrated is my batman. He went into camp on the same day as I did. It wasn't until I came home from football tonight that he reminded me he also had forgotten.
We played the Palestine Police today and beat them 22 to nil. I managed to get three tries. After the game they turned on a very good afternoon tea and wanted us to stay in for the evening. Most of our team, however, have a very busy day ahead of tomorrow and so we declined the invitation.
You would remember Frank Solomon. Well, he is now a cadet in this place and of course I see quite a lot of him. While I remember it I have had quite a few cables from you lately. Although they are nice to get they are really a waste of money. I am going to write to Jock and stir him up. The only word I have had from him for months now has been a couple of cables. Those two cables, in my opinion, are worse than no cable at all. They tell you nothing except give one the impression that he says to himself that it's time he dropped me a line but can't be bothered and finally sends a cable. I have written to him five times and not had a reply. When next you address my letter to the Regiment. I will be back there by the time you get this.
Well, I think three pages is pretty good going on nothing. I was pleased to hear the cows are doing well...Give my love to Jean, Pete, Maki, Jock and all the folks.
On the 30th of May he informs his parents of his promotion to Temporary Captain.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
My letter writing I'm afraid to say has slipped lately partly because I have been rather more busy during the past two months and also that I haven't felt in the least like writing. You will note from my address that I have been promoted. I have had my third pip for from four months but didn't tell you about it as it was only temporary. There is a possibility that I might keep it when I have finished this job. If that does happen I shall be very lucky as I am well down on the Division seniority list. The boys are almost all back now and enjoying a well-earned spell here. They have been going for nearly 12 months without a reasonable spell. I suppose you have heard that Bill Beet was wounded. I contacted someone who had seen him and heard that he was on the road to recovery. He is, I believe, in a hospital in Tripoli.
I received three parcels the other day which were very welcome. They included the pullover, the socks, and the holdall from Uncle Bob and Auntie Mabel. I am writing to thank them. It is just what I wanted and not anything flimsy which is all one can get over here. I also got several photos of Patch, Pop, Jock, and Mac and Colin. They are lovely little kids.
Everybody over here is keyed up at the moment wondering where we shall go next. It won't be long before big things start to happen. Conjecture as to where the Continent is going to be breached forms the main topic of conversation nowadays; also when the war will be over. Things are looking brighter than they have ever looked.
It is now getting late and I have to rise early in the morning so will close this. Goodbye.
With love from Colin.
In August he caught a bout of 'sandfly fever' and in a letter from hospital he tells about flirting with the nurses. He is back with his unit and apparently did not keep his Captaincy as in this letter dated August 15 he signs off as Lieutenant C.O. McGruther.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
I am at last in the process of breaking a proud record of mine of not having to report sick since being in the army. I am at present in hospital with a slight touch of sandfly fever, in fact am almost ready to be discharged. I felt very sorry for myself for a few days but have been well enough during the past two days to start giving cheek to the nurses and sisters which they say is the first sign that a patient is recovering. I hope to be out in a day or two. At present everyone is working very hard to be in readiness for things when they start to happen. By now you would have seen several who could give you word of me. I'll bet they were glad to step on New Zealand shores again. We often wonder over here what they are doing with themselves. At nights over a drink in the Mess somebody will say, "I wonder what so-in-so is doing right now?" Everybody then looks at their watches and gives their version of what so-in-so might be doing. We are missing them very much over here. The letter ends at this point because the last page is lost.
In a letter written October 5th he writes:
Dear Mother and Daddy,
My letter writing I'm afraid has slipped again. Things have been moving pretty quickly here during the last few weeks and one hasn't had much spare time. I have had three letters during the past few days, one from each of you and also one from Jock. I won't reply to Jock's as I expect to see him in the near future (Jock had now received notice of his return to the front lines. He was not required to do so, he pretty much demanded to return because he yearned to be with his fellow soldiers to see out the war after two years in recuperation and as an instructor at the Narrow Neck Military Camp). I'm afraid there isn't a hope in the world of seeing me for Christmas as we have been ordered to stay. Jack Haslett and Allan McKay will be coming to see you and will no doubt give you the story. There are quite a few more from our Battalion in the same boat so one can't moan too much. Since the last few drafts arrived over here quite a few people who had passed through Jock's hands have come and made themselves known to me. It amused me Pop that you were game to go and have another spell at Narrow Neck. I have finished with schools forever, I hope. I have had many letters from my former pupils who are now scattered all over the Middle East and a few have gone back to the United Kingdom. When I look back on that tour of duty it was really a pretty good one. I met all sorts of interesting people and learnt a lot. Wherever I go I run into different chaps whom at one time or another had something to do with the place.
