When I told my friend Marion about my WWI project in 2014 she walked into her bedroom and came out with the WWI Australian service medal pictured. It belonged to Private T Murray, 1st Battalion AIF. I know this because all medals are inscribed with the recipient’s name, rank and service details.
The medal came into Marion’s hands about 25 years ago when Keith, an ex-boyfriend, asked her to look after it for him. He has never reclaimed it.
Naturally I was curious as to why someone would give up a medal belonging to a family member, and to find out more about Private Murray.
You can find out about any Australian’s WWI service simply by going to the Australian War Memorial website. On their homepage there is a section on Family History Research with a link to “search for a person”. This brings up various searchable lists such as the WWI Nominal Roll, a list of all those who served in WWI.
Private Murray’s service number on the medal is 1392 but I couldn’t find him on the WWI nominal roll under that number. I thought to myself “this is impossible given I’m holding his medal”. There are 18 Thomas Murray’s listed, of which 14 were Privates, one Corporal, one Lieutenant Corporate, and two Lieutenants. Of the 18 seven were killed in action, one died of wounds, and eight returned to Australia, and for two it’s not listed what happened to them.
Of the 14 privates, only two were in the 1st Battalion. One of them, Private Thomas Frederick Murray service number 2097, was killed in action on 10 or 11 August 1915. The other, Private Thomas Murray, service number 1479, enlisted on 29 October 1914, survived and returned to Australia in 1917. But what happened to the owner of this medal, Private Murray, service number 1392? Why isn’t he listed?
So I wrote to the AWM. You can do that by the way, send an enquiry and the historians there are very good and will get back to you in time. Anyway, I got a very informative email back and discovered that Private Murray, service number 1392 and Private Murray, service number 1479, were one and the same person! There is no explanation why his number changes. The historian gave me a link to the National Archives of Australia where all service records are held: http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/search/index.aspx
It seems Thomas Murray was 40 years old when he enlisted and he was unlucky enough to be sent to Gallipoli on 7 May 2015 where he was wounded on 19 May with a bayonet wound to the leg. He was evacuated to Malta where he recuperated and then was even more unlucky as he was sent to France to join the battle at Pozieres in 1916 where he was severely wounded by a gunshot wound to his pelvic region. He spent 58 days in hospital but was considered unfit for general or home service and returned to Australia in 1917 where he was discharged on an invalid pension of £3 per fortnight at age 43.
Throughout his service records there are copies of several letters written to the Department of Defence from his two married sisters, Mrs Kate Barrett and Mrs Margaret Tuffin, both of Wanganui New Zealand, seeking information on his whereabouts. Private Murray was born in Inverness, Scotland and was an unmarried labourer when he enlisted. His service record also contained a letter from the Public Trustee that stated he had died on 16 November 1939 in Wee Waa, NSW.
After searching cemetery indexes without finding him, I ordered a transcription of his death certificate which confirmed date and location of his passing and that he died from pulmonary tuberculosis. He was still unmarried and was buried in the Wee Waa cemetery. His father was George Murray and mother Catherine Fraser.
The medal came without the ribbon which I purchased from Christie’s. I would like to return Private Murray’s medal to one of his family members. You can help by sharing this post. We are seeking descendants of Mrs Barrett and Mrs Tuppin of New Zealand, or other Murray family members of Scotland. Thank you for your service Private Murray!