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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 121

Senator BARNETT (9:50 PM) —Tonight I stand to honour Tasmania's Victoria Cross heroes, in particular Harry Murray VC. He was born near Evandale in northern Tasmania on 30 December 1883. He was a farm worker. He enlisted as a private soldier in the AIF at the outbreak of World War I. He was a courageous soldier, an inspiring leader and, by the end of the war, he was Australia's most decorated soldier, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was the most highly decorated soldier of the British Empire. It was on Tuesday, 5 October 2004 that senator elect Stephen Parry, a highly regarded businessman from the north-west coast of Tasmania, made an announcement on behalf of the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team—joined by me and other members of the community at Evandale—that the Howard government will honour Tasmania's 13 Victoria Cross recipients by establishing a series of memorial rest stops in the VC winner's home town.

I want to identify Tasmania's 13 Victoria Cross recipients. They come from all over the state. We must never forget the sacrifice of our forefathers who fought to preserve our way of life. By honouring these Victoria Cross recipients we honour all those people who fought for our country. They are Trooper John Bisdee, Lieutenant Guy Wylly, Captain Harry Murray—who I will speak of further shortly—Captain Percy Cherry, Captain James Newland, Sergeant John Whittle, Sergeant John Dwyer, Sergeant Lewis McGee, Sergeant Stanley McDougall, Corporal Walter Brown, Lieutenant Alfred Gaby, Sergeant Percy Statton and Lance Corporal Sidney Gordon.

The Returned Services League in our state has been invited to assist the Australian government and the relevant local council in the development and maintenance of those memorials. The Howard government will contribute $65,000 to the 13 memorials and an additional $20,000 to help commission a bronze statue of Harry Murray VC at Evandale in northern Tasmania, the birthplace of Harry Murray. This will be a fitting tribute to Australia's most decorated soldier from the First World War. I commend in particular the work of the Murray Memorial Committee—former Lieutenant Colonel Rtd C.D. von Stieglitz, OAM, RFD, ED and members of his committee, including Alastair Cameron—on the work they have done to raise funds to commemorate Harry Murray's courage and life.

I acknowledge the work of the RSL and thank them for their cooperation and support. I met with the RSL state executive last Friday in Hobart at Anzac House. The meeting was ably led by the President, Ian Kennett. I commend the RSL—and specifically Ian Kennett on his leadership—on the work that they do in advocating the interests of the veterans and their families in our state and around our country.

Also in attendance at the October launch was Brian Harper, who is the president of the sub-branch of the RSL for the Longford-Evandale area, David von Stieglitz and Alastair Cameron. There was an apology from Russell Anderson, who is very involved with the sub-branch of the RSL.

Harry Murray lived at Evandale. His military career started when, as a teenager, he joined the Launceston Artillery as a gunner. Harry Murray served with the Launceston Artillery for six years. His military career went on hold when he moved to Western Australia, where he described his occupation as a timber cutter or timer getter. He worked a very hard life in the country. In 1914 he was back in uniform. He had joined the 16th Battalion AIF, along with his best mate, Percy Black, a goldminer from Western Australia.

Harry and Percy landed and fought at Gallipoli together. In May 1915 in action at Pope's Hill, they were both awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. As No.1 and No. 2 on a machine gun, they held off a concerted Turkish attack on the rear of the Australian position while the rest of their company was defending the front of the position. Both were wounded during the action. Soon after Harry Murray was promoted to lance corporal. Three months later he was promoted to sergeant and commissioned as a second lieutenant on the same day.

While he and Percy Black were together—some of this research has been prepared by Alastair Cameron, and I thank him for that—they resolved to `never let the enemy prevent them from carrying out what they set out to do'. This resolve was to come to the surface on many later occasions during in the war. As an officer, Harry was posted to the 13th Battalion AIF, with which he went to fight in France. There he was soon promoted to captain.

In August 1916 Captain Harry Murray was awarded the Distinguished Service Order when, as a company commander, he stormed Mouquet Farm with 100 men and briefly held part of it from the Germans. The Australians later had to withdraw under intense enemy fire. A later attack with 700 men was unable to repeat Murray's earlier success and it eventually took a force of 3,000 to recapture the position from the Germans. Murray's initial success with only 100 men was later attributed to his ferocious determination and leadership.

It was on 4 and 5 February 1917 that Murray won the Victoria Cross during action which lasted for nearly 48 hours at Gueudecourt. Murray led a force of 140 men in an assault on a position known as Stormy Ridge. During the battle he distinguished himself by encouraging his men, setting an example, leading hand grenade bombing parties, leading bayonet charges, rescuing the wounded and carrying them to safety, crawling out in no-man's-land on reconnaissance, rallying his men and saving the situation by sheer valour. They were forced to withdraw due to the overwhelming enemy firepower, and only 48 of the 140 survived.

Later in April that year, 1917, during a series of assaults on the Hindenburg line at Bullecourt in France, Murray again was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and promoted to major. During action nearby, his mate Major Percy Black was killed in action. The fighting was severe and communications were difficult, resulting in poor coordination between the infantry, tank and artillery deployments. It is interesting to note that also at Bullecourt another distinguished Tasmanian, General Sir John Gellibrand, was commanding the 6th Brigade AIF. By the end of 1917 Murray was commanding his battalion, and in May 1918 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and posted as commanding officer of the 4th Machine Gun Battalion, which he commanded until the end of the war.

During the last months of the war, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre and, at the end of the war, he was made Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George. He had also been mentioned four times in dispatches in the last two years of the war. Thus, at the end of World War I, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Murray was the most highly decorated soldier of the entire British Empire.

In 1920 he bought an 80,000-acre farm, Glenlyon, near Richmond in North Queensland. In 1927 he married and started his own family. When hostilities broke out again, he pulled on his uniform once more and from July 1939 to August 1942 commanded the 26th Battalion of the Militia and then held postings in the Volunteer Defence Corps until 1944, when he retired from active duty. It was on 7 January 1966 that Lieutenant Colonel Harry Murray VC, the most highly decorated soldier of the British Empire in World War I, died in Queensland as a result of a car accident.

There is a room dedicated to Harry Murray at the Evandale Community Centre, containing a collection of relevant items of military historical significance. I commend the Evandale History Society on the work that they do. I have recently finished reading the book entitled Mad Harry: Australia's most decorated soldier by George Franki and Clyde Slatyer. It is an excellent book and demonstrates some examples of Harry Murray's courage during that time.

The memorial that is being prepared has been supported and endorsed by the Chief of the Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove. In a letter to Colonel Rtd C.D. von Stieglitz, he said:

The work that you and the committee of the Murray Memorial are undertaking to enable the commissioning of the statue is commendable. Lieutenant Colonel Murray, as Australia's most decorated soldier, is worthy of such recognition.

I wish you luck in achieving your goal.

I hope that goal will be achieved and is not too far away. I am proud to be the grandson of a World War I veteran and I wish to pay honour and homage to those who are prepared to make the supreme sacrifice for our country. It is a great privilege to stand in this place and acknowledge their efforts, their work and the sacrifice they made so we can live in a free and democratic community.