Major Douglas C Murray MC

17 Apr 1913 - 22 Jan 2005

Douglas Campbell Murray was born on the 17 April 1913 at Fleetwood, Lancashire.

He was granted a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Corps of Engineers - Supplementary Reserve of Officers, on the 13 August 1939, and was mobilized eleven days later. At this time, he was attached to the 107th Army Troops Company, R.E. for their Summer Camp.

Between October 1939 and January 1940, he was attached to the Divisional Engineers of the 50th and 48th Infantry Division’s, before being posted, as a Section Officer, to the 253rd Field Company, R.E. He then took part in the France and Flanders Campaign’s, until being evacuated from Dunkirk at the beginning of June 1940.

On the 13 February 1941 he was promoted to War Substantive Lieutenant, and in November of that year he was posted to the 103rd Army Troops Company, R.E. (Marine Division). This lasted until he volunteered for Airborne Forces, and was posted to the newly formed 1st Air Troop, R.E. on the 26 January 1942. At this time, it was based at Hardwick Hall near Chesterfield.

He attended Parachute Course No 8, attached to the 1st Parachute Battalion, at R.A.F. Ringway, 10 – 24 February 1942. Here he completed the required two descents from a balloon and five from aircraft to qualify as an Army Parachutist.

By mid 1942 the 1st Air Troop, R.E. had expanded to become the 1st Parachute Squadron, R.E. – the first parachute engineer unit of the British Army – and he became the Squadron Second in Command.

He went with the Squadron, as part of the 1st Parachute Brigade, to North Africa in November 1942. In December 1942 he took over command of the Squadron, when Major Stephen Dorman, the OC was reported missing from a patrol.

He went on to command the Squadron throughout the rest of the North African campaign, and the parachute operation to capture the Primosole Bridge in July 1943, and then operation ‘Slapstick’, the 1st Airborne Division’s landings at the Italian port of Taranto in September 1943.

For his action in the North African Campaign, he was awarded the Military Cross, announced in the London Gazette on the 23 September 1943.

‘For gallantry and continuous devotion to duty. This officer has commanded his Squadron since Dec 1942 in all operations undertaken by the Parachute Brigade. His devotion to duty and gallantry displayed on all occasions have been beyond praise. His leadership has been an inspiration to all ranks, and it has been largely due to his example that his squadron has so successfully fulfilled its many tasks. During recent battles in the TAMERA Sector (Tunisia Sh 10) he was personally outstanding in the clearance of many mines and booby traps, thereby enabling the Battalion’s to effect their successful advance, frequently leading his men in advance on daring reconnaissance’s over ground thickly strewn with these contrivances. He was also responsible for the laying of our mines and booby traps during the withdrawal on the 17/18 March, many of which, it was evident during our advances, had had the desired effect.’

By January 1944, the Squadron was settled in their new billets in the village of Donington in Lincolnshire, with the Squadron Headquarters and Main Office situated in Komani House.

In March 2004 Major Murray related some details about the Squadron’s involvement at Arnhem, and at its Home Base:

“HQ Troop: Capt. Stephen George was POW, captured at Oosterbeek, I think. He was a holder of the Military Cross. L/Cpl. Gordon Spicer. Gordon was wounded on 18 or 19 Sept and lost the leg as a consequence, when he was a POW in Germany. I think he was repatriated in March 1945 in exchange of POW’s.

A-Troop: Spr (Gus) Woods, (Mackay’s driver). His only connection with gliders was when he and his jeep travelled in one to Arnhem, as far as I am aware anyway! He was a parachutist.

B-Troop: Capt. Trevor Livesey was a holder of the Military Cross. He was with me during most of our time at Arnhem and subsequently at OFLAG 79 (Brunswick) and, as far as I am aware, he was not wounded.

Sapper Lecoch. It should be spelled LECOQUE. He was a Channel Islander, hence the “French connection”.

