Jock Purves was born in 1901, the eldest of five children. Suffering from poor health as a child, he left school at the age of fourteen and became apprenticed as a moulder. Taking evening classes to make up for missed days at school, he found a delight in English language and literature, and Scottish history. He was converted when the evangelist D. P. Thomson visited his home town of Bathgate, West Lothian during his 1919/20 tour.
In 1925 Jock Purves went to Kashmir and Tibet as a pioneer missionary with Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade (WEC). He described his colourful and dramatic experiences in Lesser Tibet and on the Indian-Afghan Frontier, often living alone in a primitive village at 11,000ft, cut off from the rest of the world by eight months of snow a year, in his book The Unlisted Legion (Banner of Truth, 1977). Also described in the book are some of those who became Christians as a result of his evangelistic work. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in 1931 in recognition of his travels.
Deciding during his first furlough to go to university, Purves nevertheless gave up his studies in English and History at Edinburgh University to return to work with WEC. He wrote the popular Fair Sunshine: Character Studies of the Scottish Covenanters (Banner of Truth, 1968), taking great delight in visiting many of the places associated with those concerned. He died at home, on the eve of his 87th birthday in July 1988, with his family around him.