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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Murray, Harold John Joseph (1898–1968)

by Alan Powell

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

Harold John Joseph Murray (1898-1968), army officer, planter and businessman, was born on 13 November 1898 at Balmain, Sydney, third son of native-born parents James Francis Murray, a general indent agent, and his wife Rachel Esther, née Gray. Harry worked as an order-man in a timber-yard. He raised his age by two years, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 11 May 1915 and saw action with the 2nd Battalion towards the end of the Gallipoli campaign.

Proceeding with his unit to the Western Front in March 1916, Murray was promoted corporal in the following February. During an assault on 9 April 1917 against German positions at Hermies, France, his platoon commander and sergeant were wounded. Murray took charge and captured a strongly defended trench; for his leadership he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and immediately made a sergeant. He was commissioned in June 1918 and promoted lieutenant in November. In June 1919 he returned to Australia. His A.I.F. appointment terminated on 10 August, but he continued to serve as an acting area officer until he moved to the Mandated Territory of New Guinea in February 1921. Living in the Kavieng area of New Ireland, he developed copra and coffee plantations, traded in timber, and bottled mineral water. At St Bede's Anglican Church, Drummoyne, Sydney, on 11 March 1930 he married Florence Irene Johnston.

When the Japanese invaded Kavieng on 23 January 1942, Murray and sixteen others escaped by sailing a small boat to Oro Bay, Papua. In August the Inter-Allied Services Department, a section of the newly formed Allied Intelligence Bureau, recruited him, gave him the rank of lieutenant in the A.I.F., and sent him to Cairns, Queensland, for training. Having established an I.S.D. base in Darwin in December, he remained there as camp adjutant. In March 1943 he transferred to the North Eastern Area Section of the A.I.B. in search of action. First he set up and commanded a training camp at Tabragalba, near Beaudesert, Queensland. Next he led a bold and successful reconnaissance mission to Cape Bun Bun, New Ireland, in November 1943. In the following month he took an American party on a pre-invasion survey of Boang Island; they fended off Japanese attackers with a skilful ambush and withdrew unscathed. Radio-network supervision and further intelligence collecting in the New Ireland area kept Murray busy until World War II ended.

Cool-headed, aggressive and independently minded, Murray was almost the archetype of the 'Islander' Australians whose field leadership placed his section of the A.I.B. at the forefront of intelligence-gathering and guerrilla-warfare organizations. His exploits won him a captaincy (February 1944), the Military Cross (March 1945) and the American Silver Star (June 1945). He transferred to the Reserve of Officers in February 1946 and returned to Lakuramau plantation, near Kavieng. A widower, he married Mary Morrison, a 24-year-old sales manager, on 8 March 1950 at St Canice's Catholic Church, Elizabeth Bay, Sydney. In 1960 he retired to Queensland. Survived by his wife, he died of cancer on 22 October 1968 at Innisfail and was cremated with Anglican rites. He had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Murray, Escape (Adel, 1965)
  • M. Murray, Hunted (Adel, 1967)
  • E. Feldt, The Coast Watchers (Melb, 1975)
  • A. Powell, War by Stealth (Melb, 1996) and for bibliography
  • AWM 54, item 423/9/39, part 1 (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Alan Powell, 'Murray, Harold John Joseph (1898–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 15 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 15

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