ROY GORDON MURDOCH – 101 year old letter from the trenches of Armentieres is reunited with soldier’s grand-daughter.

12/3527 & 801719 – ROY GORDON MURDOCH    

The NZRSA REVIEW is a newspaper produced for the benefit of veterans with an interest in the goings-on of those who are serving and those who have served; it is published four times a year.  

Calliope Oddfellows Lodge ~ Roll of Honour – Devonport Museum

The following appeared in the ‘Lost Trails‘ column of the Spring edition, July 2017:

Roy Gordon Murdoch letter

The Te Aroha RSA has a letter dated June 6, 1916, which was  written by Roy Gordon Murdoch from “somewhere” in France to his sister, Daisy. His service number was 12/3527, and it is understood his name is on the Roll of Honour at the Lodge of Oddfellows in the Devonport Museum, Auckland.  The Te Aroha RSA would like to hear from any descendant.  Contact: Peter Cimino – [email protected]; 07-8848124; 021-2600680. 

MRNZ responded to Peter’s request offering to take up the case, if after a period of advertising, no claimants were forthcoming.  Peter forwarded the letter to MRNZ in October.

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The Letter…

A brother’s letter scratched out in pencil on small pieces of paper (12cm x 16cm) in the trenches of France is so typical of thousands of letters sent to loved ones at home by troops in Egypt, Gallipoli, France and Belgium during WW1.  It is not an epistle but just a few lines to an elder sister that captures the essence of the simple things 22 year old Roy Murdoch wanted to tell his family about at that moment in time, and without worrying them unduly.

The three pressed pages of the letter (no envelope) were found inside an old hardcover novel in a Hamilton second-hand shop.  The letter had been written in pencil (the old indelible, purple lead type) and although the writing was light, because it had been protected from the ravages of sunlight, the 101+ year old letter, apart from some oil staining, remained legible to the naked eye for the most part.

The anonymous finder/donor from Te Aroha obviously recognised the letter’s potential sentimental significance to someone’s family.  Whilst the letter had no recognizable surname of is author, it had been signed simply – “Roy G. M  12/3527” – the finder could tell by the number, the date – 6/6/16, and the address at the top – “Somewhere in France” – that it had obviously been written during the First World War. 

Whomever found this letter is to be commended for having the foresight to pass it on to Mr. Peter Cimino, President of the Te Aroha RSA, in the hope a family could be found to return it to.  I am pleased to say, we have!

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An Ayrshire Scotsman, Charles Primrose Murdoch Esq., J.P. (1849-1926) after immigrating to NZ married Otago born Elizabeth (Eliza) WALLACE (1854-1924) at the Knox Church in Dunedin in 1874.  By 1880 the Murdoch’s (and their first born Charles jnr.) had moved north to the Manukau Heads, Waitemata where Charles P. had taken a timber mill manager’s position at Karangahape.  The Electoral Roll shows in 1890 the Murdoch’s were farming a property at Karekare, Eden and by 1900 Charles’ occupation was recorded as “wood turner” of Devonport, a craft he pursued for the remainder of his working life.  The family home at that time was in Garden Terrace, Devonport.

Roy Gordon Murdoch was the nineth of the 10 Murdoch children born in either Dargaville or Auckland, Roy’s siblings being: Charles Wallace (b1875), John Alexander Leslie, David Bruce, William Henderson, Daisy Margaret, Florence May, Violette Eva, Elsie Winifred Primrose, Roy, and Vida Primrose Murdoch (b1895). 

At the outbreak of WW1 Roy was working at the Devonport Borough Council as a Clerk.  It was from there he was drafted into the NZEF,  mobilised on 25 August 1915 with the 2nd Auckland Infantry Battalion reinforcements to Trentham Camp for war service training.  Due to be embarked in mid November 1915, Roy took the step many young men did before going overseas to war (not knowing whether or not they would return?) – he married his Buller Gorge born girlfriend Lyall Martha MacWILLIAMS (b1897 – after the gold mining town of “LYELL” in the Gorge).  Nicknamed ‘Mac’ by Roy, Lyall would remain with Roy’s parents and siblings at their house in Garden Terrace, Devonport until his return.  