We had a fortnight not far from Alexandria and of course got leave to go in. I went in four times and on each visit hired a yacht and went sailing outside the harbour. It was a great thrill to sail around the pride of the Italian fleet. They are lovely ships and handled properly could have done a lot of damage.
I don't think I told you of our excursions every Sunday evening - when I was in Maadi - out to the Helwan N.Z. General Hospital. Three of us used to go out to have dinner with the Matron in her sitting room and after dinner a few spots and a lot of talking. It had been the recognised thing to do every Sunday evening for months and whenever they were off duty different Sisters used to come along. Well Miss McKay happened to be out here at Alexandria with one of her charge Sisters so we decided that the time was ripe to get a little of our own back. We spent all one afternoon and evening with them which of course included taking them out into the open sea in a yacht making them hop overboard and be dragged along by the mainsheet etc. They were very frightened but thought how tough they were when they finally got back on terra-firma. Miss McKay was Matron of the Hamilton Hospital before war broke out. Another day I spent with my C.O., the chap I live with, The Australian Trade Commissioner his wife and daughter. They had been very good to us in Cairo and the C.O. happened to run into them in Alexandria and came back with an invitation for the three of us. They gave us a great evening. That, however, is all over and done with now and we are once again busy with sterner things.
I can't think of any more to tell you. I have had all sorts of inoculations lately and both arms are still very sore. I am still as fit as a fiddle and don't think this war will last many more months in this part of the world anyway. Cheerio for now.
The last letter Colin wrote is undated because the first page is missing. But from the content it becomes obvious it was written just before he was discharged from hospital, which would have been at the end of December. We pick it up with the words...the other day which about fifty chaps attended. There was more than that number again who couldn't get along through duties of some sort. This being the first time the Division has been together has resulted in an epidemic of reunions. It is a good thing because one has met chaps who have been over here a long time whom one had no idea were here. The same thing happened with us at ours. Lately, I have also met many of our Old Boys from the navy and air force on their way through Cairo.
I had a letter from Jock the other day. He seemed fed up with the army in New Zealand and wanted to get back over here. Doug also wrote to me from England. He is apparently enjoying life and his work. I have heard indirectly that he is doing a great job and is a very good pilot.
I had to stop (writing) for a while as I had a visitor, an old friend of mine I hadn't seen for 18 months. He is the Prince Regent of Afghanistan whom I first met on a course and later met again in the (unreadable, looks like Blue). He went to the Registrar to look me up and they directed him here. He is only here for a day or two so I went down to the Registrar and did some very fast talking and if all goes well am to be discharged this afternoon for which I won't be sorry. I will then have a couple of days leave with Afzel Khan. He is a fine chap.
What do you think of the war situation now? I think the powers that be are rather worried about us getting over optimistic and a resultant slackening in the war effort. Their prophecies therefore I think are rather pessimistic ones. I hope so, anyway. For a time I thought I would see Peter here but conclude now that he is in the Pacific. How are Jean and the kids? Please give them my love and tell Jean that I will drop her a line soon but to take this as for her too. Also love to Maki and the rest and to Jock too if you see him.
Goodbye, with love from Colin.
There were no more letters because battle had resumed and Colin was in the thick of the action with the usual correspondence blackout in force. The next correspondence home was a telegram from the Ministry of Defence dated December 5th, 1943. The scrawled handwritten message read:
Much regret to inform you that your son Lieut. Colin Ormsby McGruther has been reported wounded (stop) The Prime Minister wishes me to convey to you on behalf of the government his sincere wishes for a speedy recovery.
F. Jones, Minister of Defence.
For a parent, finding one these telegrams in the letter box must have set the heart pounding. One can almost imagine the fear as anxious fingers ripped the horribly familiar envelope open. If it was a death notice, anguish, but upon reading about a wounding one surely would have breathed a sigh of relief before the worry set in.
Ten days later Colin sent the following cable home to his obviously worried parents: Injury not serious, love to the family, Colin McGruther. Then, on the 30th of December the welcome telegram from the Ministry: Pleased to advise you further cable reports your son Lieut. C.O. McGruther has now been discharged from hospital. F. Jones, Minister of Defence.
