Rank & Name: W/C Albert Alfred de Gruyther DFC
Date of Death: December 2002


(photo c/o John Feltham)

Little is known of W/C de Gruyther at this time. The ORB shows that he took command of the Squadron in July 1944 and was replaced by W/C M.B Littlejohn OBE on 17/03/45. On leaving 59 Sqn, W/C de Gruyther was promoted to Group Captain and became the C/O at RAF Benbecula. In 1945, Benbecula was home to 304 and 36 Sqn's (Wellingtons).

Flight Global shows that he was posted to 201 Sqdn (Flying Boat) at RAF Calshot, effective 27/03/1935. He was a Pliot Officer.

Promoted to the rank of Flying Officer, effective 22/04/1936.


Update June 2015: Sourced from the Victoria School Kurseong website. Thanks to John Feltham.

That's my Father, Albert Alfred de Gruyther. He was born in 1914 and is still alive and living in the English Lake District. He sired six children who had no idea of their Indian ancestry, and it has been my delight to peel back the layers of our family history in such a way that he never had to tell us about it. It was evidently a taboo (the inter marriages of the past) and I think he is pleased that we know, and that we are proud of and fascinated by our family past. It was such a taboo that I really believe him when he says he did not know what his Grandfather did, or even who he really was. I thought for a long time that he was pulling the wool over our eyes, but now, I think his own father probably kept him uninformed. That would be quite cruel, since my Great Grandfather had ten children, eight of whom survived into adulthood, and six boys he put through La Martiniere in Lucknow.

Anyway, Dad came to Britain in about 1932 and finished his schooling - his "finishing" as an Englishman, and before he could take his place at Oxford he had to join the RAF in order to get the gratuity that would pay his way through university. The war intervened, and he rose rapidly to be a young Group Captain in Coastal Command, flying Singapores, Southamptons, Catalinas, Sunderlands and eventually Liberators.
I am immensely proud of him and all he has had to put up with. a) as a closet Anglo Indian, b) as a Christian military leader, and c) as father of six very different and very independent children!

He became an Anglican Priest after the war. My mother was from Cheshire, a real saint and a great partner. She and Dad were very lucky to find each other at an Officers' Christian Union holiday camp that she helped run during the war. Dad's maternal Grandparents were Matron and PTI at Victoria School, which is why he went there after having had a stab at St. Paul's in Darjeeling, up the road. (or mountain).

Thank you for your response, and the photo of the honour board at the school. I've posted it to one of my sisters in UK to forward to him. He is too frail to access the internet himself, but he knows what it's about and has helpers around him who can print up messages. He was not one of the "Few" in the sense of the Battle of Britain but was one of the Few in the Battle of the Atlantic, combating the U-boat menace against allied shipping. At the same time, being Coastal Command, he was engaged in activities that were often covert, like dropping passengers off in Norwegian fiords.

For so much of his life (because of the intermarriage taboo) he has been unable to share with us his love of India, its sights and smells and people. Now in the twilight years he can relax and ramble about the toy train and the wonderful sunrises in Kurseong. Because I know that you will understand my feelings, I can tell you that in 1936 he flew out from Iraq to reinforce the garrison of Singapore which was even then under menace from the Japanese. He had to plot a course from Basra (the Shatt Al Arab waterway of the Gulf War) and did so via the Ganges and Allahabad so that he could visit his Aunt Mary who lived there. She had married a chap called Da Gama, undoubtedly an AI. He came down on the river in a Singapore flying boat, which had six Rolls Royce Merlin engines long before the Spitfire got them. (Note: The Short's Singapore flying boat had four Rolls-Royce Kestrel VIII/IX engines. Editor, the R.R. Merlin was developed from the Kestrel). They damaged a float on debris and had to wait four months for spare parts to be shipped from UK. He was able to visit his cousins at Dow Hill. They now live in Ipswich, these Whittaker girls (!) remember how he visited them in gallant RAF tropical uniform and how the other girls swooned, and how they said "He is OUR cousin" and how he took them into the town for ice cream. Such simple pleasures and such simple memories.

When he landed the boat the crew rowed ashore, and Dad hired a buggy to take him to "The Englishwoman's House" and he was promptly taken unerringly to his Aunt's house for dinner! He says that as soon as he landed on the river he felt at home again after years in the UK. The rest of his stay was more Calcutta-focused, with regular trips to a small arms factory and armoury at Uddapore. (North up the Hoogly?)

I can tell you that as a visitor/stranger (six years ago) in Pakistan on the North Trunk road from Rawalpindi to Peshawar, I have felt that same at-home-ness with the sights and sounds and smells. I know what he must have missed for so much of his life.
And another msg.

You can use my Dad's name anywhere or anyhow you like. He could only be tickled at this last stage of his life. His mind is alert (He read PPE at Magdalen College Oxford) but his body has let him down. He was badly damaged in a car wreck many years ago, and never fully recovered. I still love to sit beside him and ask him questions about India, and he loves to reminisce, although he does ramble from one track to another. Some of the stories are fun, like trying to buy a pirogue from a river fisherman on the Ganges so that they could try to substitute it for a float that was damaged in a river landing. The fisherman rebuked them saying that this dug out canoe was his life! When he talks of charcoal fires and warm dust and the smell of local cooking, I can join with him from my own visits to Pakistan. I am looking forward to his surprise when he sees his name on the school honour board!

My father has two cousins who were Whittakers and attended Dow Hill I am almost sure. They both live in Ipswich. One was born in 1915 and is quite fit, the other a little younger than that. These are the girls Dad took out to tea from school and college when he was stuck en route to Singapore. I'll try to get Grace to contact them. I don't know if they'd be up for a reunion, but they need stimulus in their lives. Both are widows now. They are both very bright, and one was a WO1 in the Women's Army Corps of India aged only about 20 during WW2. I never knew of their existence until we started to get Dad talking a few years ago. My wife and I had a very happy visit with them three years ago.

Tim de Gruthyer - May 2002

(photo c/o John Feltham)

I've been meaning to let you know that Dad died just before Christmas. I told you that when I had last seen him he was not up to much and there was no chance of getting any particular memories of Victoria School out of him. The next time I saw him was the day before he died, and he was completely out of things, just waiting to slip the mortal coil. I'm sorry that I couldn't garner some stories, but you see the situation.

We had a great memorial service with four tributes to different parts of his career as RAF pilot and brass hat, youth leader, parish priest, community leader etc. My son Ruaridh played the "Flowers of the Forest" on the pipes to see the old warrior to rest, and my brother in law and I played "A Man's a Man For a' That" on fiddle and accordion as guests queued to sign the book. Many were surprised when in my own tribute I announced that (thanks to my India List research) Dad was a fifth generation Anglo Indian, the descendant of Jan de Gruyther who arrived there in 1796 as a very young mercenary soldier from Flanders. I told the full church that he had gone to Victoria School on the rooftop of the world in the high Himalayas, at a time when India was largely untouched by the social upheaval going on in Europe, and where notions such as courage, honour, loyalty and service were not only commonly taught but were also politically correct! So, John, the school for which you hold so much affection was mentioned at the last.

Tim de Gruthyer - Jan 2003


Further Information

If you have any information about W/C de Gruyther, please contact me, thank you.

Rest In Peace