Distinguished Service Order and Bar : Brigadier J J Murray

Accession Number REL42328.001
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Award
Physical description Enamel, Silver gilt
Location Main Bld: World War 2 Gallery: Gallery 1 - Mediterranean: Tobruk
Maker Unknown
Place made United Kingdom
Date made c 1918, c 1941
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
First World War, 1914-1918

Distinguished Service Order (Geo V) and Bar. Unnamed as issued.

History / Summary

John Joseph Murray was born in Sydney on 26 April 1892. He served for two and a half years in the militia with 33 Infantry Regiment before joining the AIF as a Second Lieutenant on 6 March 1915. After initial training he was appointed Lieutenant on 1 June 1915, and embarked at Sydney with the 5th Reinforcements to 1 Battalion aboard HMAT Ceramic (A40) on 25 June 1915. Murray was taken on strength with his battalion in Egypt, but did not join it on Gallipoli. With the ‘doubling’ of the AIF in 1916 Murray was appointed Temporary Captain on 12 March and transferred to 53 Battalion.

The battalion arrived in France on 27 June 1916 and entered the front line for the first time on 10 July. Its first major action on the Western Front took place on 19 July in the disastrous battle of Fromelles. For his courage and leadership during this battle, Murray was awarded the Military Cross.

Murray spent a portion of the winter of 1916-17 in training and education. In March 1917, the battalion participated in the advance that followed the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line. It was spared the assault but did, however, defend gains made during the second battle of Bullecourt. Murray was appointed major on 3 June. Later in the year, the AIF’s focus of operations switched to the Ypres sector in Belgium, where Major Murray was Mentioned in Despatches towards the end of 1917.
Following the defeat of the German offensive in March 1918, the Allies launched their own offensive in August. 14 Brigade, of which 53 Battalion was a part, entered the fighting late in the month, and this battalion’s actions at Anvil Wood were critical to the capture of Péronne, which fell on 2 September. For his courage and leadership during this fighting, Murray was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

The recommendation for the DSO reads, ‘While leading his Company to the Assembly Positions for the attack on PERONNE, on 1st September 1918, it was ascertained that the enemy had occupied the trenches in force. This Officer with great skill and initiative led his Company to the attack and cleared the assembly Position, after severe hand to hand fighting, thus allowing the remainder of the Battalion to take up its position in time for the attack.
Later while advancing under very severe artillery and machine gun fire, his Company was hung up by two very strong unbroken belts of wire; this gallant Officer, at once placing his men under cover, reconnoitred the wire until he found a gap. He then led his Company through, and continued the advance.

During the later stage of the advance, the Battalion was held up by heavy enfilade fire from MONT ST QUENTIN and PERONNE. This Officer at great personal risk supervised the consolidation of the ground won, and by his energy and cheerfulness, undoubtedly inspired his men to great efforts at a time when the casualties were heaviest.

During the whole of the operation this Officer kept Battalion Headquarters continually informed of the situation.’
53 Battalion’s last action of the war was at the end of September, when it was part of the effort to break through the German defences along the St Quentin Canal. The battalion withdrew to rest on 2 October, and saw no further action. After the Armistice was signed on 11 November, 1918, Murray was again Mentioned in Despatches. He returned to Australia in May 1919.

Murray’s appointment with the AIF ended on 25 August 1919, and he resumed duties in the militia. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1925, and commanded 56 Battalion from 1925 to 1930, and 53 Battalion from 1930 to 1934. In 1934 he was appointed commander of the Australian Army Service Corps, 1 Division. In May 1938, Murray was placed in command of 9 Infantry Brigade with the temporary rank of Colonel, and a year later was promoted to the temporary rank of Brigadier. In February 1940, he was placed in charge of the Eastern Command Recruit Training Depot.

Murray joined the Second AIF in April 1940, and was appointed to command 20 Brigade, which embarked in October for the Middle East. The brigade transferred from 7 Division to 9 Division in February 1941 who, despite being poorly equipped, were then sent to relieve 6 Division in Libya. At Er Regima, 20 Brigade were one of the first Australian formations to engage Rommel’s advancing Afrika Korps. The Brigade successfully fought a withdrawal to Tobruk, where they played an integral part in halting and eventually repelling the German advance on 14 April. For his leadership during this period, Murray was awarded a Bar to his DSO.

The recommendation for the Bar to the DSO reads, ‘While occupying the forward position at Mersa Brega in March, 1941, and later the defensive position at Er Regima where against overwhelming odds he effectively delayed the enemy’s advance at a critical time, in the withdrawal to Tobruk and throughout the operations at Tobruk, Brig. Murray commanded his Brigade with marked success. On 14 Apr. his Bde met the first large scale attack by the Germans against Tobruk and fought with the greatest determination and courage, inflicted heavy losses and played a notable part in the complete defeat of the enemy. By reason of his power of leadership, his enthusiasm, his knowledge of men and ability to get the utmost from them, Brig. Murray is largely responsible for the success of his Bde.’

During July 1941 while 9 Division’s commander Major General Morsehead was attending General Headquarters in Cairo, Murray commanded the garrison at Tobruk. He left Tobruk in November with most of his brigade, and was Mentioned in Despatches for the performance of his duties.

Murray returned to Australia in January 1942, which coincided with Japan’s offensive in the Pacific. Initially earmarked for a recruitment drive, he was instead made commander of the Newcastle Covering Force, and promoted to temporary Major General. This formation was eventually redesignated 10 Division. Murray was then sent to Western Australia in August 1942 to command 4 Division, where his rank of Major General became substantive in September. 4 Division moved to North Queensland in April 1943. In October 1944 Murray become general officer commanding Rear Echelon, First Army, at Mareeba. He then commanded Northern Territory Force from March 1945 until January 1946 when his appointment with the AIF came to an end, and he was placed on the Reserve of Officers.

In peacetime, Murray worked as Australian trade commissioner to New Zealand from 1946 to 1949, and then to Ceylon from 1949, where health considerations saw him return to Australia. He died in Sydney in 1951.