1917: He 'served and died worthily'
THE Morning Bulletin today introduces a new historical series titled 1917, featuring the stories from the archives of our paper from that year.
In today's instalment we carry a letter from a Captain J.G. Sawyer to a Rockhampton mother regarding the death of her solider-son during World War I.
The Morning Bulletin - Saturday 28 April 1917.
Second-Lieutenant J.W. Murray Hartley
"Served and Died Worthily.
Mrs. S.W. Hartley, Hall Estate, Rockhampton, is in receipt of the following letter written "in the trenches" on the 21st of January last, from Captain J.G. Sawyer. Officer Commanding the Twelfth Machine Gun corps, conveying the following details of the death of her second son, Second-Lieutenant W. Murray Hartley:-
"It is with the most profound regret and concern for the loss of your son that I venture to write some account of the circumstances under which he was wounded. But first I would like to say that he joined this company on its first formation in Egypt and had sterling qualities and manly modesty brought him steadily forward.
As a sergeant he was admirable, and on promotion to commissioned rank, he forged steadily ahead, proving himself a gallant and thoughtful leader of men.
As scientific officer, he ranked with my best - no mean boast in a crack company. He had recently been favourably noticed by General Robertson, our Brigadier, and promotion to lieutenant was recommended and awaiting gazetting. His reliability, unfailing good temper, and endurance of trying conditions and cheerfulness had endeared him to us, his comrades and to his men.
We were moving into the line, and carrying out the relief of guns in the front line. Murray being in charge of the relief of the right section in which were two guns. The relief of one had been successfully completed under cover of dark and one gun team led by Murray, and conducted by a guide was proceeding forward to the other gun position, which is most awkwardly disposed.
Almost the only shell fired that night burst over the gun position and wounded nearly all the team, blowing Murray into a shell-hole full of water. The Sergeant (Sergeant Myers) and the guide, though slightly wounded, got Murray out but he insisted on the men being attended to first. Medical assistance was ... [unreadable) ... a Captain Aspinall, of the battery nearby, being most helpful and kind. All were got into dug-outs, bandaged and sent on to the CCS.
Murray, I understand, had his left knee shattered and a wound in his right leg. He did not pass through our brigade dressing station although two of his own team did. I saw them, and hoped all night to see him, but was disappointed.
The men were full of praise for his unselfish conduct and calm courage. I made all the inquires possible, and could only find out that he did not appear to be in extraordinary pain and was quite cheerful.
The notification of his death from wounds came as a heavy blow to all in this company. We have lost many comrades, but few have been so universally regretted as your son. I am only a plain soldier and fear I cannot soften the blow to you, but would add that your son served and died worthily upholding the traditions of the race and was a model in courage and behaviour of what an Australian officer should be.
His brother officers desire to associate themselves with me in offering our sincerest sympathy, and should I get any further information, I will at once forward it on to you."