In war you have your gear and your buddies. Out in the trenches and under fire, your buddies might be the more important thing in your life.
For Wilfred Lancelot McMurray, he was the one buddy everyone should have.
Will, as he was usually called, was born in Auckland in 1895 to Henry and Matilda. He was working as a dentist when war broke out in August 1914. Within a week he had enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.
Like a great many others, he was, at 19, actually too young. But he altered his birth date by a year. At almost six foot tall, dark-haired and dark-eyed, it would not have seemed out of place.
He left and ended up in Egypt arriving in December where they remained until the preparations for the Gallipoli assault.
Like a lot of New Zealanders, he landed at Anzac Cove.
It’s from a letter home by Private Frank Shirley that McMurray’s heroism is known.
It was late April, 1915, when Shirley was wounded after being shot by a sniper and pinned down in an abandoned dugout. He was unable to move due to bullets flying and it was McMurray who stayed with him, talking to him and giving him water.
As darkness fell McMurray crawled into the dugout and managed to get Shirley to safety.
Only then did it become known McMurray had already saved the life of another man, earlier in and returned to the front line, where he found Shirley, who was his tent mate.
Shirley recovered and was lucky not to lose his arm or later his life from infection.
In May McMurray was sent with the rest of his brigade to Cape Helles at the southern point of the Gallipoli Peninsula. On the 8th the New Zealanders fought the Second Battle of Krithia and at the end of the day McMurray was reported missing. His body has never been found.
He was only 20.
McMurray was declared ‘believed to be dead’ by a board of enquiry in 1916 and is commemorated on the Twelve Trees Copse in Helles, Turkey and at the Auckland Grammar School memorial.
He was one of 18,058 New Zealanders who died as a result of First World War service and are listed on the Roll of Honour.
Frank Shirley went on to live a long life, marrying, having three children and dying aged 82 on January 3, 1975. He is buried in Te Henui Cemetery in New Plymouth.
Photo by Stijn Swinnen.
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