b. 02/1859 Cork, Ireland. d. 19/07/1942 Dublin, Ireland.
James Murray (1859-1942) was born in the St Michael’s Parish of Cork, Ireland in February 1859. As a young man, he enlisted with the 2nd Battalion of the Connaught Rangers, and was posted to South Africa in time for the outbreak of the First Boer War of 1881.
On 16th January 1881, at Elandsfontein, South Africa, Troopers Murray and Danagher advanced into the open under a withering fire to rescue two men of the 21st Foot (2nd Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers) named Byrne and Davis, both of whom had been badly wounded. No sooner had Murray started forward than his horse was shot under him, but he continued to advance across the open on foot. The two rescuers reached the men together, and on stooping to lift Byrne’s head Murray was shot through the body, the bullet entering his right side and passing out near the spine. Having received such a serious wound, and realisng the seeming hopelessness of the situation in which they found themselves, Murray ordered Danaher to take his carbine and make good his escape. Murray remained with Byrne, who shortly afterwards died. The Boers then threw themselves upon Murray and Davis and took them prisoners.
Byrne’s body was placed in a bullock’s skin and was conveyed with the two prisoners to the Boer camp which was pitched upon the top of the mountain. Murray afterwards paid tribute to the treatment of the enemy, and to the courtesy of the Boer commandant who permitted them to return to Pretoria under a flag of truce and to take with them the body of Byrne. Five days after Murray and Davis reached Pretoria, Davis died.
Both Murray and Danaher were recommended for, and gazetted for the VC on 14th March 1882, and Murray was presented with his medal two months later, on 15th May 1882, at Windsor Castle, by Queen Victoria. Following his service, little is known about Murray’s later life, except that he returned to his native Ireland. He died aged 83 on 19th July 1942 in Dublin, and was buried in an unmarked grave in Glasnevin Cemetery. Sometime in the 1990s a headstone was erected over his resting place by his daughter Lily, but, because of the political situation in Ireland at the time, the headstone did not include recognition of his award of the Victoria Cross. In late 1999 Lily decided it was fitting and safe to add the letters ‘VC’ to James’s memorial, and although she died before seeing the finished stone, she was aware her wishes had been carried out.
His medals are held by the National Army Museum in Chelsea, though sadly not currently displayed.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM, CHELSEA, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: GLASNEVIN CEMETERY, DUBLIN, IRELAND.
Thomas Stewart – Image of the Murray VC Grave in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
National Army Museum website – Image of the Murray VC Medal Group.