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Murray, Henry William (Harry) (1880–1966)

by Merrilyn Lincoln

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Henry William Murray (1880-1966), soldier and grazier, was born on 1 December 1880 at Evandale, Tasmania, son of Edward Kennedy Murray, farmer, and his wife Clarissa, née Littler. His father died when he was young and after leaving Evandale State School Harry helped to run the family farm. His military career began with six years service in the Australian Field Artillery (militia) at Launceston. At 19 or 20 he moved to Western Australia, working as a mail courier on the goldfields, travelling by bicycle or on horseback. When he enlisted as a private in the Australian Imperial Force on 13 October 1914, describing himself as a 'bushman', he was employing men cutting timber for the railways in the south-west of the State. He was handsome, tall, solidly built with dark hair, modest but strong-willed in character, resourceful and a natural leader.

Murray was posted to the 16th Battalion and belonged to one of the unit's two machine-gun crews when he landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 with his mate and Number 1 gunner, Lance Corporal Percy Black. Next day both gun-crews on the rear slope of Pope's Hill sniped at the Turks creeping onto Russell's Top. Charles Bean recorded that 'The 16th Battalion machine-guns were in charge of men of no ordinary determination'. Both men, though wounded, refused to leave their guns on that day or through any of the heavy fighting of the next week. Murray, from wounds received on 30 May, was evacuated and rejoined his unit on 3 July. Promoted lance corporal on 13 May, he won the Distinguished Conduct Medal for 'exceptional courage, energy and skill' between 9-31 May. He was wounded again on 8 August when the machine-gun section of the 4th Brigade, later described by Bean as 'possibly the finest unit in the A.I.F.', covered the withdrawal after the attack on Hill 971. On 13 August he was promoted sergeant, commissioned second lieutenant and transferred to the 13th Battalion. 'Cool, determined and confident', Murray remained 'a compelling, ubiquitous figure' on Gallipoli.

On 20 January 1916, in Egypt, he was promoted lieutenant and captain on 1 March. Late that month the 13th Battalion went to France where Murray took part in every major fight in which the unit was engaged. At Mouquet Farm in August, with fewer than 100 men, he stormed the remains of the farm, capturing his objective, but after beating off four German counter-attacks ordered his men to withdraw. The farm was eventually recaptured by 3000 men. Murray received the Distinguished Service Order, for, although twice wounded, he had commanded his company 'with the greatest courage and initiative'. Later when an enemy bullet 'started a man's equipment exploding he tore the equipment off at great personal risk'. Evacuated with wounds, he rejoined his battalion on 19 October.

On 4-5 February 1917 Murray led his company in an attack on Stormy Trench, near Gueudecourt. The night attack was launched across frozen snow and Murray's men reached the objective trench and set up a barricade. The Germans counter-attacked, shattering the barricade, and Murray fired an S.O.S. signal, which brought artillery support. The enemy continued attacking and were bombing heavily when Murray called on twenty bombers and led a brilliant charge which drove them off. From midnight to 3 a.m. fierce enemy bombing continued. Murray observed movement in an adjacent trench and called again for artillery support. By daylight his party had occupied the trench and held it until relieved at 8 p.m. For this work Murray was awarded the Victoria Cross.

In April, in the 1st battle of Bullecourt, Murray's unit, following the 16th Battalion, saw them caught against the wire in a torrent of machine-gun fire. 'Come on men', he shouted, 'the 16th are getting hell'. The gallant Percy Black was killed trying to find a gap in the wire. Murray got through to the German trenches and sent a message that the position could be held with artillery support and more ammunition. However, the artillery was not permitted to fire and under a heavy German barrage Murray withdrew his men; for his part in the battle he received a Bar to his D.S.O. On 11 April, the day of the battle, he was promoted temporary major (confirmed on 12 July) and towards the end of the year he temporarily commanded his battalion.

Promoted lieutenant-colonel on 8 May 1918, Murray was appointed to command the 4th Machine-Gun Battalion, a post he held until the end of the war. In January 1919 he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre and next May was appointed C.M.G. In 1917-19 he was mentioned in dispatches four times.

After the Armistice he toured Britain studying agricultural methods and on return to Australia began looking for a sheep-farming property. His A.I.F. appointment ended on 9 March 1920. After discharge in Tasmania he moved to Queensland and became a grazier at Blairmack, Muckadilla. On 13 October 1921, at Bollon, he married an estate agent, Constance Sophia Cameron. They lived at Muckadilla until 1925 when they separated and Murray went to New Zealand. Their marriage was dissolved on 11 November 1927 and on 20 November, at the Registrar's Office, Auckland, Murray married Ellen Purdon Cameron. They returned to Queensland and in April 1928 Murray bought Glenlyon station, Richmond, a 74,000-acre (29,947 ha) grazing property where he lived for the rest of his life.

In World War II he commanded the 26th Battalion in North Queensland until April 1942; in August he became lieutenant-colonel commanding his local battalion of the Volunteer Defence Corps; he retired from military service on 8 February 1944. Although a shy man who shunned publicity he attended the V.C. centenary celebrations in London in 1956. Survived by his wife and their son and daughter, he died on 7 January 1966 in Miles District Hospital, Queensland, after a car accident. He was cremated with Presbyterian forms.

The historian of the 16th Battalion wrote of him: 'To Murray belongs the honour of rising from a machine-gun private to the command of a machine-gun battalion of 64 guns, and of receiving more fighting decorations than any other infantry soldier in the British Army in the Great War'. The 13th Battalion historian noted: 'Not only was the 13th proud of him but the whole brigade was, from general to Digger. His unconscious modesty won him still greater admiration…Murray's courage was not a reckless exposure to danger like that of Jacka or Sexton who didn't know fear'. He was a sensitive man who believed in discipline and wrote that it transformed thousands of men'—nervy and highly-strung like myself—enabling them to do the work which without discipline, they would have been quite incapable of performing'. Bean called him 'the most distinguished fighting officer in the A.I.F.' His portrait, by George Bell is in the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924)
  • T. A. White, The Fighting Thirteenth (Syd, 1924)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • C. Longmore, The Old Sixteenth (Perth, 1929)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • London Gazette, 3 Aug 1915, 14 Nov 1916, 2 Jan, 9 Mar, 15 June, 25 Dec 1917, 31 Dec 1918, 7 Jan, 3 June, 11 July 1919
  • Reveille (Sydney), Aug 1930, July 1956, Feb 1966
  • Brisbane Courier, 12 Nov 1927
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 24 Feb 1940, 8, 14 Jan 1966
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 Jan 1966
  • Canberra Times, 8 Jan 1966
  • Queensland Country Life, 13 Jan 1966
  • war diaries, 13th and 16th Battalions, A.I.F. (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Merrilyn Lincoln, 'Murray, Henry William (Harry) (1880–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/murray-henry-william-harry-7709/text13499, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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