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Wartime secrets from the family home

The impact of WW1 and WW2 on the McGrath family

Tom McGrath


Out of print
Soft cover, 308 pages, 90+ photos


“I blame that bastard Hitler for my teeth,” WW2 veteran Hugh McGrath would often say as his dental bills mounted up.

He could have said so much more, but didn’t. So the full extent of his wartime story didn’t unravel until the chance discovery of hundreds of letters, photos and postcards stuffed into boxes and attaché cases and scattered throughout a suburban house.

Hugh’s son Tom McGrath uses their unique, eye-witness commentary to recount his family’s varied experiences in both world wars — in WW1 his paternal grandfather Frank was an army captain, great-uncle Harry McGrath OBE served in the Royal Navy, and maternal grandfather Tom Rainbow was in the NZ Tunnelling Company in France. Hugh and his sister Joan served in the second world war, he in North Africa and Italy and she as a nurse in RAF hospitals in England. The book also sheds light on their post-war lives, which were peaceful, yet deeply affected by their war­time experiences.

Other family papers revealed generations of McGrath ances­tral connections with the armed forces, including the Irish Brigade of the French Army. One ancestor became a viscountess — married to Lord Nelson of Trafalgar.

“I can’t say where we are except ‘in the desert’. We are a mobile battery and if taken into action again I shall greatly prefer this type of role. It’s no good staying in one position in the desert. It’s quite obvious that if you hit up a Gerry MT [military transport] column say, and stay where you are, he will snoop up next night if he can and give you a hurry up. I have a pretty good gun sub-section and a good ‘quad’ driver. ‘Quad’ is an enclosed lorry tractor pulling the gun and ammunition limber. Three of the crew are new to guns but are picking up rapidly.” (Hugh McGrath’s letter to his parents,
23 February, 1942)

About the author

Tom McGrath

Tom McGrath was educated at Karori Normal School, Welling­ton College, and Victoria and Massey universities. He has been a teacher, factory inspector, union organiser, parliamentary research officer and polytechnic lecturer, and a contributing author to books on employment relations and human resource management. From 1994 to 2006 he was a member of the Council of the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand. Tom’s first book, Blasted by seeds (published 2015), recounts his experience of surviving diagnosis and treatment for prostate cancer. His interests include historical research, mountain biking and swimming. He lives in Karori, Wellington, and is married to author Julia Millen.