Alfred Groves, a British soldier who emigrated to New Zealand and then enlisted in the NZ army, seeing action in World War I, was in Waipukurau's Pukeora Sanatorium when he died of tuberculosis on September 25, 1921. He was buried the next day at Waipukurau Cemetery, and would have lain there with little ceremony for years to come, if not for the Covid lockdown.
The lockdown in 2020 led to a re-awakening of some all-but-forgotten history for a family in the UK. The discovery of an old photo album and some correspondence between a great-great aunt and a solicitor in New Zealand in 1922, together with uniform badges and a will from 1916 provided a good starting point for some research. Alfred Groves' family had found him.
Some of the family had planned to travel to New Zealand to commemorate him this month but were prevented by Covid. The Waipukurau RSA stepped up to do it for them.
Alfred was born in 1886 in Hartlebury, England, to James and Elizabeth Groves. He was the sixth son of nine sons and three daughters.
Aged 19, he enlisted in the 4th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, and was posted to Malta and Egypt before purchasing his discharge and emigrating, arriving in New Zealand in 1912, where he worked at Waipare Sheep Station, north of Gisborne.
War was declared on August 3, 1914, and within a fortnight, Alfred was enlisted. By the end of that year, he was in Egypt as part of 9 Squadron, Wellington Mounted Rifles.
Alfred was on Gallipoli with 9 Squadron. Shot in the shoulder, he continued to fight, seeing action on Chunuk Bair and Hill 60 before being evacuated to Malta with gastroenteritis, pleurisy and dysentery. It was there he had his first attack of malaria.
It was his first hospital stay but by no means his last. Alfred persisted with his military career but it was interspersed with six more hospital admissions for malaria, finally applying for a discharge in 1919 due to malignant tertian malaria (recurring).
On October 5, 1919, Alfred boarded the hospital ship Arawa to return to New Zealand.
In November, he disembarked in Auckland and was transferred to Pukeora Sanatorium on a hill above Waipukurau, and discharged five months later as "no longer fit for active service on account of illness contracted on active service".
Alfred had contracted tuberculosis. After two more admissions to Pukeora, Alfred died on September 25, 1921, of acute laryngeal tuberculosis, chronic pulmonary tuberculosis and asthenia — a wasting condition associated with tuberculosis.
Due to the slowness of communication at the time, Alfred's death certificate shows no record of siblings and "parents unknown". His parents were both still alive at the time, as were his brothers and sisters. In fact, Alfred had left his savings to his sisters, who used them to purchase the farm at Pansington, which had been worked by the Groves family as tennant farmers since 1880.
Alfred's military service spanned five years, 255 days. A photograph of his grave was sent to his sister Louisa, together with his property, in 1922.
SQMS Alfred Groves was a recipient of the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal and the Silver War Badge.