2695 Lieutenant C.O. McGruther
18th N.Z. Armed Regiment
10 March 1944.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
My letter writing has slipped again but here goes. Jock has arrived and does he look fit; or should I say fat? I have never seen him carrying so much weight before. In the ten days at our disposal I saw a great deal of him and getting all the news from home. So much that had happened I hadn't heard about. I was very sorry to hear about your illness Daddy and hope you will look after yourself and help me celebrate when I get back. Once again I'm afraid that just got further away as I am destined for familiar fields again hence the separation from Jock again. This, however, is only a matter of time. At the present moment I am living for a matter of days in the lap of luxury and when I say that I mean real luxury. Can you put two and two together from that? Jock was very cut up at not being with me. I am as fit as a fiddle again and raring to go. Cyril Kellaway, who you will remember, is with me.
I have heard regularly from my great friend Michael Leuten who has kept me posted as to the doings of the regiment. We have received seven immediate awards with more to follow. This is a record in the Division and we are very proud of it. I don't think this war will last much longer over here once the second front starts.
I got a long letter from Mr Brown the other day. It's amazing the interest he has taken writing regularly and sending parcels. Jock told me you hadn't received my letter acknowledging receiving the money you sent. I got it and was very grateful. I wanted it because my pay book was overdrawn before leaving for Italy and as you can imagine before leaving for a campaign we had pretty big celebrations especially as at that our Brigade had been in base for a year. To pay my share I had to have some in a hurry.
Doug Brown wrote me the other day. He is very fit and looking forward to going on operations shortly after doing a tour of duty at training squadron. I am writing this in the lounge to the accompaniment of a good pianist and a gang of officers around the piano helping him. There are also several bridge fours in action. We have a good library and I am making the most of it. That's all I can think of for now so cheerio.
In a letter written twelve days late we find him on the March in Italy. This letter is short and says nothing of the war raging around him, presumably because of the usual ban on talking about the conflict in any correspondence.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
Just a line to let you know I am fit and well and once more on Italian soil. Although it was raining cats and dogs on the day we arrived it has been, with few exceptions, kinder since; far better than it was on my last visit to the country. I am now living at our advanced base camp in Southern Italy. All around us are the signs of the coming spring in the form of fruit blossom.
I was sorry to hear of Aunt Jesse's death. However, from all accounts it was a peaceful one. Since arriving here my movements and those of the others in the same category are rather uncertain. It appears that we may be assembled here when relieved and sent in the right direction. Eric Miller is here and also Bert Jackson. Eric is as fat as a pig and looking the fittest I have ever seen him. Bert I haven't seen yet but Eric and I are going along tomorrow night. According to reports he (Bert) is also pretty fit now. Eric Hutton was in this camp but left a few days before my arrival. Since we got here I haven't had the opportunity of getting out of camp so don't know which of my friends is in hospital but will be visiting there in a few days time. There's nothing more to report at the moment so will say cheerio for now.
Love to all, Colin.
P.S. Tell Jean that since Jock's arrival I'm beginning to believe that her big boys (referring to his nephews Peter and Colin) are rather special and not just proud Mama talking.
Then, in July 1944 came the devastating news of his brother Jock's death. Jock was killed July 14th by shell fire at Camurcina, Italy. We can only imagine the shock and pain he felt at the loss because he never wrote about his emotional state. This was probably because he felt he must bear up and be strong for the sake of his family who would be utterly distraught at Jock's passing. Jock was greatly loved and hugely respected by all who knew him. In a telegram to his parents he simply said: Jock has passed away. Details later. All my love. Chin up. Colin McGruther. This telegram was dated the 25th of July, indicating that it was eleven days before Colin got the news of his death, presuming he sent the telegram as soon as he heard about it, which is very likely.
His final letter was written on the 8th of August. The war in Italy was over and he was on the eve of returning home. We can also note from the address that he had been promoted to full Captain.
2695 Captain C.O. McGruther
N.Z. Discharge Depot
8 August 1944.
Dear Mother and Daddy,
Once again I am back in Egypt after having been away about seven months. It is still fairly hot here but getting cooler every day. we are all rather fed up with the hanging around in this country but still that can't be helped. I am filling in time by playing squash and looking up old friends in Cairo. Prices here by the way have rocketed sky high, especially as the war situation improves. There is a possibility that I may still be in this country when the armistice in Europe is signed. At the moment I am spending a few days at our Officers Rest Home in Garden City. It is very quiet here and the meals are the best one can get in Cairo.
