Australia’s most decorated soldier of the First World War will have his medal group – including the revered Victoria Cross – on display at the Australian War Memorial.
Lieutenant Colonel Henry William Murray VC CMG DSO & Bar DCM was described by historian Charles Bean as the most distinguished fighting officer of the Australian Imperial Force. His family presented the extraordinary medal group to the Director of the Australian War Memorial, Dr Brendan Nelson, at a hand-over event today.
Dr Nelson said Lieutenant Colonel Murray’s medal group, which includes the Victoria Cross, will go on long-term display in the Memorial’s Hall of Valour in the coming weeks.
“All Australians will now be able to see proof of the incredible achievements of Lieutenant Colonel Henry William Murray on display at the Australian War Memorial. We are truly grateful to his family for this selfless gesture,” Dr Nelson said.
“These medals will form an integral part of the continuing story of our Anzacs, and serve as a reminder of the bravery and daring shown by Australians in the Great War.
“Amid great battles and the movements of armies, the exploits of courageous individuals have always provided inspiration. Those Australians who were awarded the Victoria Cross are honoured in the Memorial’s Hall of Valour. It is our nation’s highest award for bravery in time of war, and recognises the deeds of ordinary Australians under the extraordinary conditions of war.”
Murray had a spectacular rise through the ranks, going from private in 1914 to lieutenant colonel four years later. His was the first of 18 Victoria Crosses awarded to Australians in 1917.
On the night of 4/5 February 1917 Murray led the 13th Battalion’s A Company into an attack on a German position known as Stormy Trench, near Gueudecourt in France. His conduct during the battle – which lasted all night – led to his recommendation for the Victoria Cross. The citation read:
For most conspicuous bravery when in command of the right flank company in attack. He led his company to the assault with great skill and courage, and the position was quickly captured. Fighting of a very severe nature followed, and three heavy counter-attacks were beaten back, these successes being due to Captain Murray’s wonderful work. Throughout the night his company suffered heavy casualties through concentrated enemy shell fire, and on one occasion gave ground for a short way. This gallant officer rallied his command and saved the situation by sheer valour. He made his presence felt throughout the line, encouraging his men, heading bombing parties, leading bayonet charges, and carrying wounded to places of safety. His magnificent example inspired his men throughout.
Murray continued to serve with distinction during the First Battle of Bullecourt on 11 April 1917, and participated in bitter fighting at Messines and during the Third Battle of Ypres. In 1939 he enlisted once more and served during the Second World War.
Murray and his wife, Nell, had two children: a son, Douglas, and a daughter, Clementine.