Francis de Gruchy

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Francis Arthur Labey de Gruchy


Francis Arthur Labey de Gruchy, F.R.S.A.

Francis Arthur Labey de Gruchy (1883-1970) so loved military life, and especially action that, at a time of impending cuts to the Indian Army, he joined the French Foreign Legion, becoming one of its very few non-French officers. This biography was expanded in 2019, from a previous short entry, by Guy Dixon

The son of the Rev Francis de Gruchy, MA, Rector of St Peter, and Clara Elizabeth Labey, of La Fontaine, Grouville, Francis Arthur Labey de Gruchy, known as Arthur, was born in St Helier and educated at Victoria College between 1891-1900. There he won in 1899 the Queen`s Medal for classics. One particular legacy of his days at Victoria College followed him throughout life in Jersey, although not elsewhere! This was his strange local nickname of Slug, which was most unusual in such an energetic person. It arose during a classics lesson, in which the master was testing and informally attempting to catch out his best Latin pupils, quizzing them on the Latin for the most unlikely objects. The Latin for a lettuce had stumped one of these, which de Gruchy immediately stepped in to answer correctly. The slightly irritated master then said "As de Gruchy seems to have all the answers, perhaps he can supply the Latin name for the slug in the lettuce?" As de Gruchy again replied correctly, to the mirth of all concerned, Slug de Gruchy, he became!

In 1900 he entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.

The Rev Francois de Gruchy, Arthur`s father

Indian Army

He was commissioned into the Indian Army (19th Hyderabad Regiment) in 1901 and gained promotion to Lieutenant in 1904. He was promoted to captain in 1910, serving with the Indian Staff Corps and was in 1916, promoted to Major. A natural soldier, his considerable flair for languages will have been invaluable, as he spoke fluent Urdu, Persian and French, as well as being competent in ancient Greek and having studied Arabic.

The Great War

At the start of the Great War (1914-1918) he was on active service in and around Malakhand, to the north of Peshawar, in what was then regarded as a troublesome part of the former North-West Frontier Province, for which he was awarded the 1914-15 Star. Now a Major, he served with the 95th Infantry (Russell`s Regiment), seeing almost continuous action throughout the East and in Mesopotamia. On secondment to the Middlesex Regiment, he was promoted on the 15th May 1918, Acting Lieutenant-Colonel. Returning to regimental life in 1919, on relinquishing his acting rank, he was among those facing uncertainty due to feared Army `cuts` in 1921. Bored, furthermore, with garrison life and the endless training of new recruits, he retired from the Indian Army and joined, with effect from the 2nd of February that year, the French Foreign Legion as a probationary sous-lieutenant, being confirmed in that rank within a month. Although this was contrary to King`s Regulations, even for an officer on the Retired List, this did not trouble de Gruchy as he would be far from sight of those in India as well as the United Kingdom. He was also possessed of a singularly independent mind.

French Foreign Legion

De Gruchy served in Algeria in the 1e Régiment Etranger`s campaign there until August 1921, when he was transferred to the 5th Levant Battalion, 4e Régiment Etranger. He duly sailed for the Levant (Syria), where he was employed on active service for the next two years. On the voyage there, he met on the ship an officer of the Regular French Army, one Colonel de Grouchy, a descendant of Napoleon`s marshal of that name, who was delighted to meet one of his Jersey namesakes but astonished to find him in the Foreign Legion! His surname and flawless French caused another such officer to ask "What have you done to be banished to the desert?" He was amazed to discover that de Gruchy was in fact British and there, not only by choice, but for his love of action. Promoted to Lieutenant in 1922, he returned to Algeria in the following year, remaining there once again with the 1e Régiment until December 1925, when he resigned from the Legion, as a career in quite another direction had opened to him.

Consular Service

Major de Gruchy`s five years` experience of North Africa proved most useful to him, as he was recruited into the British Consular Service and in January 1926 was appointed British Vice-Consul, Mogador (now called Essaouira, a coastal city and district of Morocco). The non-trading post included all diplomatic privileges and full charge of the Mogador Consulate and District, with responsibility for His Britannic Majesty`s Consular Court. De Gruchy, in addition to his other duties as Vice-Consul, travelled extensively in North Africa, in the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert, reporting back to the Foreign Office. He remained at the post until the surrender of the territory in October 1933, which necessitated its closure. He retired then, returning to live in Jersey, having inherited a property on the edge of St Ouen from his late father.

