No Ordinary Determination
Percy Black and Harry Murray of the First AIF
Fremantle, WA: Fremantle Press, 2014
Paperback 340pp RRP $24.99
Reviewer: Rob Ellis, May 2001
This is a book that should be read by everyone who has an interest in the history of the Australian Defence Forces, and especially if this interest focuses on the First Australian Imperial Force of World War 1.
Harry Murray and Percy Black both volunteered, in Western Australia for the 1st AIF in the very early days of August 1914
Murray, born in Tasmania, was a direct descendant of two Second Fleet convicts who had arrived in New Holland in 1790. He was 33 years of age, and working as a sleeper cutter, when he volunteered for the Army. He had some limited military experience in a Militia Garrison artillery unit prior to volunteering in 1914.
Percy Black was slightly older - 37 - and the eleventh child of Irish migrant parents who had settled in Victoria. Prior to enlisting, he was a prospector on the gold fields, and worked at times as a mail contractor. He was well-known and well-liked in his community.
Both were “ordinary blokes” who had been footloose, working at a variety of semi-skilled jobs. Both were honest, hard-working men, typical of the thousands who volunteered between 1914 and 1918. They came together during initial training at the Blackboy Hill Camp near Perth. Both proved to be competent marksmen, with some mechanical knowledge, so both were posted to the Machine-Gun Section of the 16th Battalion. Both were later shown to be leaders who cared for their men, and who would be followed willingly and without question.
Both served with the 13th Battalion, during the abortive Dardanelles Campaign of 1915, where both were promoted lance-corporal and later to sergeant. Both were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, for their exceptional bravery and devotion to duty.
Percy Black went on to reach the rank of major, and to be awarded the Distinguished Service Order and the French Croix de Guerre before his death in action at Bullecourt in April 1917.
Harry Murray, although saddened by the death of his close friend, became the most highly decorated Australian soldier of World War1. He was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the field during the Gallipoli campaign, by his Brigadier, John Monash, then commanding 4th Brigade, of which the 13th Battalion was part.
Murray was, during his subsequent service in France, awarded the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Service Order and bar, and the Croix de Guerre, and had the unusual experience of receiving all three decorations, from King George V, at the one presentation ceremony in Hyde Park, London. He was also raised to Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George, and was twice Mentioned in Despatches, besides being wounded at least four times. He rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, as Commanding Officer of the 4th Machine Gun Battalion, a unit which performed exceptionally well in many battles in France between 1916 and 1918.
He also served as Brigade Machine Gun Officer and assisted in the training of American troops in the tactical use of machine guns when a US division came under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir John Monash late in the war.
Both Murray and Black were brilliant and brave leaders, with an excellent knowledge of the tactical deployment and use of machine-guns, both in attack and in defence. They both contributed to several Australian victories and were instrumental in preventing some defeats.
There is little doubt that if Percy Black had lived longer, he may have had as brilliant a career as did his close comrade and friend, Harry Murray. Both have earned a place on the Roll of “Bravest of the Brave”.
The author, Jeff Hatwell, has done an exceptional job researching the lives of these two valiant men, and presenting their lives to us in a very readable book. This is an excellent bibliography, and the maps give a clear picture of the many engagements in which Murray, Black and their many comrades participated and almost always made a significant contribution.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this book available for review.