William Murray FOWLER MC

FOWLER, William Murray

Service Numbers: Officer, SX11868
Enlisted: 22 April 1915, Adelaide, South Australia
Last Rank: Major
Last Unit: Troops HQ (2/AIF Voyage Only)
Born: Parkside, SA, 26 August 1895
Home Town: Medindie, Walkerville, South Australia
Schooling: Prince Alfred College
Occupation: Student
Died: Natural causes, Medindie, South Australia, 26 October 1953, aged 58 years
Cemetery: Mitcham Cemetery, S.A.
Memorials: Norwood Baptist Church WW1 Honour Rolls
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World War 1 Service

22 Apr 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, Adelaide, South Australia
23 Jun 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, SN Officer, 10th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
23 Jun 1915: Embarked AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, SN Officer, 10th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Borda, Adelaide
3 Aug 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Second Lieutenant, SN Officer, 10th Infantry Battalion, 'ANZAC' / Gallipoli
9 Nov 1915: Promoted AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 10th Infantry Battalion
26 Feb 1916: Transferred AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 50th Infantry Battalion
1 Apr 1916: Promoted AIF WW1, Captain, 50th Infantry Battalion
12 Aug 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, SN Officer, 50th Infantry Battalion, Mouquet Farm
15 Aug 1916: Wounded AIF WW1, Captain, 50th Infantry Battalion, Mouquet Farm, GSW (back, left arm and left knee)
2 Apr 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, SN Officer, 50th Infantry Battalion, German Withdrawal to Hindenburg Line and Outpost Villages
2 Apr 1917: Honoured Military Cross, German Withdrawal to Hindenburg Line and Outpost Villages
7 Jun 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, SN Officer, 50th Infantry Battalion, Battle of Messines
17 Jun 1917: Transferred AIF WW1, Captain, 13th Infantry Brigade Headquarters
11 Jul 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, SN Officer, 13th Infantry Brigade Headquarters , Warneton
26 Sep 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Captain, SN Officer, 13th Infantry Brigade Headquarters , Polygon Wood
1 Dec 1917: Promoted AIF WW1, Major, 50th Infantry Battalion
28 Mar 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Major, SN Officer, 50th Infantry Battalion, Dernancourt/Ancre
24 Apr 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Major, SN Officer, 50th Infantry Battalion, Villers-Bretonneux
12 Jun 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Major, SN Officer, 50th Infantry Battalion, "Peaceful Penetration - Low-Cost, High-Gain Tactics on the Western Front"
8 Aug 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Major, SN Officer, 50th Infantry Battalion, The Battle of Amiens
5 Sep 1919: Discharged AIF WW1, Major, 50th Infantry Battalion

World War 2 Service

20 Mar 1941: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Major, SN SX11868
20 Mar 1941: Enlisted Major, SN SX11868, Troops HQ (2/AIF Voyage Only), Wayville, South Australia
21 Mar 1941: Involvement Major, SN SX11868
19 Jun 1945: Discharged Major, SN SX11868, Troops HQ (2/AIF Voyage Only)
19 Jun 1945: Discharged Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Major, SN SX11868

Military Cross Recommendation - 20 September 1917

As Adjutant of the 50th Battalion during period 26th February 1917 until June 1917 aid general good service.

At NOREUIL prior to and after our attack on 2nd April 1917, he underwent a trying and strenuous time but aid his work throughout in a highly efficient manner.
At MESSINES before and after our attack on 7th June 1917 he again applied himself to his work with special energy and thoroughness.
On the night 9/10th June 1917 North East of MESSINES before an attack by the Battalion he carried important instructions under heavy hostile shell firing to the Coys. on the jumping off tape.
In July 1917 East of PLOEGSTEERT WOOD when Assistant Staff Captain of the Brigade and carrying out the duties of Brigade Works Officer he did further excellent work in pushing on the construction of defences on the Brigade front.

Period covered - 26/2/17 to 20/9/17.

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William Murray Fowler (known as Murray) was born on 26 August 1895.

Murray was one of three sons of James (Jim) Richard Fowler (25 May 1865 - 17 December 1939) and Esther Tinline Fowler (nee Murray) who had married on 17 November 1892. 

Living with his parents at Osmond Tce, Norwood he was educated at Prince Alfred College. He enlisting in the AIF at the age of 19 years and he stated his occupation was a student and that he was single. Prior to this, however, he had been a Colour Sergeant in the Senior Cadets between 1911 and 1913. He had later joined the Citizens Military Forces as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 78th (Adelaide Rifles) Infantry Battalion from 1913 to 1915.

Enlisting in Adelaide on 22 April 1915 he put in an application for a commission on 17 May 1915 and this request was approved on 26 May 1915. He was allocated to the 6th Reinforcements of the 10th Battalion and given the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. After brief training in the Adelaide region he embarked at Outer Harbour on 23 June 1915 on-board HMAT Borda (A30).

