The Ven Ronald Scruby: Archdeacon who overcame injuries sustained after D-Day to serve Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight
Wednesday 09 February 2011
Archdeacon for eight years of Portsmouth and for 12 before that of the Isle of Wight, Ronald Scruby was one of the most loved and respected clergy in the Anglican diocese of Portsmouth. The loss of a leg in the Second World War barely inhibited him; he was a man of persistent courage and quiet holiness.
He was born two days before Christmas 1919, in Norwood Green, Southall, on the western outskirts of London, in the small terrace house that had been the home of his maternal grandparents – the sixth son and youngest of the seven children of Thomas Scruby, newly discharged after four years' army service, much of it in France. His father had been invalided out of the Rifle Brigade in 1898; now he was invalided out of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, as a sergeant, and had reverted to his peace-time employment with London Underground.
The young Ron remembered hisfather returning from night shifts to push him in a wheelbarrow to thefamily allotment. They kept a pig in their back yard. But Thomas Scruby died, at the age of only 53, in 1927, when Ron was seven. Nine years later Ron joined his nearest brother Harry, five years his senior, at London Transport, as an apprentice. He took evening classes in engineering at Southall Technical College.
Then war broke out. Ron and Harry joined up together, in June 1939. Harry became a quartermaster and Ron went into the Royal Engineers. He waspromoted to second lieutenant in 1942 and captain in 1943. In 1944, on D-Day plus 7, his unit landed on a beach to the east of Arromanches; 926 Railway Bridging Company worked its way,rebuilding bridges, through France and Belgium.
By November, Scruby was in the Netherlands. Outside Nijmegen, on a reconnoitre, his three-tonner was hit by a shell. He and his driver were badly wounded, Scruby in both legs. His right leg was broken; his left leg, which was almost detached, had to be amputated. He spent nine months in hospital, at Roehampton, recuperating. (When, a few years later, his driver married a German girl, Scruby was best man.)
Ron Scruby recognised his vocation while at Roehampton. After his discharge from the Army, he didn't return to London Transport, but, in November 1945, took up a place at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, to read Theology. Launcelot Fleming, Director of Service Ordination Candidates, was Dean and Chaplain there and became a lifelong friend, as did his tutor, the illustrious Owen Chadwick. For recreation Scruby took up rowing, and coxed Trinity Hall's second boat. After graduating in 1948, he went to Cuddesdon Theological College outside Oxford, whose Principal was Kenneth Riches, later Bishop of Lincoln.
Scruby spent all his clerical career bar the first three years in the diocese of Portsmouth, to which his mentor, Launcelot Fleming, had gone as Bishop in 1949. His first post was just outside its borders, but through Fleming's good offices, as a curate in Rogate, Sussex, where he was ordained by the great Bishop George Bell. He roomed in the vicarage with the Vicar, Kenneth Mathews, another mentor and later Dean of St Albans, and there met the woman he would marry, Sylvia Miles, elder daughter of Rear-Admiral Roddy Miles, from nearby Trotton. At the same time, he served as Chaplain of King Edward VII Hospital, for TB patients, outside Midhurst.
After his curacy he moved to the Portsmouth diocese, first as an industrial chaplain at the Saunders-Roe works at Osborne on the Isle of Wight, where his engineering training was thought useful. One of his major contributions there was his work with the apprentices (whom he would coach in rowing from his bicycle); he maintained contact with many of them for years to come. He always held that the Church of England was more than a network of believing congregations.
In 1958 he returned across the Solent to parochial ministry, becoming Vicar for seven years of Eastney in the city of Portsmouth. There may have been many reasons why John Phillips, Launcelot Fleming's successor as Bishop of Portsmouth, in appointing to the vacant Archdeaconry of the Isle of Wight, turned to Ron Scruby. His love of country life could have been one of them. Also, this devoted parish priest was feeling more and more the effects of his war injuries. A little more time in the office, and a little less tramping the streets of an urban parish, might have been the least he deserved.
On the Isle of Wight he looked after more than 50 churches. His care for clergy, ordination candidates, church workers, and their wives, was of the highest order. When his commanding officer wrote to Scruby in hospital in November 1944, he had praised his "splendid spirit" and said that his "devotion to first principles" would "leave its mark on the success of whatever you tackle". So it did. After a long stint on the Island, he was invited to move to the one other archdeaconry the diocese had at that time, that of Portsmouth. There he remained until his retirement in 1985.
Living near Rogate, he enjoyed his books, his garden, his visits to the Chichester Theatre, his walks on the Downs, his summer holidays (with swimming) on the west coast ofScotland, and above all the weddings of his three children. He and Sylvia continued their great tradition ofhospitality; for some years they had a self-contained flat where clergy and others could stay for periods of holiday or study.
Then, after 10 years, Sylvia died. For Ron 15 more years still lay aheadof him. There were delights. Six of seven grandchildren would be bornin those years. Yet there was awful loneliness. But he determined to live life to the full: he moved to a housein Rogate, where he could still keephis independence, with the help of a rota of carers, and entertain his family and friends.
Last September a new Bishop was installed in Portsmouth Cathedral. Among the congregation was Ron Scruby. It was known that he had been struggling with a variety of healthproblems, not least depression. Hearrived in a wheelchair. But his face was radiant. It was as if he was saying to the world that it had all been worth it. He would soon be seeing his beloved Sylvia again, the Church of God was not going to collapse, the best was yet to come. He would even look upon the face of God Himself, to whom he had made his prayers night and morning all those years.
Ron Scruby was a man of transparent goodness, writes James Fergusson. When he asked to marry my aunt, her parents were aghast. How could she marry the penniless local curate! Ron and Sylvia had to organise their own wedding, in the tiny 12th-century church in the field at Terwick, next to Rogate. But his parents-in-law came, as all did, to recognise his virtues. His love for Camusdarach, near Arisaig, where he and my cousins went every summer, endeared him to my grandmother, who had been holidaying on that beautiful stretch of coast since before the railway came to Mallaig.
Ron was a serious man, straightforward but bookish, well-read. For Christmas cards he sent not ornamental nativities but poems, plain printed. Whenever you saw him he had a question to ask, saved up specially, it seemed, for the moment, and the product of profound reflection. At his 90th birthday party, surrounded by family and friends, he attended to all his guests individually, as though each had come alone to visit him.
When we were children, on the other hand, he was always the jolly uncle. His disability was fascinating to us, partly because it wasn't apparently a disability at all. He walked further than any of us. When he was at Eastney he was within easy distance of the beach. He would take off his artificial leg and fling himself into the sea. Once (or did my father make this up?) a tidal wave, a mini-tsunami, came and swept the leg away. Yet, his "good" leg was never good: it was still riddled with shrapnel. He made light of the matter, despite enduring numerous operations.
Only in his last years did his sun go in. Sometimes he would be exhilarated – last summer, he joined all his children and grandchildren at Camusdarach – but sometimes he would be downed with incomprehensible anguish. At the end, subdued by a long hospital stay and the prospect of another, he decided that his time had come. "Take my body," he said, Simeon-like, the weekend before he died. "Let me go."
Ronald Victor Scruby, priest: born Southall, Middlesex 23 December 1919; ordained deacon 1950, priest 1951; Chaplain, King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst 1950-53; Chaplain, Saunders-Roe, Osborne 1953-58; Vicar of Eastney 1958-65; Rural Dean of Portsmouth 1960-65; Archdeacon of the Isle of Wight 1965-77; Archdeacon of Portsmouth 1977-85 (Emeritus); married 1955 Sylvia Miles (died 1995; two sons, one daughter); died Rogate, Sussex 31 January 2011.
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