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christine liava'a

Most decorated British soldier of wW1-AIF

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I have just found mention of this man- a true hero!

So many decorations I can't fit them all in

Captain Henry Murray

One of the original Anzacs, Australia’s most decorated serviceman and the most decorated soldier in the British infantry in WWI, Henry Murray was born near Launceston. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his valour at Stormy Trench near Guedecourt on the Western Front on 4-5 February 1917. After leading his company to its objective, Captain Murray rallied his men in the face of heavy casualties to beat back three counter-attacks, heading bombing parties, leading bayonet charges and carrying wounded men to safety. As well as the VC, Murray was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal at Gallipoli, the Distinguished Service Order and Bar, the French Croix de Guerre and in 1919 was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George.

Captain Henry Murray

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There is a excellent story on Lt Col 'Harry' Murray VC, CMG, DSO and Bar, DCM, Croix-de-Guerre in 'Wartime' Number 8, the official magazine of the Australian War Memorial. You may view the magazine online at their website at www.awm.gov.au

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There was also a recent book about Harry Murray called 'Mad Harry'. It's quite a good read.

He was born in Tasmania, lived in Western Australia prior to enlistment and after the war moved to Queensland where he had a farm.

He was in the machine gun section of the original 16th Battalion. His offsider in the MG section was a Lance Corporal named Percy Black who the historian CEW Bean called the Bravest of the Brave in the AIF. Black was soon commissioned on Gallipoli and later won the DSO and rose to the rank of Major before being killed in the wire in front of OG2 leading the 16th Battalion in the battle of Bullecourt on the 11th of April 1917.

On Gallipoli Harry Murray's ability came to notice and he was commissioned as an officer into the 13th Battalion. He excelled as an officer and in the final year of the war was given command of the 4th Machine Gun Battalion.

From all accounts his saddest moment of the war was seeing his friend Percy Black being killed at Bullecourt. Murray's 13th Bn was in support of the 16th Bn in this attack.

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I have just joined the forum. I noted the entry re Harry Murray the most decorated infantryman of the British and Empire forces in WW1.

In 2003 I co-authored a book, with a WW2 Aust Navy colleague, Clyde Slatyer, called "Mad Harry." As noted, Murray was decorated six times including two DSOs, which was remarkable as both were won as a a captain, a rare honour.

On 24 Feb in 2006, a statue to Murray will be unveiled in his native place Evandale Tasmania by Australias' Governor General.

George Franki -Sydney Australia

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Welcome to the forum, George.

Cheers

Kim

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I always believed that L/Cpl W.H.Coltman VC DCM & Bar MM & Bar was credited as being the most decorated British soldier of WW1.

Regards Doug.

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I always believed that L/Cpl W.H.Coltman VC DCM & Bar MM & Bar was credited as being the most decorated British soldier of WW1.

Regards Doug.

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Well. Coltman was decorated five times, Murray six. In his latter years, Murray would jokingly say: "I was the most decorated footsoldier."

George Franki

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Is it not the case that Coltman was the most decorated British soldier and Murray, an Australian, the most decorated soldier of the British Empire? Both these claims assume that we're talking about land forces. If pilots are included then I think that the most decorated man from the UK is James McCudden VC, DSO and bar, MC and bar and the French Croix de Guerre and the most decorated from all the countries of the Empire is William Barker, VC, DSO and bar, MC and 2 bars, French Croix de Guerre & 2 Italian Silver Medals for Valour. Barker also had 3 Mentions in Dispatches. I don't know if the inclusion of these might change the pecking order?

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Is it not the case that Coltman was the most decorated British soldier and Murray, an Australian, the most decorated soldier of the British Empire? Both these claims assume that we're talking about land forces. If pilots are included then I think that the most decorated man from the UK is James McCudden VC, DSO and bar, MC and bar and the French Croix de Guerre and the most decorated from all the countries of the Empire is William Barker, VC, DSO and bar, MC and 2 bars, French Croix de Guerre & 2 Italian Silver Medals for Valour. Barker also had 3 Mentions in Dispatches. I don't know if the inclusion of these might change the pecking order?

Hello Gibbo. I never said that Murray was the most decorated serviceman of WW!. I said that I believed he was the most decorated infantryman or footsoldier. Barker does appear to have been the most decorated serviceman.

Cheers George Franki

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Regarding William Barker, VC; sadly, he is an almost forgotten hero in Canada and few Canadians are aware of his exploits in the Great War. Here are two excerpts from the Wayne Ralph book entitled "Barker VC". The material is backed up by the definative book by Syd Wise, "Canadian Airmen and the First World War".