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12/3527 Private Roy Gordon Murdoch joined ‘A’ Company of the 2nd Auckland Battalion, being part of the 8th Reinforcements, and together with the NZ Rifle Brigade’s 2nd Reinforcements, departed Wellington aboard HMNZT 35 “Willochra” on 13 November for a five week ‘cruise’ to Suez, Egypt.  

HMNZT 35 arrived at Suez on 20 Dec and the Reinforcements were railed to Moascar Camp on the western side of the Canal opposite Ismailia, in preparation for for battlefield training before going to France.  Whilst at Moascar Camp Pte. Murdoch received news of the birth of his first child – a girl on 22 March 1916 – Roye Lyall Murdoch (1916-1995) was named after both parents.  By happy coincidence, Pte. Murdoch also gained his first stripe as he was appointment to Temporary Lance Corporal just three days later on the 25th.

Two weeks on, April 8th, 1916 and the 2nd Auckland Infantry Battalion embarked for France – on arrival they were railed directly up to the battle front.  LCpl. Murdoch served in the Battalion HQ at Armentieres on the Belgian/French border and whist there had his promotion to LCpl. confirmed.     (letter written to Daisy on 6 June  1916)

24 Jan 1917 was a ‘red letter’ day for LCpl. Murdoch.  Now the Battalion Orderly Room Clerk Roy was not only promoted to Sergeant but was also appointed a temporary Staff Sergeant the same day!  His promotion to SSgt. was confirmed three months later in April, having been given charge of the Battalion Orderly Room.   Leave in England followed and the chance to see Mac who had travelled from NZ to share his leave.  After an absence from each other of nearly 18 months, Mac’s presence albeit for only a week or so made the first few months of 1917 very much easier to bear.

In Jan 1918 SSgt. Murdoch sustained a shrapnel wound from an artillery shell-burst necessitating his evacuation to the 7th Canadian General Hospital at Etaples for treatment.  This was followed by short periods at both the 6th (Etaples) and 5th (Boulogne) Convalescent Depots.  The one bright spot for Roy after this trauma was news of a second daughter’s birth in February, Violette Thelma Murdoch (1918-1954).      

On returning to duty at the beginning of March, SSgt. Murdoch was informed the GOC had recommended him for officer training as the Battalion was short of Infantry line commanders.  Roy attended a selection assessment in March and on 24 April was off to the UK and No.4 Officer Cadet Battalion at 9 Alfred Street in Oxford, to complete the Infantry commander’s commissioning course.  With that successfully passed, Roy was promoted in May to 2nd Lieutenant (2Lt.) in the Infantry.  He returned to France and posted to the 2nd Battalion, Auckland Infantry Regiment as a supernumerary officer.

With a young family waiting at home, 2Lt. Murdoch, who had been overseas for more than three and a half years, was granted permission for early demobilization and returned to NZ in Oct 1918.  Following  demobilization and leave, Roy was formally discharged from the NZEF in April 1919 to his brother’s rather remote farm at Kirikopuni (where Mac was staying) near Tangiteroria on the northern Wairoa River in the Kaipara district – roughly mid-way between Dargaville and Whangarei.   Roy maintained his military connections as a part-time Territorial Officer in the North Auckland Regiment (NAR) for a further four years. 

Awards:  1914-15 Star, British War Medal, 1914-18, Victory Medal

Service Overseas:  3 years  114 days

Total Service:   3 years  230 days

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After Roy returned home to Devonport he resumed work as a Clerk at the Borough Council for the next few years.  Roy’s father, Charles Primrose Murdoch, died in 1928 after which Roy decided to leave the pen pushing and like his father in the early years, and brother his David, become a farmer.  Roy, Mac and the two girls left Garden Terrace and returned to the Kaipara where he had started life.  The Murdochs temporarily moved in with older brother David on his farm at Kirikopuni, the place where Roy would learn how to farm and where he an Mac would eventually established their own home. 

World War 2 

801719 2nd Lieutenant Roy Murdoch, NZ Regiment re-enlisted on 15 Jan 1942 and was posted to 4 Bn, NAR (the Far North).  At 48 years of age Roy was too old for active service overseas and so was made a Temporary Captain in the Home Service, and employed in a training and administration role with the Territorial units in Kerikeri and Waitangi.  Capt. Murdoch was attached for duty to Defence HQ, Wellington in 1943 and worked as a staff officer until 1944.  Captain Murdoch, having turned 50 whilst in Wellington, had reached the mandatory military retiring age and was discharged in March 1944 to the Reserve of Officers.  Capt. Murdoch was subsequently placed on the Officers’ Retired List in 1949.