The 6th Reinforcements landed at Gallipoli on the evening of 3 August 1915 and were taken on strength by the 10th Battalion the next day. Murray Fowler saw continuous service with the 10th Battalion on the Gallipoli peninsula throughout the campaign without being injured or taken ill. On 9 November 1915 he was promoted to Lieutenant and by early to mid-December 1915 the battalion was withdrawn from the peninsula back to Egypt.

As the New Year came in there was now a new threat of the Turks attacking Egypt over the Suez Canal and as such several battalion were tasked with protecting this region. On 28 January 1916 Fowler was taken sick and was taken to the 8th Field Ambulance where he was treated and eventually discharged on 6 February 1916. He was taken on strength by the 10th Battalion on the same day.

With the AIF in Egypt, high command decided to expand and reorganise the AIF. In this process which became known as the doubling of the AIF the 1st, 2nd, 3rd Brigades from the First Division and the 4th Brigade were split in half to form the 4th and 5th Division. As such these two new divisions now had a core of experienced troops while fresh reinforcements from Australia finished them off. (Whilst this was happening the 3rd Division was already been created back in Australia.)

Consequently on 26 February 1916 Fowler and several other officers along with half of the NCO's and men from the 10th Battalion were transferred to the newly created 50th Battalion - a pup or sister battalion to the 10th.

More training followed to 'break in' the fresh recruits that had just arrived from Australia. On 1 April 1916 William Murray Fowler was rewarded for his work with a promotion to the rank of Captain and became B Company's Commanding Officer. On 5 June 1916 the 50th Battalion embarked at Alexandria and proceeded over the Mediterranean to join the fightin on the Western Front. They arrived at Marseille in Southern France on 12 June 1916 and soon after they entrained for Northern France and the Western Front.

The 50th Battalion was introduced to the Western Front fighting at Armentières in what was known as the nursery because of its relatively quiet fighting.

The 50th Battalion first real action came in August 1916, however. It occurred at Pozieres/ Mouquet Farm where after 5 weeks of fighting Australian forces had suffered 23,000 casualties - it’s worst ever total in 5 weeks. The 50th Battalion was heavily involved in fighting at Mouquet Farm from the 12th of August to the 16th of August when it was replaced by another Australian Battalion on 16th of August 1916. During these several days the Battalion endured some of the heaviest shelling they would ever encounter on the Western Front. In the words of another 50th Battalion Officer (Captain Armitage) the whole battalion endured ‘four days of hell and four nights of double hell.’ 

Captain Fowler led B Company in a charge at a German trench on the night of the 12th of August 1916. The trench was taken successfully but hardly any trench remained as it was so badly destroyed by artillery fire. Over the next two days the Battalion constructed a new trench over the old trench and as they did so they were faced with almost constant artillery fire. On the night of the 14th/15th of August the Battalion was required to advance once again and it was during this advance that Captain Fowler was wounded in action with a general shrapnel wound to the back, left arm and left knee and was taken to the rear for treatment. On 24 August 1916 he crossed the channel heading for hospital in England and was admitted to the 4th London General Hospital. The spent about two months in hospital recovering from his wounds and on 21 October 1916 was discharged. He was taken on strength by the 50th Battalion on 5 November 1916.

On 10 December 1916 Captain William Murray Fowler was replaced as B Company's Commanding Officer and was given the position of Adjutant. Adjutant officers are essentially the senior officer that runs any battles. Instead of the battalion's Commanding Officer the Adjutant is the officer that relays any information, operational details and plans to the attacking force telling them what to do. Captain Fowler took the position and started working through the peaceful New Year of 1917.  

In February 1917 the Germans took the Allies by surprise by withdrawing from their front line to consolidate along the much stronger and straighter Hindenberg Line whilst also eliminating a very large salient from their line.  "Salient’s" are projections of territory into enemy land which leaves the defender (in this case the German's) vulnerable to being outflanked and cut off and hence the German's withdrew and consolidated their line. The speed of the process took the Allies by surprise, as it was very well organised. To slow down the Allies even further whilst the German's retreated they fortified several isolated positions (Butte du Warlencourt attacked by the 27th Battalion on 2 March 1917) and also several towns. The fortified towns that were closest to the Hindenberg Line were called 'The Outpost Villages.' The Australian Divisions began a cautious follow up which included the 4th Division and the 13th Brigade of which the 50th Battalion was a part of.

By the end of March the 50th Battalion was near one of these Outpost Villages called Noreuil and an attack was planned to occur on 2 April 1917. An ambitious attack, this battle would be the first assault any AIF unit had undertaken that wasn't defined by Trench Warfare as all of the fighting occurred either in the town or surrounding hills. By the end of 3 April 1917, although the attack had been successful and the town captured the battalion had suffered 393 casualties. They had also lost 5 officers killed in action and several more wounded. Captain Fowler did not actively take part in the battle as he was the Adjutant but was always present in the rear areas of the attack.