I had a letter from Mike Leuton who is on leave in England and he tells me that he has been told to stay and join an organisation which will be handling all our prisoners of war when they come through. It will be very interesting work for him as he will be seeing so many old friends. All the same by the tone of his letter he is rather sorry at not being able to come back to the old 18th. If what we think comes to pass the unit will got to where he is. I am very sorry that our chaps weren't given the chance to have a bash on the Continent instead of having to do that long slog in Italy over mountains, rivers etc.
Allan Empson is still in this country. I saw him for a few minutes the other day and he is rather disgusted at being left behind. If armistice comes as soon as we think, it will, we have decided, be best to keep well away from Cairo. There will be a terrible riot here on that night and I'm sure it won't be safe. Well folks, it won't be long now and news here is very scarce so cheerio for now.
Love to all, Colin.
Finally, the long awaited letter from:
New Zealand Military Forces,
P.O. Box 3044,
12th October, 1944
Dear Mr McGruther,
You are no doubt aware of the intention of the government to bring home members of the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force who have seen long service overseas.
Arrangements have now been made for the return of the first party of such men and T/Captain C.O. McGruther is included in the draft. For security reasons I am unable to give you any information in regard to the movement of those troops, but you will receive telegraphic advice just before the party reaches New Zealand.
As it is more than likely that it will not be possible to send this telegram to you until the ship is about to reach port, and as it is intended to send the men to their homes by special troop trains etc., immediately they arrive, you are strongly advised not to travel to the port of arrival. After arrival of the draft the army will keep you posted by telegram with full information as to the soldier's movements so that you may meet and welcome him on arrival in your home town.
Reading this officious letter from the military one can't help but wish Director Morgan good luck. I cannot imagine parents and loved ones waiting about while the military dithered around organising trains to take their boys to the thousands of towns around the country. It would take ages. And to 'strongly advise' parents and loved ones not to go to the port of arrival seemed a bit over-the-top. Nevertheless, 18 days later on the 30th of October the promised telegram arrived:
Capt. C.O. McGruther will be arriving very shortly from overseas (stop) you will be advised later concerning his arrival and future movements.
It was finally over. Colin was home.
Author's notation: Thus ends part two of this narration of my Uncle Colin's time in the Middle East. What an adventure he had! And, what a great soldier and individual he was. I thank him for being such a prolific and conscientious letter writer, for without his many 'epistles' as he often called them, we would not have had this great record of his war years which were a significant part of his life and brought out so much of his great and noble character for all of us to see.
I can't help but think he was born to be a soldier. His letters show him to be a man of honour and courage. He put his whole soul into whatever he was asked to do in the service of his country. He was highly regarded by all who knew him and he obviously had a love of people judging by the countless friends he accumulated in the Middle East from all walks of life. It is also clear that the military saw his value by commissioning him as an Officer Cadet instructor in Cairo. Goodness knows how many lives he saved by giving his charges the best training and preparation so necessary in such a dangerous conflict where poor decision making and poor understanding of war conditions could be fatal. The fact that so many of his graduating students went out of their way to keep in contact with him and look him up at every opportunity is testament to the respect they had for him.
I was born four years after the war so I didn't know anything about his exploits in the Middle East until I wrote this account. It has been a wonderful journey for me and I hope all the family will find the same enjoyment.
Uncle Colin was one of my favourite uncles. We were always happy when he was around. I remember him as mildly spoken with a gentle nature. I never once saw him angry and always felt good in his company.
He was a hard worker and a bit of an entrepreneur. However, after doing this project I reckon his true calling was in the military and I often think he should have made that his career. He was a natural leader and had a wonderful way with people. If he had remained a soldier I believe he would have achieved great things and who knows where it may have lead him. His only weakness was a fondness for drink, which was not unmanageable but could get out of hand at times. But this was not unusual among returned soldiers and his post war life was not badly affected by it; he knew his limits.
I want to write the third and final part to this life story of Uncle Colin but can't do it without help. I simply don't know enough about his post-war life. For information I am going to have to rely on his immediate family and any others I can get hold of. I would like to ask his children and grandchildren and any others anyone can suggest, to write about Colin McGruther and send it to me that I might add it to this biography and complete the story. I will be in touch soon by phone and email. I would like, for this segment, particularly your feelings towards him, any good stories/histories about him, experiences you had with him, and anything you might wish to express concerning him so that for generations to come our children will know of this great member of our whanau.
