Charles Herbert McMurtrie

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Charles McMurtrie 1911. Image in public domain.

McMURTRIE, Charles Herbert

Service no: 3211 [1]

Place of birth: Orange, 1 May 1878

Address: 205 Darling Street, Balmain

Occupation: Blacksmith

Next of kin: Ed McMurtrie (brother), Shaft Street, Lithgow, later Bertha Annie McMurtrie (wife), 205 Darling Street, Balmain

Date of enlistment: 13 August 1915

Place of enlistment: Holsworthy

Age at enlistment: 37

Fate: Embarked HMAT A29 Suevic, Sydney, 20 December 1915. Transferred to Australian Casualty Clearing Station, suffering with myalgia, 14 May 1916. Discharged back to Unit 29 May 1916. Rejoined Battalion, ex hospital, 30 May 1916. Proceeded overseas to France ex Alexandria, 19 June 1916. Disembarked at Marseilles and transferred to hospital 29 June 1916. Transferred to 2nd Australian General Hospital Marseilles, suffering an abscess on the thigh, 30 June 1916. Transferred to Garrison Camp Marseilles, 19 July 1916. Admitted to 26th General Hospital Etaples with a growth on the neck, 3 August 1916. Transferred to England 8 August 1916. Admitted to Military Hospital Dover, 8 August 1916. Transferred to No 1 Command Depot Tidworth, 10 August 1916. Transferred to St John's Voluntary Aid Detachment Southport, 9 September 1916. Discharged from hospital 13 November 1916. Reported to No 1 Command Depot Perham Downs, 14 November 1916. Marched out to 14th Training Battalion Perham Downs, 23 November 1916. Marched into 14th Training Battalion Camp 586, from Perham Downs, 27 November 1916. Marched out to No 2 Command Depot Weymouth, 27 January 1917. Embarked HT Beltana, Plymouth for return to Australia 17 March 1917. Disembarked Sydney 12 May 1917. Discharged from AIF as medically unfit 12 June 1917.

Date of death: 9 August 1951, Carlton, aged 73

Charles Herbert McMurtrie was an all-round sportsman from Orange who represented Australia in both rugby union and rugby league. In 1908 he was a member of the Wallabies rugby union team that won gold at the London Olympic Games following their defeat of Great Britain.

Born in Orange in 1878, Charles was the youngest of thirteen children born to John Robert McMurtrie and Agnes Graham. John, a Scottish immigrant had started the monumental stonemason’s firm McMurtrie and Co.

Charles attended school in Forbes, and as a young man ventured to Western Australia to seek his fortune on the gold fields. After several years in the west, the genial McMurtrie returned to Orange where he was a prominent athlete, excelling in football, boxing, wrestling and fishing.

For several years Charles worked in the family stonemasonry business in Summer Street. In 1901 he married Emma Hammond in Kalgoorlie, where their first child, Doris, was born. The family returned to Orange, where, in 1903, Doris died. A son, Charles, was born the following year, but he also died in infancy.

Following his Olympic success in London in 1908, Charles was selected for the 2nd Kangaroo tour of Great Britain in 1911. He played in seven tour matches and scored three tries. The following year he was chosen in the Australian team to make the first rugby league tour of New Zealand.

In April 1913 the Leader reported that “the dashing Rugby League forward” was a patient at Narrabri hospital, having injured his foot while working in the local railway yards. [2]

In June 1913 the Sydney Divorce Court granted Emma McMurtrie a dissolution of her marriage with Charles on the grounds of desertion. Charles claimed he was unable to make a home with Emma, declaring “It is no good; I fairly revel in sport”. [3]

In August 1915, at the age of 37, McMurtrie enlisted in the First World War. He served in Egypt, France and England for 18 months before being invalided home in May 1917. Sergeant McMurtrie was declared to be medically unfit and was discharged from the AIF the following month.

Charles soon married Bertha Annie Johnston in Sydney. The couple had three children: Jean, Godfrey and Leo. During 1918 Charles worked as a Warrant Officer on the NSW north coast, where he was claimed to be “the most successful recruiting sergeant that has yet visited the district”. [4]

By 1930 the family had relocated to Sydney and were living in Bexley. Charles worked at the Lithgow Small Arms Factory during the Second World War. Charles McMurtrie died in Carlton on 9 August 1951 after a long illness following a motor vehicle accident. He was 73.

Charles penned the following ditty during the 1908 Wallaby tour of England:

England for green fields and hedges galore.
The people are homely, we don’t wish for more;
But give me Australia, a beautiful land
Where the gum trees grow skyward and the lassies are grand!

Charles’ nephew, John James (Jack) McMurtrie also served in WWI. He was killed in action in France in February 1917.

Historical Wallabies Players – Charles McMurtrie [5]
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