John Murray (general)

John Joseph Murray

Born 26 April 1892
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Died 8 September 1951(1951-09-08) (aged 59)
Concord, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Allegiance Australia Commonwealth of Australia
Service/branch Australian Army
Years of service 1915–1946
Rank Major General
Commands held 56th Infantry Battalion
53rd Infantry Battalion
Australian Army Service Corps, 1st Division
9th Division
9th Infantry Brigade
20th Infantry Brigade
Eastern Command Recruit Training Depot
Newcastle Covering Force
10th Division
4th Division

World War I

World War II

Awards Distinguished Service Order & Bar
Military Cross
Mentioned in Dispatches (3)
Volunteer Decoration
Spouse(s) Mary Madeline Cannon
Other work Trade Commissioner to New Zealand (1946–1949
Trade Commissioner to Ceylon (1949)

Major General John Joseph Murray DSO & Bar, MC, VD (26 April 1892 – 8 September 1951) was an Australian Army Officer and businessman with a distinguished career in both world wars. He was decorated for the part he played in fighting on the Western Front in France, and he was appointed commander of the 20th Brigade that played a crucial role in repelling Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps in Libya.

Early life

Murray was born on born 26 April 1892 in Sydney, New South Wales the fourth child of John Murray, an Irish immigrant labourer, and his wife Margaret. He was educated at the local Catholic school before being taken on as an apprentice salesman for Sydney firm Anthony Hordern & Sons in 1910. He then joined the Australian Citizens Military Forces where he did two years service, before joining the 33rd Regiment in 1913.

World War I

John Murray was already enlisted in the Australian Army upon the outbreak of World War I on 28 July 1914, but was soon commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on 6 March 1915. Upon receiving his commission, Murray was transferred to the first Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF), and set sail for Egypt. After initially being posted to the 1st Battalion, in March 1916 he was transferred to the 53rd Battalion, part of the 5th Division, when the AIF was reinforced with fresh recruits from Australia. The 5th Division soon moved from Egypt to France where they were thrust into the brutal fighting of the Western Front.

By 19 July 1916 Murray's 53rd Battalion were involved in the first action that the Australian Imperial Force saw on the Western Front, that of the horrific Battle of Fromelles. Because 5,533 Australian soldiers were killed, wounded or taken prisoner in an operation which was a total failure, the Australian War Memorial describes the battle as "the worst 24 hours in Australia's entire history".[1] Despite the action being a decisive victory for the German Army, Murray was cited for his 'courage and tenacity' in leading a charge and holding the position he had captured, and was duly awarded the Military Cross.[2][3]

John Murray was promoted to Major in June 1917, and was soon known for his exceptional leadership and daring night raiding of enemy trenches. In September 1918 during the intense fighting of the Second Battle of the Somme, Murray was again cited for his fine leadership, and following clashes near Péronne, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.[2][4]

Murray was still serving on the Western Front when peace was declared on 11 November 1918. Having been awarded the Military Cross and Distinguished Service Order, and also having twice being mentioned in despatches, he returned home to Australia in May, 1919.[2]

Between the Wars

By 25 August 1919 the Australian Imperial Force had been disbanded. Although he was happy to return to his job at Anthony Hordern & Sons in Sydney, John Murray wasn't ready to completely withdraw from the military life. He returned to his former militia role in the Australian Citizens Military Forces, where his experiences as a commander in World War I proved invaluable.

On 4 January 1923 John Murray married Mary Madeline Cannon at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney. His civilian career began to prosper when he was appointed Manager of the delivery department at Anthony Hordern & Sons.

By 1925 Murray had been appointed to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and given command of the 56th Battalion, which he kept until 1930, when he transferred to command of the 53rd Battalion.

