A Forgotten Colonel
Colonel Thomas Patrick Edward Murray OBE TD**** ADC DL MA LLB Royal Signals
The Man Thomas Patrick Edward Murray or TPE as he was later known, was born on 17th March 1901 in Aberdeen, son of John Murray an Advocate and Williamina Macquibbar. In 1907 aged six, TPE attended Aberdeen Grammar School where he remained until 1918 when he went to Aberdeen University, studying for five years and gaining a Master of Arts in 1921 and becoming an LLB in 1923. Following University TPE worked for Ronald & Ritchie Solicitors in Edinburgh, qualifying in 1924. In 1927 he was appointed a partner in the family firm of Solicitors, Stewart and Stewart Murray Advocates in Aberdeen, where he remained in practice for around 60 years well into the 1980s. TPE enlisted into the 51st (Highland) Divisional Signals Defence Force, part of the Royal Corps of Signals as a 2nd Lieutenant on 14th April 1921, service number 25468 and based at their Headquarters at Fonthill Barracks, Aberdeen. On 5th July the same year he relinquished his Commission in the Defence Force to be re-Commissioned six days later on 11th into the newly formed Territorial Force remaining as 2nd Lieutenant. Two years later on 11th July 1923 he was promoted to Lieutenant followed by Captain on 11th
-February 1925, still based at Fonthill Barracks and as part of 207th (Medium Artillery) Signals Section.On 1st January 1933 he was promoted to Brevet Major followed by full Major on 23rd April 1934 and on the accession of His Majesty King George VI, TPE was awarded the 1937 Coronation Medal. On 24th April 1939 he was promoted to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel and appointed in May the same year as Commanding Officers of the 51st (Highland) Divisional Signals. An extract from The Wire, the unit magazine read “We are sorry to lose our Commanding Officer, Colonel E Birnie Reid OBE, who retired from active command of the unit during April, but we know that he will keep a friendly eye on the unit’s future activities. In his place we welcome Lieutenant Colonel T P E Murray, and hasten to assure him of our whole-hearted support in his work as Commanding Officer, and trust he will be happy in his new role”. During 1939 and the outbreak of World War II, TPE was mobilized with the 51st (H) Division and in mid January 1940
sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force attached to the 9th French Corps to assist them during the Battle for France. He saw service with his unit conducting patrol operations at Saar (Maginot Line) in April, Abbeville in May and in defensive positions on the Somme and at Brestle. Finally on 12th June, more than a week after the last British troops had been evacuated from Dunkirk; the 51st took a final desperate stand in a little Norman seaport of St.Valery-en-Caux. It was here that the 51st (Highland) Division was forced to surrender to General Erwin Rommel's 7th Panzer Division and more than 10,000 members of the Division, including TPE were driven into five years of captivity in prison camps. TPE was sent to Oflag O. 9A/H Spangenberg bei Kassel and his PoW number was 1147. Here he spent the duration of the war and during his incarceration was appointed in absentia as a co-opted member of City of Aberdeen Territorial Army and Air Force Association. He was finally released in 1945 and for his war time service awarded the 1939-45, France and Germany Stars and the War Medal 1939-45.TPE was awarded the Efficiency Decoration ‘Territorial’ in the London Gazette of 12th June 1945 and in October 1945 appointed as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in recognition of his gallant and distinguished services in the field. TPE continued working with his law practice after the war and remained in the Territorial Army.
He was a keen golfer in his spare time which was his main leisure pursuit and was secretary of the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club for 20 years and its Captain in 1950. On 10th June 1952 he was awarded the first, second, third and fourth clasps to his Efficiency Decoration, representing with the original award 36 years service, his war service counting doubleOn 1st May 1953 he was promoted to Brevet Colonel, transferred to the Territorial Army Reserve of Officers (TARO) and a week later on 7th May appointed as an Aide De Camp (ADC) to Her Majesty. It was in this latter position that on 2nd June 1953 he was part of the Ceremonial of the Coronation of Her Majesty subsequently being awarded the Coronation Medal 1953 and presented to Her Majesty as an ADC.
On 18th November 1956 he was appointed as Honorary Colonel of the 51st (Highland) Divisional Signals Regiment and became a Vice-Chairman of the Aberdeen Council of Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Association. In 1963 his tenure as ADC expired and on 1st April 1964 he ceased to belong to the TARO having exceeded the age limit, now aged 62. On 8th May the same year he was Commissioned as a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of the City of Aberdeen and at the time was living at 120 Desswood Place, Aberdeen. He was described as always maintaining the style and appearance of the perfect gentleman and of being a dignified, able and courteous colleague. His office address was given as Clydesdale, Bank Place, 232A Union Street, Aberdeen.
