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Murray, John Joseph (1892–1951)

by A. J. Hill

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

John Joseph Murray (1892-1951), by unknown photographer, 1944

John Joseph Murray (1892-1951), by unknown photographer, 1944

Australian War Memorial, 080930

John Joseph Murray (1892-1951), businessman and army officer, was born on 26 April 1892 in Sydney, fourth child of John Murray, an Irish-born labourer, and his wife Margaret, née Ferrow, who came from Wollongong. Educated at Catholic schools, young John joined the sales staff of Anthony Hordern & Sons in 1910. He served for two and a half years in the ranks of the Citizen Military Forces before being commissioned in 1913 in the 33rd Infantry Regiment.

On 6 March 1915 Murray was appointed second lieutenant, Australian Imperial Force. In June he sailed for Egypt. Posted to the 1st Battalion, he was transferred to the 53rd Battalion, 5th Division, in March 1916 when the A.I.F. expanded. Soon after he reached France, he went into action on 19 July in the appalling battle of Fromelles; for his 'courage and tenacity' in leading a charge and holding the position he had captured, he won the Military Cross. He was promoted major in June 1917. In the fighting for Péronne on 1 September 1918, he 'set a fine example' to the company under his command and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Twice mentioned in dispatches, he embarked for Australia in May 1919.

After his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 25 August 1919, Murray returned to life in the C.M.F. as readily as he did to business. Active in the Militia from September 1920, he was promoted lieutenant colonel in 1925 and commanded the 56th Battalion (1925-30) and the 53rd Battalion (1930-34). On 4 January 1923 at St Mary's Catholic Cathedral, Sydney, he had married Mary Madeline Cannon. His business affairs prospered and he became well known as head of the delivery department of Anthony Hordern & Sons Ltd. In 1932 he was appointed chairman of the New South Wales Transport Advisory Committee. He held the managing directorship of Associated Transport Services Ltd from 1935. While he was commander (1934-38) of the Australian Army Service Corps, 1st Division, his business and military interests were closely related.

In May 1938 Murray took command of the 9th Infantry Brigade. Mobilized in February 1940, he initially headed the Eastern Command Recruit Training Depot. He joined the A.I.F. in April and was appointed commander of the 20th Brigade which sailed for the Middle East in October and trained in Palestine. The brigade was transferred from the 7th Division to the 9th in February 1941. Although undertrained, and short of weapons and transport, the 9th Division was sent to relieve the 6th in Libya. The 20th Brigade met the first onslaught of General Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps at Er Regima on 4 April and briefly delayed the enemy's advance. After the successful withdrawal to Tobruk, the brigade repelled Rommel's attack on 14 April, a disastrous day for the Germans. For his leadership Murray was awarded a Bar to his D.S.O.

Murray's experience of raids and night-patrols on the Western Front in World War I proved valuable during the siege of Tobruk. In July, while Major General (Sir) Leslie Morshead visited General Headquarters, Cairo, Murray commanded the fortress. He left Tobruk in November and was mentioned in dispatches. General Sir Thomas Blamey considered him, at 49, 'unequal to the severe physical trials of . . . modern warfare' and recommended that he be sent home to direct a recruiting campaign. Murray's return to Australia in January 1942 coincided with Japan's drive southwards. Instead of being given a recruiting job, he was immediately made commander, Newcastle Covering Force, and promoted temporary major general (substantive in September).

Having continued with this force when it was redesignated the 10th Division, Murray was sent to Western Australia in August 1942 to lead the 4th Division which moved to North Queensland during April-May 1943. In October 1944 he became general officer commanding Rear Echelon, First Army, at Mareeba. He commanded Northern Territory Force from March 1945 until January 1946, then transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

Morshead described Murray as 'a pleasant, forceful character; alert, kindly, and cheerful, yet direct and purposeful'. These characteristics prepared Murray for his role as Australian trade commissioner to New Zealand in 1946-49 and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) from 1949. He died of haematemesis associated with cirrhosis of the liver on 8 September 1951 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, Sydney, and was buried with military honours in Frenchs Forest cemetery. His wife, three sons and two daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • D. McCarthy, South-West Pacific Area—First Year (Canb, 1959)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (Canb, 1966)
  • D. M. Horner, Crisis of Command (Canb, 1978)
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 8 Sept 1951
  • Blamey papers (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

A. J. Hill, 'Murray, John Joseph (1892–1951)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/murray-john-joseph-11212/text19989, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 18 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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