Second World War

In Jersey, he immediately embarked upon research into the history of the Royal Jersey Militia and was an enthusiastic member of the Jersey Rifle Association. His retirement was short-lived, because the outbreak in 1939 of the Second World War led him to contact the War Office, offering his services once again. Being then aged fifty-six, he was no longer eligible for active service but was appointed a lecturer to H.M. Forces, South-Eastern Command, in military history, under the auspices of the Universities of Oxford and Reading. He spent the war years lecturing to land and air forces, being given an honorary rank by the latter, as Pilot Officer, Royal Air Force. He therefore had by 1945 the unusual distinction of having held commissions in the Indian Army, French Foreign Legion and the Royal Air Force!

Post-War Jersey Politician

He returned to Jersey after the war and found himself strongly opposed to the reform of the Island's constitution and the disbandment, after more than six hundred years, of the Royal Jersey Militia. The Memoirs of Edward Le Brocq 1877-1964 (ELSP, 2000), 280, states of The Royal Commission to change the Constitution of the Island, that it "sat in the Royal Court in public session and anybody who had anything to say was free to go and say it...All manner of people aired their views, prominent among them being Major de Gruchy (later Deputy of St Ouen`s) who wasn`t in the least overawed by the occasion and who created a lot of interest, and at times, some amusement, by his vehemence. I've no doubt at all that he mentioned the British Empire and the cause of its downfall."

Much to the indignation of de Gruchy and others, the Rectors and Jurats were excluded from the States. In 1950, he sought election as Jurat, but was unsuccessful, being narrowly defeated by Commander E C Obbard. In 1951 he entered the States, as Deputy for St Ouen, a position he held for the next nine years. Never one "to suffer fools gladly" or to tolerate any opposition to his views, he quarreled regularly with his fellow States members. He was an Empire Loyalist and as such, dismayed at the supine surrender, proposed by post-war politicians, of British territory, wherever it was. His views on the United Kingdom's Labour Government were most unflattering. He was furthermore outraged at their having meekly granted India its independence.

There were other 'bones of contention'. Ralph Vibert, OBE, in Memoirs of a Jerseyman, 99, wrote that during one debate in the States Chamber, when de Gruchy was haranguing the States, Senator George Troy created a new precedent by bluntly telling him to "Shut up". This was met by a string of menacing words in ancient Greek. Translating, de Gruchy explained the words had been spoken by the great Achilles and were "May eternal damnation rest upon the House of Troy". De Gruchy was one of the last of many centuries of unconventional and at times unruly Jersey public figures.

Defeated by Arthur Queree in his bid to remain as St Ouen Deputy in December 1960, de Gruchy devoted his remaining years to scholarship.


By 1964 he had published his War Diary (1939 to 1945) and the National Rifle Association Magazine had published several of his campaign and battle articles. Articles by him on military topics were also published in the Annual Bulletins of the Société Jersiaise, which he had joined in 1929. Before 1964, when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, he had written, but not yet published, A History of the Crusades, a short book on The Army and Empire, The Military Role of Jersey in History and the Royal Jersey Militia and A History of the Indian Mutiny. In 1964, he was working on an extension of The Army and Empire from 1066 to date and writing a history of the Norman Conquest. These were followed by his translation of Jersey`s 1299 Assizes Roll into English.

De Gruchy`s obituary in the Jersey Evening Post, 21st January 1970, mentions that he was an expert instructor in musketry, had been for many years vice-president, a member of its council, Chairman and Patron of the Jersey Rifle Association, and had captained two Jersey teams (including Old Victorians) at Bisley.

A Fellow since 1934 of the Navy League, a member of the Royal United Services Institute and Life Member of the British Commonwealth Parliamentary Union (he was on the executive council of the Jersey Branch), de Gruchy was also a Fellow since 1934 of the Royal Empire (Commonwealth) Society (again serving on the council of the Jersey Branch) and member of the League of Empire Loyalists.

Arthur de Gruchy (as he was known to his family) married on the 7th November 1910, at Bombay Cathedral, Miss Josephine Pagan of Queen Alexandra`s Indian Nursing Service. She was the daughter of John Pagan, H.M. Surveyor-General for the Gold Coast (now renamed Ghana).

De Gruchy and his wife lived at Les Huriaux, St Ouen, where she died in 1966. They had one daughter, Mary Elizabeth, ARCM, LRAM, who died in Nepal, predeceasing her father. She had married Brigadier G S N Richardson, DSO, formerly of the Gurkha Rifles, and latterly QADC, Nepal.

Arthur De Gruchy died on 20 January 1970 and was buried in St Peter.

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