The Story The interesting set of medals earned by Thomas Patrick Edward Murray, were acquired from E-Bay in March 2008. Due to his rank and the various positions he had held it was a relatively straightforward matter of finding details in the London Gazette, although as he was Scottish and lived there all of his life, ancestry.com provided little information. Further research was provided by John Scott of the Birmingham Medal Society, including the Prisoner of War roll and some extracts from books. A call was made in 2008 to the Royal Signals Museum at Blandford Forum on the off chance they may have some additional detail.
It was disclosed that they held a box of information that had been donated and included TPE’s Commissioning Parchments, war diaries, letters etc. For some reason the medals and paperwork having become separated! A visit was made to the museum in August 2008 and some additional information gathered enabling the above biography to be pieced together. However on the day of the visit thecurator was on leave and so nothing could be copied. At the time of writing a further visit is planned and it is hoped to fill in some of the missing gaps.
The 51st (Highland) Infantry Division
Was a BritishTerritorial Armydivision that fought during the Second World War. The division was nicknamed the "Highway Decorators" in reference to the 'HD' insignia which adorned road signs along their axis of advance. After three years training under Major General Fortune's command, the 51st Infantry Division departed from Southampton and disembarked at Le Havre in mid-January 1940, as part of the British Expeditionary Force and attached to 9th French Corps; assisting the French during the Battle for France.
The 51st was stationed in front of the Ouvrage Hackenberg fortress of the Maginot Line and thus escaped being encircled with the rest of the BEF at Dunkirk, and any chance of evacuation. It was then pulled back to a new line roughly along the River Somme, where it was attached to the French 10th Army. For some time, it was forced to hold a line four times longer than that which would normally be expected of a division and was attacked very heavily over the 5th and 6th June with the major attack initially falling on the 7th Battalion Argyl and Sutherland Highlanders before the other Battalions of the 154 Brigade were enveloped. During the battle the Argyls lost heavily, the worst day in their history and being overwhelmed the Brigade was forced to retire to the west. During this time, the 154th Brigade was detached to form "Arkforce" and able to escape the German drive into central France and Normandy and were subsequently evacuated during Operation Cycle from Le Havre. However, the 152nd and 153rd Brigades were trapped at Saint-Valéry-en-Caux a little Norman seaport, with the remnants of the French Army and after a desperate last stand, which was
described by survivors as an "outpost of hell" and “the end of the world” as shells, bombs and mortars fell in and around the buildings on the cliffs above the beach, they surrendered on 12th June to General Erwin Rommel’s 7th Panzer Division, and 10,000 members of the Division became early Prisoners of War. During these desperate days some soldiers lowered themselves down the cliffs by tying together rifle slings, blankets and anything else they could find to make ropes. On the beach they hoped to find boats coming, like Dunkirk, to take them home. But, politicians and military staff aside, Britain didn't know they were there and there was no armada of little boats this time. Others jumped from the cliffs and took their own lives convinced by propaganda that they would be shown no mercy if they surrendered. General Fortune was one of the most senior British officers taken prisoner in World War II and was subsequently Knighted by King George VI after the war. Captured soldiers were held at Stalag XX-A at Toruń, around 120 miles (190 km) NW of Warsaw. Following the capture of two of its brigades in France the 51st Division effectively ceased to exist and from the British point of view, their defeat was the end of Allied resistance during the battle of France. The 9th (Highland) Infantry Division was renumbered as the 51st and subsequently served in the North Africa campaign. From there it went to Sicily before returning to France as part of the invasion of Northern Europe and liberating Saint-Valéry-en-Caux in 1944. Historians increasingly concede that the "Forgotten 51st" was deliberately left behind as a third of a million were brought out at Dunkirk and that Churchill had sacrificed them to avoid being accused of running out on the French. As government spin was deployed to making Dunkirk a triumph, so British people were not told about the men left behind.
In early 1945 as the war drew to a close many of the PoWs were still in camps and as the Russians closed in from the east, their guards marched them west in the Long March, marching around 450 miles (720 km) in the depths of winter to Stalag XIB/357 at Bad Fallingbostel on the Lüneburg Heath, north of Hanover. The Scots were eventually surrendered to the Allies in Bavaria.
- Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire: Unnamed as awarded.
- 1939-45 Star: Unnamed as issued.
- France & Germany Star: Unnamed as issued.
- War Medal 1939-45: Unnamed as issued.
- Coronation Medal 1937: Unnamed as issued.
- Coronation Medal 1952: Unnamed as awarded.
- Efficiency Decoration:: 1945. Clasps: all 1952.
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