Sir John Moreton KCMG, KCVO, MC – An Appreciation

Tribute Given by Major General (Rtd) Murray Naylor at Service of Thanksgiving
6 March 2013

I first met John Moreton
about twelve years ago when, as a veteran of the Battle of Kohima, he was attending one of the reunions which took place each year in York. My wife and I gave him a lift back to his hotel after the reunion dinner, and a firm and joyous friendship developed between the two of us, John, and two of his daughters, Anne and Sally, who on separate occasions attended subsequent reunions with their father.

For our part, Rosa and I came to treasure our links with such a courteous and gracious man, a person of great wisdom and shrewd judgement who treated everybody alike.

I was at the time President of the Kohima Veterans and later, when the reunions came to an end in 2004 on the 60th Anniversary of the Battle, became the first Chairman of the Kohima Educational Trust. John was an ardent advocate of the Trust, which supports education in the Indian state of Nagaland. It was formed partly in order to repay the Naga people for their support to Commonwealth forces in their campaign against the Japanese in1944, and partly in order to keep alive memories of the terrible battle which took place at Kohima from April to June that year.

Captain Moreton was a Forward Observation Officer with 99th Field Regiment Royal Artillery during the battle and won a Military Cross for ‘great coolness, judgement and courage of the highest order’.

His citation describes how he could only occupy his observation post by running to and fro, and was continually the target of enemy snipers. He was wounded on the morning of 28 April but despite his wound he insisted in carrying on. That night the enemy attacked the British garrison, advancing to within 10 yards of the headquarters of A Company of the Royal Berkshires. Great damage was inflicted on the Japanese attackers by the artillery fire brought down by John Moreton, who put himself in grave peril every time he spoke on the radio, due to the proximity of the enemy.

John Moreton remained at his post throughout the night and was engaged in a grenade-slinging match from 2am until 7am, when the enemy was driven out by a counter attack. All this, despite the obvious pain from his wound.

Kohima was indeed a terrible battle, possibly the hardest fought and most exhausting engagement of the Second World War. The battle in the heart of which a youthful John Moreton demonstrated his courage – a battle, into which in the words of John’s contemporary of the Cameron Highlanders, Gordon Graham, ‘a British division was flung piecemeal against the hitherto invincible Japanese’, was one of the turning points of World War Two. John Moreton displayed in that savage encounter a sense of duty and resilience which pervaded his subsequent life as a diplomat in many parts of the world.

When he preached at the final veterans’ reunion at York Minster in July 2004, the Archbishop, David Hope, concluded his address in the following words, words with which John Moreton would surely have identified.

‘Finally recall the words with which I began – the conclusion of that very moving account by an ordinary private soldier who had endured the overwhelming terribleness of Kohima. He spoke of the Padre and the power of prayer – “the prayer for the strength for us all to hold on”.

‘And this is my prayer this day, for the strength for all of us to hold onto those things about which St Paul writes in his Letter to the Philippians – truth, honour, justice, purity, beauty, graciousness, excellence – those are the things which make for a human and humane society and which enable us all to hold on – to hold onto one another – to hold onto God, the God who in Jesus Christ gave us the supreme sacrifice of the cross and into whose death and dying all our deaths and dyings are drawn so that with, in and through Him we too may come to a joyful resurrection.’

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