The Battalion was relived very soon after and they spent time in the resting zone recovering from their severe losses. The Allies attention then turned north to the Flanders in the second half of 1917. The start of this campaign was the Attack on Messines Ridge - a battle made famous by its blowing up of 19 mines under the German line on the ridge including under Hill 60. The 50th Battalion participated in the attack between 9 and 11 June 1917.

The 50th Battalion's part in the Messines Ridge Operation was to attack and capture a section of 'Odd Trench.' On the night of 9/10 June 1917 they just before the 50th Battalion attacked Captain Fowler had personally delivered important instructions to the attacking companies under heavy enemy shell fire. That night, though the battalion attack failed to capture the trench due to heavy artillery and machine gun fire coming from several pill boxes that couldn't be destroyed. As a result the 50th Battalion attacked again the next night on 10/11 June 1917 and this time their attack was mostly successful. In the direct aftermath of this attack Captain Fowler was transferred to the 13th Infantry Brigade Headquarters as its new Assistant Staff Captain. He was taken on strength by the 13th Infantry Brigade Headquarters on 17 June 1917. 

With the success of the Messines Ridge campaign the Third Ypres campaign officially began to take the ground around the northern edge of Ypres in a series of bite and hold attacks. For the most part the 13th Infantry Brigade and the 50th Battalion weren't used in this campaign. Their first engagement, however, came in September with the Attack on Polygon Wood. Afterward they continued to see limited service during the campaign until it ended in late October 1917 with the onset of winter, mud and rain thus rendering most operations impossible. 

On 2 November 1917 Captain Murray Fowler took ill and was sent to hospital for a short period of time. He returned the 13th Infantry Brigade Headquarters on 6 November 1917 and then the next day Fowler was transferred back to the 50th Battalion. He was promoted to the rank of Major on 1 December 1917 and on 1 January 1918 was awarded the Military Cross for his work during 1917 as Adjutant and Assistant Staff Captain. 

He continued to serve with the 50th Battalion throughout 1918 holding various positions of command including Commanding Officer and Second in Command of the 50th for several periods of time. 

In the Spring of 1918 the German Army unleashed its last major offensive of the war. At the time the 50th Battalion had not been on the front line but was rushed to the front line near Dernancourt where it was kept in reserve during the German attack on the town in early April 1918. Later in mid-April the Germans were able to make a rush at Villers-Bretonneux – the last town before Amiens, making it a very strategic town to both side. On the night of the 24th/25th April 1918 the 50th Battalion attacked and ultimately recaptured the town of Villers-Bretonneux. Although they paid a heavy price this attack would go down in history as the 'Other ANZAC Day".

Between late April and early August 1918 the 50th Battalion saw on and off service on the front line and took part in some minor attacks/ 'peaceful penetration' operations during this time. Then in on 8 August the Allies launched their Great Last Hundred Day Offensive which would end the war. The 50th Battalion played a minor role in this campaign with its last offensive action taking place in September 1918. Then in October Major Fowler took out some leave and spend his time in England before returning to the battalion. In late 1918 the 50th Battalion moved to Dinant in Belgium and they spent Christmas and the New Year there.  

In early 1919 he was allocated to a quota of troops and this quota was sent to England on 8 April 1919. After some more time spent in England he embarked along with his quota of troops of which he was second in command of and sailed back to Australia.    

At Keswick Barracks on 5 September 1919 Major Fowler was officially discharged from the AIF and he later married Florence Lorna Borradaile Richardson (Dink) and they had three sons and one daughter, one of whom who serve in World War Two in the RAAF. After returning to Australia he entered his family’s business the famous D. & J. Fowler Ltd. wholesale grocery company. After his father retired from the company in 1932 William Murray Fowler became the second Chairman of Directors of the company and still held that position when he died in 1953. In this career he was known as one of Adelaide's most outstanding businessmen. He was also the president or past president of several clubs and associations and was a dedicated worker in helping ex-soldiers.

William Murray Fowler enlisted again for service in World War Two. He enlisted on 20 March 1941 with the service of SX11868. At the time he commanded a militia battalion and he commanded the reinforcements as it was sent to the Middle East. He was then given a promotion and a new job based at Keswick Barracks which he accepted and held for the remainder of the war. He was discharged on 19 June 1945 with the rank of Major.

During World War One Murray Fowler wrote many detailed letters home during his time in the AIF, which were retained by his family. In 2010 the letters were transcribed in a book called "Somewhere in the Mud: Letters from W.M. Fowler." 

William Murray Fowler died at his home in Medindie on the morning of 26 October 1953 after a long struggle with illness. He had a private funeral.

1914/15 Star: 221

British War Medal: 4534

Victory Medal: 4494


Nathan Rohrlach, May 2015.