Colin McGruther Part Three: Personal Memories
Our first contribution is from his namesake, Colin Walter Bell, now living in Australia. Colin was born at Te Awamutu, New Zealand, 4 September, 1941 while his uncle was at war in the Middle East. Colin Jnr grew up in the Puketotara-Pirongia locality and later worked as a linesman around Kawhia and Hauturu. He later took employment at the Kawerau Pulp and paper mill in the Bay of Plenty. After two years he went dairy farming at Reporoa (near Rotorua) and then at Ngarua. Two and a half years later he and his family, consisting of his wife Beryl and their two children Vicki and Darrrell, emigrated to the Atherton Tablelands in Northern Queensland where he dairy farmed for the rest of his working life. Today he is retired in the Butcher's Creek-Topaz district not far from his five grown children and three grandchildren.
|Colin Walter Bell: Uncle Colin's nephew and namesake|
Here are a few childhood recollections of Uncle Colin McGruther, mostly from just after World War Two.
1. On the Farm at Puketotara and Miki the Mad Horse: Often, as a little boy I would go with Uncle Colin to the cowshed for the afternoon milking. When the milking was finished uncle Colin would mount Miki, the old farm horse, and pull me up behind him. With the billy of milk in his hand he would tell me to hang on as tight as I could. I quickly discovered that he really meant it for as soon as we crossed the river the horse would bolt up the hill to the house at what to me felt like a million miles an hour. As the horse bolted for home I was both terrified of falling off and wildly excited at the speed and danger of it all. I was four years old at the time.
2. The Green Hornet: Uncle Colin had a fine car; a Pontiac Hornet with a canvas hood, wooden spoke wheels, and wood-grained steering wheel. It was nicknamed the Green Hornet because it had a bright green paint job.
In those days farmers often did their own droving (driving cattle or sheep along the roads from place-to-place) and I remember a time when he Uncle Colin was droving a flock of sheep from the Te Awamutu railway station to the farm which took a couple of days. Droving cattle and sheep along the roads was still quite common at this time as cattle trucks were in short supply so soon after the war, and probably too expensive. The professional drovers rode specially trained horses and dogs but Uncle Colin drove his animals on foot. If the job took more than a day he would camp along the way or ask a local farmer for the loan of a paddock for a night or two to secure the animals.
Mum would pack his smoko (morning and afternoon tea), his lunch, and me into the green hornet and we would rattle off down the road to deliver the refreshments to him. Sometimes if we were close to a relative's place we would call in for a chat and then catch up in time to refresh him. There were no bitumen roads then so droving could be quite a dusty and thirsty job, especially in summertime. Sometimes if it wasn’t too dusty we would set the hand throttle on slow and idle along in the car with uncle Colin riding on the mud guard and me sitting on Mum’s lap and steering the Green Hornet. To a three year old it was a thrilling adventure and I always remember how happy uncle Colin was to see me. I always felt good in his presence, even at such a young age.
Does anyone my age remember what a konaki was? Probably not so I'll tell you. It was a homemade single-axel cart with a pole attached so that two horses could be harnessed to it. It was used for various jobs around the farm that required fetching and carrying such as laying out fencing materials, bringing in new-born calves, orphaned lambs and so forth. In winter Uncle Colin and dad would build a wide timber frame onto it so that they could load up much more hay than it would normally carry. I remember a couple of times coming down this narrow muddy track, sitting on top of the hay with uncle Colin and sometimes he got a bit enthusiastic with the load and built it up until it was top heavy. On these occasions when we got to the steepest and slipperiest part in the track or on the slope I would suddenly hear him yell “Jump off boy!” and I'd find myself sitting on the muddy track and the konaki is on it’s side and hay spilled everywhere. I only remember this happening a couple of times and knowing uncle Colin he probably thought it was pretty funny, but knowing mum I suspect she put her foot down and stopped me from riding on the konaki again.
What about tractors do I hear you ask? Well, it was at least another ten years before tractors spelled the death of the wonderful old konaki.
3. Haymaking Time: Hay was stacked in those days. Hay balers had not come onto the scene so after the usual prepping the hay had to be swept to the sight chosen for the haystack by a piece of apparatus called a sweep.
