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Murray John Moten (1899–1953)

by R. Sutton

This article was published:

Murray John Moten (1899-1953), by unknown photographer, 1945

Murray John Moten (1899-1953), by unknown photographer, 1945

Australian War Memorial, 097968

Murray John Moten (1899-1953), army officer and banker, was born on 3 July 1899 at Hawker, South Australia, elder son of John Moten, an Australian-born railway porter, and his wife Maude Mary Sophia, née Murray, a nurse from Ireland. Educated at primary schools at Port Augusta, in Adelaide and at Mingary, and at Mount Gambier District High School, Murray started work as a messenger-boy at the Mount Gambier post office in January 1915. Within six months he was employed as a clerk in the local branch of the Savings Bank of South Australia. In 1918 he was transferred to head office, Adelaide.

After being commissioned (August 1916) in the Commonwealth Military Cadet Corps, Moten had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 23 August 1917. Immediately sent on leave (apparently because of flat feet), he was discharged as medically unfit in January 1918. He studied accountancy at the University of Adelaide in 1924. At St Mary's Catholic Church, Port Adelaide, on 16 January 1926 he married Kathleen Meegan, a 28-year-old musician. President (1934-35) of the Bank Officials' Association of South Australia, by October 1938 he was sales clerk in the bank's mortgage department.

Moten had resigned from the cadets and been appointed provisional lieutenant, 48th Battalion, Militia, in July 1923. He rose to major in 1929. Promoted lieutenant colonel, he commanded the 43rd-48th Battalion (1936-39) and the 48th (1939-40). Despite diminished sight in one eye, he was seconded to the A.I.F. as commander of the 2nd/27th Battalion on 26 April 1940. Five ft 9½ ins (177 cm) tall, with hazel eyes, brown hair and a ruddy complexion, he gave his religion as Anglican. In October he embarked for the Middle East.

The 2nd/27th trained in Palestine before moving in April 1941 to the fortress at Mersa Matruh, Egypt. There, the men suffered frequent air bombardment, gained valuable operational experience and improved their physical fitness. The battalion fought in the Syrian campaign, capturing Sidon on 15 June and taking part in the successful battle of Damour on 6-12 July. For his leadership and gallantry, Moten was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and mentioned in dispatches. Promoted colonel and temporary brigadier on 27 December (substantive 1949), he 'quietly and efficiently' took over the 17th Brigade from (Sir) Stanley Savige.

Having garrisoned Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the 17th reached Australia in August 1942 and two months later embarked for Milne Bay, Papua. Air-lifted to Wau, New Guinea, in January 1943, the brigade absorbed Kanga Force and later that month withstood an enemy assault at Wandumi. Moten launched a counter-attack and gained the initiative; by March the opposing Japanese force was virtually annihilated. He won a Bar to his D.S.O. In May-June the 17th repulsed Japanese thrusts at Mubo and Lababia Ridge. Following the capture of Komiatum and Mount Tambu in August, Moten was appointed C.B.E. (1944) and again mentioned in dispatches. He and his soldiers rested and trained in Australia, then returned to New Guinea for the Wewak campaign (November 1944-August 1945).

From 18 November 1945 Moten administered command of the 6th Division. He was transferred to the Regimental Supernumerary List on 17 January 1946 in Adelaide and resumed his civilian career. In June he led the Australian army component of the Victory March in London. Next year he became a member of the War Graves Advisory Council. While commanding (1948-52) the 9th Brigade, Citizen Military Forces, he was appointed honorary colonel of the 27th Battalion in 1952. He was promoted general manager of the Savings Bank of South Australia in December that year.

Perhaps not as popular as Savige, Moten had earned the respect of his men, to whom he was deeply loyal, sharing with them 'the blood, the sweat, the tears, the laughter' of campaigning. Some officers considered him unduly harsh for removing a number of their peers who did not attain the standards he expected. Although rather overweight for operational service, he performed brilliantly as a commander at battalion and brigade levels.

Moten died of myocardial infarction on 14 September 1953 at Royal Adelaide Hospital and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery with Anglican and Catholic rites and full military honours; his wife, daughter and two sons survived him. His son John was director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization in 1988-92. Geoffrey Mainwaring's portrait of Moten is held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra; another portrait, by Ingrid Earns, is in the family's possession.

Select Bibliography

  • A. R. Ross (ed), The Seventeenth Brigade Magazine (Melb, 1944)
  • G. Long, To Benghazi (Canb, 1952)
  • G. Long, Greece, Crete and Syria (Canb, 1953)
  • J. H. Burns, The Brown and Blue Diamond at War (Adel, 1960)
  • S. Trigellis-Smith and J. McAllester, Largely a Gamble (Syd, 1995)
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 15 Sept 1953
  • State Bank of South Australia records
  • 3DRL5043 and PR 91/002 (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

R. Sutton, 'Moten, Murray John (1899–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Murray John Moten (1899-1953), by unknown photographer, 1945

Murray John Moten (1899-1953), by unknown photographer, 1945

Australian War Memorial, 097968

Life Summary [details]


3 July, 1899
Hawker, South Australia, Australia


14 September, 1953 (aged 54)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.