Final Years

He returned to Canada and was discharged from the Army on 11th May 1946. He then set up a block making and gravel business just outside Cranberry, Powell  River. By late 1949 he was failing to turn up for work and his youngest son Donald was managing the business.

He had a yearning for fishing again and signed on as a deck hand. Once he had been a ship owner and skipper. The once fearless soldier was on a downward slope and he knew it.

He was suffering from repeated pains in his stomach so he was sent to the Shaunessy Veterans Hospital in Vancouver. The hospital thought that there was nothing Physically wrong with him so they consigned him to the River View Mental Hospital. At first he wouldn’t go but when he became too sick for his wife to care for him he was admitted. River View did nothing to help and in December 1950 they discharged him with the diagnosis, ‘Involutional Phychosis’ and was branded ‘A MALINGERER’

His condition worsened and in January 1951 he was re admitted to River View. They still took the view there was nothing wrong and he just needed a better outlook on life.  He was taken back on by The Powell River Company as a carpenter. He went over to Vancouver Island where he was site working again building accommodation for lumbermen. For a while his outlook on life did get better but then his condition worsened. When he ate he vomited. There were no doctors on the logging site so he just took pain killers.

On the 22nd December 1951 he climbed a ladder to finish a roof when a great searing pain hit his abdomen and he collapsed.  A swelling the size of a grapefruit had  slipped out from under his ribcage. The hospital in Alert Bay could do nothing for him but ease the pain. He was flown out to Vancouver General Hospital and it was now that they discovered he didn’t have a mental problem.  He had Cancer. They sewed him up and sent him back home. He was now with the family he had spent so much time apart from.

In June 1952, when Ethel his wife could no longer look after him he was admitted to Powell River General Hospital. He died 8 days later on the 9th June 1952.

He was piped to his last resting place by the pipe band he had helped to form and was buried on the 9th June 1952. Three holders of the Victoria Cross attended his funeral, Gen George Pearkes VC, Col Cy Peck VC and Capt Charles Train VC.

This was his last parade and the President of the Royal Canadian Legion gave the final salute.

In 2008 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission supplied a new headstone. His 2 sons attended the unveiling in wheel chairs. They died months later, only 11 days apart.

John’s current descendants are his granddaughter Jaye Roter, daughter of Donald, and her 2 daughters Megan and Ashley. They live in Edmonton, Alberta. John has roads, civil buildings and developments named after him but he is unknown in the town he was born and brought up in.

These details are correct as from 1 June 2010. Jaye has given me permission to use any details from her uncles book and has supplied me with family pictures so that the story of John MacGregor, Canada’s most highly decorated soldier can be told in his home town.

David M Shillabeer.

2 Responses to Final Years

  1. What an interesting story of a great man. Thank you. I’m working on a few history projects, for one of which I’ve just tracked down a copy of ‘Whizzbang’ Johnston’s ‘The 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles in France and Flanders’. My Grandfather was Lt.-Col. Walter Edward Maxfield (Major, 1914-1918) D.S.O., 1st C.M.R. He was born and died in Salisbury, Wiltshire, but had emigrated in 1893 aged 15 (on his own) to farm at Souris, Manitoba. Starting as a Trooper (Private), his military career spanned 45 years.
    Very best wishes,
    Peter Maxfield.

  2. Hugh Burnham says:

    I grew up in Powell River, British Columbia and he was a legend to us all.

    Powell River is a small mill town isolated by mountains where you can only leave by boat or plane (though we are on the mainland). It is a tough place, hard working folk who came in droves after WWII to live. Hunting, fishing and work were ample though times of late have seen the luster of Powell River diminish.

    I can clearly remember on Remembrance Day many of the air, sea and army cadets would walk up to Cranberry to clean his stone, to look and marvel at a man in our midst that did such amazing unselfish things. We went there to honor him as he deserved – we never knew of his problems with cancer – we knew of him as our hero.

    My Grandfather himself was only 16 when he went to WWI and was wounded twice at the Somme and still went back to the front. They were a different breed than men we are today, as tough as I think I was as a young man – I pale in comparison to what any of them did.

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