Pulled by two horses the sweep would be guided down the windrow by the driver until it was full of hay and then swept to the stack site. On this particular day uncle Colin was on the sweep and I remember seeing the horses bolting across the paddock, hay flying in all directions and eventually pieces of sweep doing the same until the horses were brought up short at the fence. Uncle Colin having quickly seen the futility and inequality of the battle to bring the horses under control, bailed out fairly early and left them to it. I also have faint memories of some fairly pointed remarks about his sweeping ability.
4. Lambing Time: There was a set of sheep yards down by the river at the northern end of the farm where we took the month-old lambs for docking and castrating ~ the removal of tails and testicles. Uncle Colin used a length of old car spring sharpened at one end and kept red hot in a fire to sever the tails off the lambs. The red hot edge also cauterised the tail stump and helped prevent infection. The male lambs had to be castrated as well. This was done by the old method of cutting the scrotum and exposing a testicle which was then removed by the castrating person gripping the testicle cord between his teeth and biting and pulling until it came free. The removed testicle was then spat onto the ground where eager dogs wolfed them down. Each male lamb had to suffer this crude operation twice. You modern young ladies reading this, picture if you will, dating a young man and kissing him goodnight after he has spent the day biting and spitting lambs’ testicles!
I sat on the yard rails and watched these proceedings and saw Uncle Colin, Uncle Joe, and other relatives all working together to get the job done. I'm glad to say that I was too young to bite off lamb testicles and by the time I was old enough the more modern method of ringing did the job more cleanly.
5. Witnessing the Proposal: One evening Ma and Gunny were having a party and there was quite a crowd in the old Puketotara homestead. Mac and I and some other cousins were all put to bed in Ma and Gunny's big double bed. Some time later I was the only one still awake and uncle Colin and Aunty Dede came into the room and after a short and passionate interlude they expressed their love for each other. carried away by the moment Uncle Colin suddenly proposed to Aunty Dede. I described it all to Mum & Dad next day and they had a giggle then swore me to secrecy on pain of death if I ever revealed my secret.
6. Uncle Colin's Giant Heart: On our wedding day in 1963 Uncle Colin took Beryl and me aside and sincerely expressed his love for us both and told us that if we ever needed help of any kind we were to call on him and he would give us whatever help we needed.
7. Sharing Our Special Occasion: Our first child, Vicki, was born at Kawerau while Uncle Colin and Aunty Dede were holidaying with us. They weren’t allowed to visit Beryl in the small maternity ward so they went and stood outside Beryl’s room ~ Uncle Colin was an expert at finding a way around the rules. While I visited in the room, there they were, outside, chatting and joking with Beryl who was leaning out the window. After a while the matron came in and sprung us. She shooed Uncle Colin and Aunty Dede away and told Beryl to get back into bed and at least try to look like she had just had a baby. I could hear Uncle Colin laughing as they went back to the car. It was only right to share this very special time with two special people.
8. On a Windy Hill: When Mac and I were little Mum was always teaching us to have good manners; especially when we broke wind. On such occasions we were instructed to say 'pardon'. However, it must have been a difficult word to get our tongues around so our word for pardon became, 'pai'. One day Mac and I were out on the farm with Uncle Colin rounding up some sheep. We were standing atop a hill with Uncle Colin whistling and yelling instructions at his dogs down below working the sheep. Suddenly, he gave an especially vigorous whistle and at the same time broke wind in the most spectacular manner. As Mac and I stared up at him in astonishment, he calmly took his fingers from his mouth and looking at us in his usual good-humoured way said, "Pai". Both of us shrieked with laughter. After that he said pai many more times which amused us greatly.
These are some of my childhood recollections of Uncle Colin. I always liked it when he was around.
Announcement: The next blog in the interim will be a very special one and something that will greatly thrill all who read it. Earlier this year Hurricane Yolanda ripped through the Philippines destroying homes and lives on an immense scale. Probably few of the greater whanau know it but we had a family member caught up in epicentre of that historic event: Andrew Lear - son of Jan (nee Bell) and Mark Lear from Tauranga - who was working there as an engineer installing heavy machinery at a copper mine. After the storm had passed and the scale of the destruction became apparent, Andy was alarmed at the suffering of the people affected and the total absence of response to their plight from the Philippines government. He determined to do something about it and from his first small efforts he spearheaded an organised relief drive that delivered hundreds or even thousands of tonnes of food and relief and aid to countless people. It was an heroic deed in a time of great need and Andy is one of those unsung heroes that our whole whanau can be proud of.
Andy wrote an excellent report on the whole thing which will be posted on this blog soon. Be prepared to be astounded!