No.1391 Driver Francis Sylvester Murphy
Francis Sylvester Murphy was born in Laxton in 1886 in the Pyrenees area of Victoria, around 160 kilometres west of Melbourne. Today, it’s a region well-known for its award winning wines. In fact, the first vines were planted way back in 1858.
By the time that he volunteered to serve his country in June 1915, Francis was married to Nellie Mabel Murphy and was living and working in Werribee on Metropolitan Farm.
His occupation on his enlistment papers was horse driver, so there was probably little surprise when he found himself part of the 7th Reinforcements, 13th Australian Light Horse Regiment. He left Australia with his fellow reinforcements in November 1915 bound for Egypt.
Like many soldiers on the long voyage from Australia, Trooper Francis Murphy became ill and found himself in hospital just outside of Cairo at Heliopolis suffering from influenza – a potentially life threatening disease in those days, well before the invention of antibiotics.
His late arrival in the Mediterranean theatre meant that he missed out on being posted to the hell that was the Dardanelles. The core of the regiment had been sent as dismounted infantry in September and remained in place until their evacuation on 20 December 1915.
Back in Egypt in early 1916, the regiment was split up to provide a divisional cavalry squadron for the 2nd, 4th and 5th Australian Divisions on the Western Front.
Now fully recovered and with additional training under his belt, Trooper Murphy was allotted to the 2nd Division Cavalry squadron and was sent to France at the end of March 1916.
Landing at Marseille on the south coast, they boarded trains and headed for the huge army base at Etaples, 20 kilometres from Calais on the shores of the English Channel (or La Manche as the French would have called it). It was a journey of more than 1,000 kilometres.
Etaples, an old fishing port, had been established by the British at the outbreak of the war. It served British, Canadian and Australian troops as a training base, a storage depot and as a treatment centre for the wounded. In all, it could house 100,000 people, predominantly serving soldiers, and its hospitals could treat 22,000 ill and wounded.
It also became a prime suspect as the place most likely to have first incubated and then spread the virus that created the Spanish Influenza pandemic at the end of the war. The actual death toll between January 1918 and December 1920 is still unknown with estimates ranging between 20 and 40 million.
It would appear that 1391 Trooper Francis Murphy served with the 2nd Division Cavalry up until November 1917 when he transferred to the artillery. As a cavalryman, his role might have involved mounted reconnaissance, rear area security, traffic control and serving as an escort for prisoners.
In the artillery, he became a driver. It’s possible that he might have driven trucks and tractors designed to haul the guns and their considerable baggage, but more likely he would have been driving a team of horses – very much the backbone of World War I transport on all sides.
From there, he was transferred almost immediately to the 13th Field Artillery Brigade. The 13th had also been formed in Egypt to provide artillery support for the 5th Australian Division. It was involved in many of the pivotal actions on the Western Front – from Fromelles and Bullecourt in France to Messines, Menin Road, Polygon Wood and Passchendaele in Belgium in 1917. During 1918, it would have played its part in forcing back the German Spring Offensive before participating in the allies’ 100-day offensive that began in August 1918.
There’s very little in the file that confirms Driver Murphy’s journey from the time he joined the artillery. We can presume he served in Belgium until early 1918 before heading to France. We do know he was sent on leave to England in early October 1918, returning to his unit before the end of the month. It would appear he stayed in France until April 1919, well after the armistice was signed in November 1918. He returned to Australia aboard the SS Orontes in June 1919 and was discharged from service in Melbourne in August.
After the war, he settled back in Werribee and was still living there in the late 1940's. When war clouds gathered again in 1939, Francis Murphy volunteered to serve in the CMF from Werribee, by which time he was in his early 50's.
He died at Heidelberg, Victoria on 17 March 1958 aged around 72.
Medals and Entitlements:
- 1914/15 Star Medal
- British War Medal
- Victory Medal
Lest we forget
NAA: B2455 MURPHY FRANCIS
History of the 13th FAB and Light Horse Regiment: Australian War Memorial