Picture above: Murray Moten in 1940
Inspired by the work of Ireland Reaching Out Volunteer, Liam Doran, Senator Anne McEwan, who wrote the forward for his book, spoke of the contribution Murray and his comrades made to Australia's military forces.
As reported in the Parliamentary Debates of the Commonwealth of Australia:
I have reflected on a number of occasions, both in this chamber and at numerous commemorations and dedications, on the effort and sacrifice of the 2nd/27th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, of which my father was a member. I would like to acknowledge tonight the 90th birthday of Mr Keith Addison. He was a very young man when he joined up and fought in all the major battles of World War II in which the 2nd/27th participated. I am sure there were times during those battles in the Middle East, New Guinea and elsewhere when Mr Addison wondered if he would make his next birthday, let alone his 90th birthday, and I wish him a very happy birthday.
I was poignantly reminded of the personal sacrifices that have been made by those who never return from war, and the need to remind ourselves that their efforts and lives should never be forgotten, when I recently visited Gallipoli and other First and Second World War battle sites in Greece. Visiting iconic sites, such as Gallipoli or Lemnos, reminds us of the concrete presence of the past and our need to reaffirm those values in whose name so much sacrifice was made.
While the Gallipoli story is familiar to many of us, and we are all anticipating the centenary of Gallipoli with much interest, there are many other stories of our military history that are not so familiar but are also worth remembering. Of course, I am not alone in my interest in the lesser known stories of our military history, but I was quite surprised last year to be contacted by an Irish journalist, Mr Liam Doran, of Roscrea in Ireland, who was seeking some information about the 2nd/27th for a book he was writing. Mr Doran's subject matter was specifically the story of Murray Moten DSO, CBE.
Moten was one of many courageous, humble and dedicated men of our defence forces whose stories are not often told. It is from Liam Doran's history of John Letsome Moten and Murray Moten that I have borrowed in telling the latter's passage from a youth in Quorn in rural northern South Australia to being a commander of the 2nd/27th in the Middle East and in New Guinea.
Murray Moten's family past is colourful, with his grandfather, John Letsome Moten, being transported from Ireland to Tasmania, reaching Tasmania in 1846. Murray Moten's early employment saw him as a messenger boy at the Mt Gambier Post Office, then a junior bank clerk at the Mt Gambier branch of the Savings Bank of South Australia until he saw greater challenges and public duty in enlisting in 1917 for combat service during WWI. Rejected for medical reasons but undeterred, he joined the CMF, rising to the rank of major in 1929 in recognition of his ability, perseverance and diligence, qualities that were recognised and elaborated upon by war historian John Burns in his history of the 2/27th The Brown and Blue Diamond. As Burns notes about Moten: "It was, therefore, no surprise to those who knew his character and had note of the military lore stored in his mind when he was appointed to be commander of the 2/27th battalion, even though there were numerous candidates who had already distinguished themselves on the field of battle."
I venture to say that Brigadier Moten's passage from citizen soldier to commanding officer is unique in Australia's war history and testimony to his brilliance and character. Little wonder then, as Liam Doran's history notes, that Moten's command of the 2/27th Battalion from its infancy and its subsequent successes in the Middle East are in no small measure a testament to the man.
Brigadier Moten's skills as a leader and tactician were again shown in his understanding of jungle warfare and his successful leadership in the New Guinea theatre of war—now we say Papua New Guinea—principally with the 17th Brigade at Milne Bay in 1942 before he and the 17th were airlifted to Wau in early 1943. They saw successful action at Wau and later at Mubo, Labadia Ridge, Komiatum, Mt Tambu and Aitape-Weewak.
One of the men who served under Murray Moten in the 2/27th, my friend Ray Baldwin, has said of his commanding officer: "He was not a bombastic man in any way, and under his leadership and guidance the battalion became an efficient unit when the battalion went into action in the Syrian campaign. He proved to be a good leader and his tactical knowledge was evident. The battalion record in the campaign was sound and this was all due to his leadership."
For all of his achievements in the Middle East and the Pacific, Brigadier Moten was awarded the DSO with Bar and made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire as well as often being mentioned in dispatches. Unfortunately, higher promotion eluded Moten, he perhaps being a victim of his humble military beginnings. In what could be seen as a delicious piece of historic irony, Brigadier Moten was appointed to lead the AMF London Victory March in 1946 on the 100th anniversary of his grandfather's transportation to Australia.
He was, after active service, appointed to the command of the 9th Brigade CMF, made honorary colonel of the 27th Battalion and in 1953 was made ADC to then Governor-General Sir William Slim. Sadly, Moten died shortly after his appointment as ADC and he was buried, appropriately, with full military honours.
As I said earlier, I have relied heavily on Liam Doran's book for this speech and I want to acknowledge not only his fine work, but the fact that he saw the beginnings of a story in Roscrea, where the Motens came from, and followed it through to South Australia and along the way made sure the history of a man who was a significant part of our military history has now been told. The launch of Doran's book, From Roscrea to New Guinea, was held in Roscrea in October this year and by all accounts was well attended by family and friends of the Moten family as well as others who are touched by this story.
Through my small contribution to the recording of the history of Murray Moten I have been fortunate to make acquaintance with Murray Moten's son, John Moten, John's wife Anne and their daughter Caroline, who live, and are well known, here in Canberra and who have shared my enthusiasm for the story of the 2/27th. I thank them for including me in their memories of a fine Australian soldier.
Ireland Reaching Out would like to thank Liam Doran for kindly giving access to his granduncle's full story. His book can be read for free by clicking in the orange box above.