- Borden Battery

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

pp 165-166

The official history, The War in the Air, even published the description Barker's action. Jones was cautious to note, however, that the commanding officer of the squadron, not Barker, had written the battle report:

'. . . 8.25 a.m. Observed enemy two-seater [Rumpler] at 21,000 feet N. E. of Foret de Mormal. Enemy aircraft climbed east and Major Barker following fired a short burst from underneath at point-blank range. Enemy aircraft broke up in the air and one of the occupants jumped with a parachute. He then observed a Fokker biplane 1,000 feet below stalling and shooting at him, one of the bullets wounding him in the right thigh. He fell into a spin from which he pulled out in the middle of a formation of about 15 Fokkers, two of which he attacked indecisively, both enemy aircraft spinning down. He turned, and getting on the tail of a third which was attacking him, shot it down in flames from within 10 yards range. At this moment he was again wounded in the left thigh by others of the formation who were diving at him. He fainted and fell out of control again. On recovering he pulled his machine out and was immediately attacked by another large formation of 12 to 15 enemy aircraft. He got on the tail of one and from a range of less than 5 yards shot it down in flames. At this moment he received a third wound from the remainder of the formation who were attacking him, the bullet shattering his left elbow. The enemy machine which wounded him closed to within 10 yards. He again fainted and fell out of control to 12,000 feet, and recovering was at once attacked by another large formation of enemy aircraft. He then noticed heavy smoke coming from his machine and, under the impression he was on fire, tried to ram a Fokker just ahead of him. He opened fire on it from 2 to 3 yards range and enemy aircraft fell in flames. He then dived to within a few thousand feet of the ground and began to fly towards our lines, but found his retreat was cut off by another formation of 8 enemy aircraft who attacked him. He fired a few bursts at some of them and shaking them off dived down and returned to our lines a few feet above the ground, finally crashing close to one of our balloons. . .'

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p 168

What is the truth behind the legendary fight? We will probably never know. But, from his record, we do know that Barker's gunnery skills were exceptional. All but three or four of his targets had burned or broken up in the air. If any pilot was skilled enough to fight his way out of a corner, it was Barker.

However, there are no surviving German records to confirm the loss of three Fokker D.VIIs. Aviators named Wattenburg, Mack, and Scheffler were killed in action that day. But other RAF pilots, including those of 29 and 74 Squadrons, also claimed victories over the Foret de Mormal. The German Air Force was very short of aviation petrol, and had been rationing it to its best squadrons, allowing them to fly two missions a day. The most likely units to have launched offensive patrol that morning were Jastas 2; 26; 27; and 36, all belonging to Jagdgcschwader III and/or Jastas 1; 57; 58; and 59, all belonging to Jagdgrupp.

It is the pilots of some or all of these units who are most likely to have fought against Barker. The diary for Jagdgeschwader III did not survive the war, and the diaries of the other German units are typically sketchy due to the rapid retreat in the last weeks of the war. There is little likelihood, 80 years later, that any undiscovered German documentwill surface that could clarify or correct the events of that morning.

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Source: Barker VC - William Barker, Canada's Most Decorated War Hero

Wayne Ralph, Doubleday Canada (1997)

PS My late Grandfather (Private Richard W. Mercer (911016)) saw action in the Great War being wounded twice and injured once. Regarding medals and decorations - his mild mannered comments were thus, "We had little respect for medals. Medals came up with the mail and the rations and were given out by the officers to impress the higher level officers that they were somewhere near the fighting. But you know, where the real fighting took place; there were no officers."

In this context, we can compare and contrast the numbers and merits of medals and decorations of various men, their military units and country of origin. However, one must remember a very high percentage of the unseen heros [from all units and countries] never fought for medals, their actions were never recorded, medals were not presented and almost all are forgotten.

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Harry Murray was always very forthright about admitting his fear while in action. I think his comment was that a hero is the same as any other man, only he keeps his courage together for a few minutes longer - or words to that effect. And he was always the first to point out that there were many men braver than him - but never recognised.

Medals & awards are very arbitrary. Bert Jacka (VC, MC & bar) was apparently recommended for a bar to his VC (won on Gallipoli) for his gallantry at Mouquet Farm in Aug '16. But, mere captains shouldn't argue with their brigadiers, and the story has it that his recommendation was downgraded to a MC.

Why didn't Ernest Albert Corey win a DCM instead of one of his 4 MM's? Comes down to who does the recommending...

I have friends who were recommended for gallantry awards in Vietnam and never got them, because of a quota system imposed by the Australian Army.

Gallantry awards are often just pot luck!

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