Awards:  British War Medal, 1939-45 and 1939-45 NZ War Service Medal  

Home Service:  2 years  3 months

Roy and Mac lived out their lives on their farms in the Kaipara region, first at Kirikopuni and later from the late 1960s, at Tangiteroria (15 kms NE of Dargaville).  Roy’s wife ‘Mac’ had pre-deceased him on 27 July 1971 at Hamilton where she had been staying with daughter Roye Condon, and Roy passed away 10 years later on 25 June 1981, at Mamaranui (about 35 kms west of Kirikopuni; 25 km NW of Dargaville) in the heart of his beloved Kaipara. 

801719 Captain (Rtd) Roy Gordon Murdoch, NZ Regiment was 89. 

Roy’s sister, Daisy Margaret ALEXANDER had died in 1961 aged 77, at Stanley Point on Auckland’s North Shore.  

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Finding Roy and Mac’s family  

There was no hint from the book who had owned it nor any help from the second-hand shop in Hamilton as how or when the book containing the letter had arrived.  I hoped that by tracing the Murdoch family’s movements to locate a descendant, that question might also be answered.  

Roy and Mac’s family was small and had remained relatively static, so tracing the movement of their two daughter’s Violette Murdoch and Roye Condon was not too difficult. 

Second born daughter Violette Thelma Murdoch (1918) had grown up on Roy and Mac’s farm at Kirikopuni.  When Roy had re-enlisted 1943, Violette decided she also would enlist.  812294 Private Violette Thelma Murdoch joined the NZ Womens’ Auxiliary Army Corps (NZ WAAC) at Whangarei in early 1944 and was placed on the April-Dec 1944 Embarkation Roll for overseas service.  Pte. Murdoch was also listed for a 2nd Embarkation on the Jan-Dec 1945 Roll.  It is unknown what, if any, overseas service Violette performed on each embarkation.  The types of duties for WAACs were: general duties in the forces clubs overseas, working on hospital ship and transport ships (cleaning, galley and dining room duties, laundry etc).  Violette was a life-long spinster and at some point went to the Waikato, and died at Te Aroha in 1954 before her 36th birthday.

The most likely owner of the letter was Roye Murdoch.  In 1946, Roye (25) was training to be a nurse and at the time was a resident of the Nurse’s Home in Hamilton.  Roye married Arthur John CONDON (1921-1988), a motor mechanic, and the couple lived approximately half of their married life in Te Kuiti; a daughter Bernice Mary Condon was born there in 1954.  Around 1965 the Condons moved into Hamilton where they stayed for the rest of their lives. Arthur died in 1988 and Roye in 1995.  

One other possibility was Arthur and Roye’s daughter Bernice Mary Condon.  Ancestry records and Facebook provided sufficient leads for me to trace Bernice Mary FREEMAN (nee Condon).  Bernice was married in Hamilton, had two children, is currently living in Australia and the owner of a business dedicated to dog care – health and hygiene products and the manufacture of bespoke apparel (coats) for dogs.  Bernice potentially could have had the letter/book while living in Hamilton however when I spoke with her she had never heard of the letter.

My conclusion – the letter (and book) most likely had remained in Hamilton, the result of  its disposed either during Arthur and Roye’s lifetime, or after Roye Condon’s death in 1995 when any unclaimed or unwanted household/personal effects of her estate would have been sold or gifted to charity. 

And the ‘Letter’ goes to ….

As Bernice Freeman is the only living grand-daughter of Roy and Lyall ‘Mac’ Murdoch she will be the recipient of grand-father Roy’s WW1 letter to Daisy.  When I spoke with Bernice recently she was in the midst of moving house and the letter will be forwarded as soon as Bernice is re-settled and advises her new postal address.  

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My thanks to Peter Cimino of the Te Aroha RSA for sending in a most interesting piece of WW1 ephemera which goes to show that even after a 101+ years, there are still wartime treasures to be found and reunited with families.

