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George Francis Murphy (1883–1962)

by L. B. Swifte

This article was published:

George Francis Murphy (1883-1962), by unknown photographer

George Francis Murphy (1883-1962), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 125952

George Francis Murphy (1883-1962), soldier, teacher and administrator, was born on 24 September 1883 at Pyrmont, Sydney, son of Michael Murphy, plumber, and his wife Catherine Ann, née Clarke, both Australian born. Educated at Pyrmont, Darlinghurst and Goulburn Public schools, he qualified as a teacher in the New South Wales Department of Public Instruction and later attended the University of Sydney as an evening student. He was teaching at Young when, on 30 December 1907, he married Marian Eliza Swain, also a teacher, at St Barnabas Anglican Church, Sydney.

Murphy's military career began in 1910 with his appointment as a lieutenant in the New South Wales cadets; in 1913 he passed the examination for entrance into the Administrative and Instructional Staff, Australian Military Forces, and was posted in December 1914 to Liverpool camp. Before that he had been first assistant teacher at Bathurst High School. On 5 May 1915 he joined the Australian Imperial Force as a captain and officer commanding 'A' Company, 20th Battalion; next month he was promoted major and embarked for Egypt in June. He reached Gallipoli on 22 August. After the 18th Battalion's attack on Hill 60 in August he was transferred to it and in November-December temporarily commanded it at Courtney's and Steele's Posts, building up a reputation as 'an alert and aggressive commander, with thorough grip of detail'. During the evacuation of Anzac he commanded rear parties.

Murphy embarked from Egypt for France in March 1916 as second-in-command of the 18th Battalion; in April he served at Bois Grenier. At Pozières Heights on 27 July he was reconnoitring at night when he was severely wounded by heavy German artillery fire; he resumed duty in late October at Flers. On 7 November he took command of the battalion as a temporary lieutenant-colonel (his rank was confirmed on 1 December) and from then on led his battalion in all its major actions. At Bullecourt in 1917 Murphy personally led 200 of his men in the attack, moving during the advance to both flanks to steady first the right and then the left; for outstanding leadership he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. In September-October he commanded the 18th in the costly battles of Menin Road and Broodseinde.

In April 1918 Murphy's battalion was sent south to help counter the German breakthrough near Amiens. A few miles to the east at Villers-Bretonneux he led an attack at Hangard Wood and next month at Morlancourt. Charles Bean later described him as 'a most competent commander and an able tactician'. Later in May, at Ville-sur-Ancre, with the aid of his scout sergeant, he captured seven German machine-gunners, rushing their post 'across 100 yards of open country', and for this action received a Bar to his D.S.O. In 1918 he was appointed C.M.G. for outstanding work at Broodseinde. He led the 18th in operations at Villers-Bretonneux in June-July before temporarily commanding the 7th Brigade from mid-July to 24 August, except for four days when he rejoined the 18th Battalion for the decisive battle of 8 August. He was evacuated to England with illness and then commanded the 18th from October 1918 to February 1919. In 1917-18 he was mentioned in dispatches five times.

Murphy's A.I.F. appointment ended in January 1920 but he continued to serve part-time in the A.M.F. In 1921-22 and 1924-31 he commanded the Sydney-based 17th Battalion. In 1920 he was appointed under-sheriff of New South Wales and was sheriff in 1925-35; he was deputy marshal of the High Court in 1935-39. Appointed assistant comptroller of New South Wales prisons in 1939, he became comptroller in 1940 and after World War II service resumed the post in 1947; he retired in September that year. In 1932-39 he was also custodian of the Sydney Cenotaph. During World War II Murphy served as a temporary colonel and director of the Volunteer Defence Corps in 1941-42; in 1941-43 he was also provost marshal at Army Headquarters. From April 1943 he was director of the military prisons and detention barracks at land headquarters and from May 1943 was also director of the military prisons and detention barracks service. He retired as an honorary colonel in November 1946.

Murphy was an outspoken member of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia and was State president in 1941. He was also an active Freemason and a foundation member of Sydney Legacy.

Murphy's wife had died in 1934 and on 13 October 1936 he married Bessie Irene Hodge at Wesley Chapel, Castlereagh Street, Sydney. Survived by her, their son and three daughters, and by two sons and a daughter of his first marriage, he died on 13 September 1962 at Concord, and was cremated with Methodist forms.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1916-18 (Syd, 1929, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • Town and Country Journal, 2 June 1919
  • Reveille (Sydney), Apr 1937
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 20 July 1920, 16 Oct 1925, 20 Aug 1932, 18 Nov 1938, 29 June 1939, 1 Feb, 20 June 1940, 23 Jan 1941, 18 Jan 1947, 14 Sept 1962
  • G. F. Murphy file (Australian War Memorial)
  • War diary, 18th Battalion AIF (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

L. B. Swifte, 'Murphy, George Francis (1883–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 16 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

George Francis Murphy (1883-1962), by unknown photographer

George Francis Murphy (1883-1962), by unknown photographer

Australian War Memorial, 125952

Life Summary [details]


24 September, 1883
Pyrmont, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


13 September, 1962 (aged 78)
Concord, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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.