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Currey, William Matthew (1895–1948)

by Chris Clark

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

William Matthew Currey (1895-1948), soldier and politician, was born on 19 September 1895 at Wallsend, New South Wales, son of William Robert Currey, labourer and later miner, and his wife Mary Ellen, née Lang. Educated at Dudley and Plattsburg Public schools, he moved to Leichhardt, Sydney, and found employment as a wireworker. After the outbreak of World War I he twice attempted to enlist without his parents' consent, giving a false age, but was discovered and discharged. He was accepted for the Australian Imperial Force on 9 October 1916 and posted to the 4th Light Trench-Mortar Battery, embarking for France in November. On 1 July 1917 he was transferred to the 53rd Battalion; later that year he fought at Polygon Wood and then returned to the Somme.

Private Currey was awarded the Victoria Cross for his part in the Australian attack at Péronne on 1 September 1918. The 53rd Battalion began taking heavy casualties early in the day, Currey's company in particular suffering from a 77 mm field-gun firing at very close range. Currey rushed forward under machine-gun fire, killed the whole crew and captured the weapon. When in mid-afternoon the battalion encountered intense fire from a strong point, he worked round the flank of the position and opened fire with a Lewis-gun before rushing the post, inflicting many casualties and dispersing the survivors. His courageous action enabled the battalion attack to proceed. At 3 a.m. next morning he volunteered to warn a company which had become isolated to withdraw: moving out into no man's land he stood up and called out to the company, the sound of his voice attracting a torrent of enemy fire. After three attempts, during which his respirator was struck and he was gassed, he finally contacted the exposed company which then safely retired.

Despite his gas wound, Currey saw out the war with the 53rd Battalion, arriving back in Australia in March 1919. In September he joined the New South Wales railways as a storeman and next year, on 10 April, married Emma Davies at St Saviour's Anglican Church, Punchbowl. While employed with the railways he became active in the Australian Labor Party and on 16 May 1941 he resigned his post to stand as Labor candidate for Kogarah in the Legislative Assembly. He won the seat, thereby becoming the first V.C. winner to enter the New South Wales parliament. He was twice re-elected—in 1944 and 1947—and made the interests of ex-servicemen his particular concern. In 1930-32 he had served with the 45th Battalion in the citizen forces, rising to warrant officer rank, and in 1940-41 with the Australian Instructional Corps.

Currey collapsed suddenly in Parliament House on 27 April 1948 and, survived by his wife and two daughters, died three days later of coronary-vascular disease. He was cremated after a Presbyterian service which was attended by four V.C. winners. His portrait by John Longstaff is in the Australian War Memorial collection.

Select Bibliography

  • A. D. Ellis, The Story of the Fifth Australian Division (Lond, 1920?)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917-18 (Syd, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • London Gazette, 14 Dec 1918
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 May 1941, 1, 4, 13 May 1948
  • Bulletin, 11 June 1941, 5 May 1948
  • Public Transport Commission of New South Wales, records (Archives section, Sydney).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Currey, William Matthew (1895–1948)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/currey-william-matthew-5852/text9949, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 27 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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