Murray enjoyed both his civilian roles, and his military life, and continued to further his career in both. In 1932 he was appointed chairman of the New South Wales Transport Advisory Committee, and he was appointed managing director of Associated Transport Services Ltd in 1935. From 1934 until 1938 Murray was the Commanding Officer of the Australian Army Service Corps, 1st Division, and he continued to draw his civilian business and military interests more closely together.[2]

World War II

With War again looming on the horizon, John Murray was given the command of the 9th Infantry brigade, and they mobilised for war in February, 1940. Initially he commanded the Eastern Command Recruit Training Depot, but it was soon decided his experience as a battle-hardened leader was invaluable. He was appointed to the Second Australian Imperial Force in April 1940 and was given command of the 20th Brigade which sailed for the Middle East in October 1940 to begin training in Palestine.


See also Siege of Tobruk.

Murray's 20th Brigade were transferred from the 7th Division to the 9th Division on 9 February 1941. Despite the lack of preparedness, equipment and training, the 9th were thrust into the front in Libya to relieve the 6th Division who were in Tobruk. Murray's 20th Brigade were given the south sector to defend, and by 4 April 1941, Erwin Rommel's elite Afrika Korps met Murray's 20th Brigade at Er Rigima head on. The Australians were able to frustrate Rommel's push, but despite delaying them, Rommel's force was too great to repel, and eventually Murray was forced to withdraw the 20th into Tobruk itself. On 14 April, Rommel tried to press his advantage and take the city, but the 20th Brigade doggedly repelled the Germans, who disastrously suffered heavy casualties. For his leadership that day, Murray was granted a bar to his Distinguished Service Order.[5]

Murray's experiences of trench warfare and night-raiding proved invaluable to the defenders during the Siege of Tobruk, but at 49 years old, the campaign proved difficult for him to sustain frontline action. In July 1941, Major General Sir Leslie Morshead visited General HQ in Cairo, and Murray had overall command of the fortress. In November 1941, Murray was mentioned in despatches for the third time in his career for his excellent resistance to Rommel.

However, by the end of November General Sir Thomas Blamey visited the besieged garrison, and decided that Murray needed to be withdrawn, feeling his age left him unequal to the demands of modern warfare. Blamey ordered Murray home to Australia where he recommended he be given a recruiting post.[2]

Battle for Australia

See also Battle for Australia.

Murray returned to Australia in January 1942, just in time for Japan's major thrust southwards towards New Guinea. Rather than being given the recruiting desk job that Blamey had earmarked him for, the Australian Command placed him in charge of the Newcastle Covering Force, and immediately promoted him to temporary Major General.

The Newcastle Covering Force was soon re-designated as the 10th Division. Murray was sent to Western Australia in August 1942 to lead the 4th Division, which was then moved to North Queensland due to fears of an imminent Japanese invasion during April to May 1943. In October 1944, he was made General of the Rear Echelon at Mareeba. He then commanded the Northern Territory Force from March, 1945 until January, 1946, when he stepped down to the Reserve of Officers, and after nearly 31 years of military service, then resigned from the Australian Army.

Post war

John Murray successfully returned to his civilian life after World War II and indeed continued to receive appointments, being made Australian trade commissioner to New Zealand from 1946 until 1949 and then trade commissioner to Ceylon briefly in 1949. During this time he wrote of his experience in Tobruk in the book I Confess; a memoir of the Siege of Tobruk, which remained unpublished until 2011. However the demands of two world wars and an exacting career soon caught up with him, and General John Murray died of haematemesis associated with cirrhosis of the liver on 8 September 1951 at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, Sydney. He received a funeral with full military honours, and was buried in Frenchs Forest General Cemetery. His wife, three sons and two daughters survived him.[2]


  1. Ross McMullin, "Disaster at Fromelles" (Wartime Magazine, Issue 36, 2006) Access date: 14 April 2007.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 A.J. Hill, John Murray, Australian Dictionary of Biography. Access date: 12 December 2007.
  3. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29765. p. 9436. 26 September 1916. Retrieved 19 October 2008. (MC)
  4. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31158. p. 1616. 1 February 1919. Retrieved 19 October 2008. (DSO)
  5. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35396. p. 7332. 30 December 1941. Retrieved 19 October 2008. (DSO Bar)


This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 8/5/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.