Private – A.I.F. 2/22 Battalion

John George Groat was born in Melbourne in 1913. He was the eldest son of Maggie (neé Irvine) and Thomas Groat.

The family moved to Lake Rowan and lived at ‘Gowan Lea’, Lake Rowan where they carried on farming duties. In 1930 the family moved to a farm, ‘Woodlands’, Devenish where they had wheat and sheep.

Jack was an excellent horseman. He and his brother, Harry, bred and broke in their own horses. There were 3 teams of 8 horses as well as light horses, ponies and gig horses. They joined the 8th Light Horse in 1937 and went to camps at Torquay, Mt Martha and Corowa for a few weeks each year with their horses.

They both joined up at Wangaratta on the 5th June 1940. Harry was medically unfit, but Jack then went to Caulfield in the 2/2 Pioneers on the 10th June 1940. He was transferred to the 2/22 Battalion on the 17th July 1940 and in 1941 set sail for Rabaul, not the Middle East as expected!

The boys had problems there as it was Australian Territory, and they were not going to get any deferred pay and were not considered by the then Government. We all got in touch with our local Members of Parliament, which may have helped their cause, but the ones who did return were treated very poorly again.

Jack was taken prisoner on the 23rd January 1942. I was later told by Captain Appel that the last he saw of Jack was at his post on the Mortars.

We did not hear anything for quite a while and could not get any satisfaction. Then came the news that he was ‘missing believed POW’, followed on the 22nd September 1942 with a letter in Jack’s own hand writing which gave us hope again. We continued writing every week and waited, hoped and prayed.

Our father died in July 1944 at 61 years of age, not knowing about Jack’s fate. It was a bad time for my mother and family. I always thought Jack would escape, being a country boy, and come home again but the final word was devastating. The waiting and trying to find out what was going on, writing and keeping the letters as cheerful as possible, and even sending radio messages via a lady from Toorak, kept us going until the 22nd October 1945 when we got a telegram – Jack, presumed dead.

I was training as a nurse at Epworth Hospital at the time and was devastated at the loss of my darling brother. On the 10th December 1945 a service was held at the Assembly Hall in Collins Street and an address was given by Chaplain John May in memory of the men who gave their lives. Jack was one of those lost on the Montevideo Maru on 1st July 1942. The Japanese Assets Distribution for this lovely man’s life was £54.

I believe the wonderful spirit of the men of the 2/22 Battalion, with nothing to help them, did so much in preventing us in our precious Australia from being taken over by the Japanese. We who are left are eternally grateful for the freedoms we enjoy now. Don’t let us and our children ever forget.

Ailsa Nisbett