Ephemera is not included in MRNZ’s reunited medal total, which remains at 179.

Roy’s letter is transcribed word for word below.  I have added reference numbers in brackets that are expanded in the explanatory notes below the letter.  Roy has omitted the odd date and place name, as was required by censorship regulations at the time.  Extraordinarily, all soldiers Roy mentions in his letter returned safely to New Zealand !

Somewhere in France

6 / 6 / 16

Dear Daisy,

I received yours of the –th & was pleased to hear from you.  We are at present in trenches here & things are lively all of the time.  Enough shells to cover Cheltenham Beach every day.(1)  Nice isn’t it.  However it will be finished soon (I hope) & then all will be well.  What do you think of the way our Navy slapped the German Navy up.  Not much particulars here, but all official, & it appears we gave them gip.  Old Peter Bratty again.(2)   Outside ordinary gossip, there is no news here, except war, and that is prohibited by censor & also covered at all meals by us, as we see & get enough without talking it.

2

Syd Lock (3) is well & sends his regards.   Met Len Harty (4) here, he is also well etc.  Bill & Andy Carnahan (5 & 6) all here also, both doing well, Alan Rushil (Russell) (7) is attached to our Brigade & I saw him last week.

7/6/16.   Just heard that Syd Lock has gone to the Field Ambulance – no particulars, but I think he has a bad leg, having got it ripped open in German barbed wire entanglements last time he was out for a spin.

Des Harty (8) is here with our Battalion and looks is well.  Sends his regards.

3

Well D’s I must close now & get a line done to those at home.  This game is “no bon”.(9)

Love to yourself, Bill & kids, (Teddy & Wobbyjony) (10) & to mum, Mac & family (11) & all our family & all the other D – families.(12)  

Ask Bill if I can send him up a load of shells for his paths (these kind won’t wear out) & how much has he painted of the home.

                                                                                                     Your Loving Brother

                                                                                                       Roy G M

                                                                                                         12/3527

                                         posted 10/6/16       (out of trenches for while)

Explanatory notes:

  1. Cheltenham Beach = located at Devonport, Auckland
  2. “Old Peter Bratty” = rhyming slang for “Ratty” = to make angry
  3. 12/3387 Cpl. Sidney George Snow (Syd) LOCK – AIB, 8 Reinfs; embarked Nov 1915 – Rtnd NZ.
  4. 4/466 Sgt. (later Capt) Leonard Power (Len) HARTY, MM – AIB, NZ Field Engineers (Main Body); embarked Oct 1914 (Military Medal awarded 18 Oct 1916, France) – Rtnd NZ.
  5. 2/440 Sgt. Saddler Andrew Gilmore (Andy) CARNAHAN – NZ Field Artillery, 2nd Battery (Main Body); embarked Oct 1914 (landed Gallipoli) – Rtnd NZ.                                                                            12/2662 Pte. William Henry (Bill) CARNAHAN – AIB, 6 Reinfs; embarked Aug 1915; returned to France for a second tour of duty as a 2nd Lieutenant with 37th Reinforcements in May 1918 – Rtnd NZ.
  6. 23121 Sgt. Alan Hoey RUSSELL – NZ Rifle Brigade, 4 Reinfs; embark May 1916 (also WW2 – 65672, 2nd Lieutenant) – Rtnd NZ.
  7. 12/3929 Sgt. Thomas Desmond (Des) HARTY – AIB, 10 Reinfs; embark Apr 1915 (Gallipoli); commissioned into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1918 – Rtnd NZ.
  8. Roy’s sisterDaisy Margaret MURDOCH b: Lyell, Buller West Coast m 1908, William (Bill) Edward ALEXANDER, Accountant – Summer St, Devonport, 1919 – died Jun 1960. Their two children were:
  9. Teddy = Charles Edward ALEXANDER;   Wobbyjohn = Margaret Beryl ALEXANDER – Daisy & Bill’s children.
  10. “no bon” = not good (Fr.)
  11. Mum, Mac and family: Mum = Elizabeth MURDOCH, Roy and Daisy’s mother; ‘Mac’ = Martha Lyall Murdoch (nee MacWILLIAMS), Roy’s wife.
  12. D– families = Devonport families

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