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Murrays in New Zealand


Peter Murray, WWI Honouree

Young Peter Murray 1881-1917
Young Peter Murray

Peter MURRAY was born 09 October 1881 at Burnside in the Muiravonside Parish of Stirlingshire, Scotland.  He was the eldest son of John MURRAY and Jane Little KILGOUR.  (See photo at right of young Peter MURRAY which was kindly supplied by David WHITE.  Click on photo for larger image).  Peter lived his toddling years at Burnside until he was almost five years old when it's easy to imagine he was a wide-eyed youngster boarding ship with his parents.  What his parents probably considered an arduous voyage must have seemed like one delightful adventure after another to young Peter.

Whatever the case, Peter arrived in New Zealand with his family in 1886 and we suppose that the young boy found life in the foothills of the mountains quite agreeable.  His characteristic fierce independence must have been taking shape about this time as his mother was very ill and surely the young twins must have demanded a great segment of her time.  In 1887, his mother died and 6 year old Peter went to his father's new house in the Sydenham district of Christchurch.  During the week, his father was seventy five miles away managing the Cora Lynn Station and young Peter, no doubt, became the man of the house even though that house was now under the careful and loving supervision of housekeeper Sarah MAYES.

His thirst for adventure, independent nature, and sense of duty to family, all combined to persuade him to leave school, too early, as he would later admit.  The temptation of being on his own and sharing a paycheck with his family were too much for him and Peter soon found himself working as a labourer in Australia.

In 1913, Peter was working as a navvy on a branch line off the Carins-Chillagoe Railway in the far northern part of Queensland.  Peter described it as terribly rough and barren country.

"The blazing sun dries the bread and corned beef till they are like pieces of wood and reduces the butter to oil.  On top of this the flies and dust and ants are into everything.  And those flies are enough to drive a man crazy, in addition to being great carriers of typhoid, a disease very common in the big railway camps."

"The water also on this class of work is usually very scarce and very bad, having as a rule to be carted in tanks from water holes many miles away."

In 1914, he was working in the Parkes district of New South Wales west of Sydney.  In November of 1914 he signed on with the Australian Permanent Way Department and was assigned to "cutting work" on the Southern Line at Binalong, about 210 miles from Sydney.  It didn't take him long to be disenchanted with his life as a navvy.  On 15 November 1914 he wrote to his mother, "The job is not much of a catch and to make things worse the weather is terribly hot and dry."  "I have become indifferent as to where I go or what I do."

Before the end of 1914 he was already pleading with his brothers and especially young Ernest to stay in school.

"I suppose by this time he (Ernest) knows better that I can tell him how to keep a look out a long way ahead and to avail himself to every opportunity for gaining any advantages to be had through studying and qualifying for examinations and so on.  By this means he should be able to steer clear of hard toil."  "I mention this merely to show one of the advantages of being as highly qualified as possible in some technical branch of work."  "For my own part, I have always had an inclination to study though I have had no necessity and little opportunity for it."

Peter's despair was evident in every letter.  "This knocking about with a tent and a frying pan is a mighty rough business."  After a ten day holiday in Sydney during the 1914 Christmas Season Peter wrote, "I took this journey with the intention of viewing some of the great holiday resorts around the city.  Unfortunately it rained nearly the whole time and there was nothing for it but to stay in doors."

By mid 1915, Peter had accompanied the gang to Galong, about 100 miles northwest of Canberra, N.S.W.  "I am still following up the same horse-like existence and nothing ever happens striking enough to write home about."  "As we are in a very bad camp I have been sorely tempted to follow the example of many others and get out of it."

By early 1916, Peter was still toiling along although now as a miner at Nymagee, about 450 miles from Sydney on the Western Line.  The War in France was inching towards Peter and the subject began to dominate his letter writing.

"A trip to Europe with the volunteers would be more or less agreeable though a trifle risky, however, I think I shall wait for the conscription."

"This war seems to get more serous every day.  It is not in the least improbable that they will drag us all into the Army before long.  For my part I am indifferent as to what they do.  I cannot say I am greatly taken up with this game of firing cannon at each other.  I've been a tramp most of my life and in ordinary times the proffer of my services in the most humble capacities has generally met with contemptuous rejection.  I am not a very enthusiastic Jingo myself having put in most of time on the 'outer', and being in no way bursting with gratitude for great favours received from the ruling class."

But by late 1916, Peter was #7032 in the 3rd Battalion of the Australian Infantry.  Over the winter of 1916-17, Private Peter MURRAY was in training camp in England.

By the summer of 1917, Private MURRAY was in France and in the thick of it.  He wrote to his much younger brother Ernest, "Now the days are beautifully bright and warm, and the country, away from the fighting, has taken on a coat of brilliant verdure that seemed impossible to one knowing it only in the winter months."  Peter continued to lament his own station yet consistently encouraged Ernest to study.  Peter would recommend various books that might provide Ernest with even the slightest advantage.

Military historians long debate even to this day the costly tactics of Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the Commonwealth's British Expeditionary Forces.  During the Third Battle of Ypres in the fall of 1917 he continued to press ahead with attack after attack, reluctant to concede the failure of the breakthrough Haig so coveted.

Both sides of the debate concede that it was the old cavalryman Haig who stated, "The machine gun is a much over rated weapon."  Haig considered war a matter of attrition.  In spite of the heaviest battlefield rainfall in many years, and the German's abundant use of mustard gas, and the 'insignificant' German machine gun, Haig ordered assault after assault from July through October and into November.

When the Third Battle of Ypres was finally over, the Commonwealth B.E.F. had suffered some 310,000 casualties.  One of those casualties was Private Peter MURRAY, the working lad from New Zealand.  Peter's body was apparently never recovered . . . just a mirror, a razor in it's case, and two French books.  (Always learning, Peter was teaching himself French.)

Peter may not have thought his life had amounted to much when he complied with that whistle and charged out of that trench on 04 October 1917.  But Peter MURRAY had three brothers who admired him, they stayed in school, and they went on to become successful bankers and a chief accountant.

Peter MURRAY's name is engraved in honour on the Menin Gate, in Ypres, Belgium.