I am fairly certain that all the Squadron’s drivers were R.E. not R.A.S.C. Some might have been R.A.S.C. prior to joining the Squadron as volunteers. The only attached, I.E: non RE, were three or four lads from the Army Catering Corps. I have a vivid recollection of one of their culinary triumphs, when Brigadier. Lathbury joined us for dinner and we had fish with prawn sauce. Unfortunately, they forgot to shell the prawns! Happy days.” [1]

On Sunday, 17 September 1944, the main body of the Squadron took off from Barkston Heath aerodrome in nine C47 Dakota aircraft (C/N’s: 132 – 140), of the United States Troop Carrier Command. They parachuted successfully onto D.Z. ‘X’ in Holland, near the village of Renkum, as part of Operation ‘MARKET’. Squadron Headquarters rendezvoused with the 1st Parachute Brigade Headquarters and from there they made their way to the Northern end of the Arnhem Main Road Bridge.

After four days and nights of very heavy fighting around the Northern end of the Main Road Bridge at Arnhem the force of men from the 2nd Parachute Battalion, and the attached units from the 1st Parachute Brigade, including the main part of the 1st Parachute squadron, RE were overrun and taken prisoner.

On the 23 September a truck full of these prisoners under guard, containing approx. 20 British Officers, was proceeding from the area of Velp (just to the East of Arnhem) to Germany. As it got to the small village of Brummen it had to slow down at a bend, and two of the officers seized their chance to jump from the truck and try to escape. One of them succeeded – Major ‘Tony’ Hibbert (Brigade Major, 1st Para Brigade), but Major. Dennis Mumford (1st Airlanding Light Regiment, RA) was recaptured. In the immediate aftermath of the escape a German guard opened fire into the back of the truck and killed four and wounding several others, two of whom died later. Major. Murray narrowly escaped being killed or wounded in this incident.

Sixty years later he felt compelled to write about it.

Article in the Arnhem 1994 Veterans’ Club Newsletter, October 2004. Page 20.

Major DC Murray (ex OC 1 Parachute Squadron, RE) send a follow-up to the account of the killing of POW’s on the road to Zutphen, first published in our Newsletter of November 1995:

“When the lorry transporting British Prisoners Of War from Arnhem came to a halt, one of the two German guards jumped off the step by the driver’s door, on which he had been traveling. He issued yet another warning about prisoners giving “V” signs and other forms of encouragement to Dutch civilians on the road. Majors Hibbert and Mumford then took the opportunity to jump off the lorry to escape. After shooting at their retreating figures, the guard, who had a Schmeisser machine-pistol then fired a burst at the remaining prisoners in the lorry. As well as killing and wounding several of us, he either killed or wounded the second guard, who was standing on the lorry’s platform, near the tailgate.

A number of passing German military vehicles stopped, their occupants came across to ‘our’ lorry and there was a great commotion. Those of us who had not been killed or seriously wounded were ordered off the lorry and made to sit on the road with hands on heads, and the uproar increased: I felt quite worried! Then a small ‘people’s car’ drew up and a German officer walked over, asked his compatriots, now respectfully silent, what was going on and, to my relief, took control. The dead and injured POW’s and German guard were lifted off the lorry, and we were told - in English – to get up and climb back in the lorry. He warned us not to try and escape again and sent us on our way to Zutphen with the ‘trigger happy’ young German soldier still guarding us; we reached Zutphen without further incident.

The same officer interrogated us the next day. By then, the first part of the Battle of Arnhem (area by the east end of the road bridge) was over, and he must have known a lot more about it than we did. He had worked in England before the War in the cotton trade. When I mentioned to him the incident of the previous day, he simply said that it was, perhaps, just as well (for us) that he had appeared when he did. He must have mastered the art of understatement too!

In my view the only villains in the piece were the politicians who had landed us in this mess. Majors Hibbert and Mumford had been told that their duty was to try to escape if taken prisoner. The young German soldier had no option but to try to prevent the rest of us from joining the two escapees and, if he survived the war, would have to live with the unpleasant memory of it all. The German officer took control, calmed things down and restored the situation generally, thus saving the rest of us from possible ‘unpleasantness’. It just goes to show the stupidity of war”.

He spent the rest of the war as a POW in Oflag 12B, Brunswick, Germany.

After the war Douglas Murray became the Chief Engineer for Reading, Berkshire.

Married, with one son, Douglas Campbell Murray died on the 22 January 2005 at Battle Hospital in Reading.


[1] Letter from Douglas Murray to Bob Hilton. 30 March 2004.


Created with information and images kindly supplied by R Hilton.

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