Born in Orange in 1894 John James McMurtrie was the third of eight children born to John Robert and Sarah Jane McMurtrie.
John’ grandfather – John Robert McMurtrie snr – was a Scottish stonemason who settled in Orange and, in 1870, founded McMurtrie and Co monumental masons, a business that continues today and has constructed more than 900 monuments in Orange Cemetery.
John James, also known as “Jack” attended Orange Public School and the Patrician Brothers School. Following his education Jack joined the family business, working as a plasterer.
Jack enlisted for war service on 12 February 1916 and proceeded to Bathurst training camp. On 5 April he was the guest of honour at a social evening where his fellow employees presented him with a wristlet watch as a token of their esteem. Later that month Jack was transferred to Liverpool camp.
On 22 August 1916 Jack embarked HMAT A18 Wiltshire in Sydney, arriving in Plymouth on 12 October. He undertook further training at the No 3 Command Depot and the 5th Training Battalion in Rollestone before proceeding to France in December.
Private McMurtrie joined the 17th Battalion at Etaples on 14 December 1916. On 3 February the battalion was engaged near Warlencourt when Jack was hit in the neck by a piece of shrapnel. He died shortly thereafter and was buried with military honours. He was 22 years of age.
His obituary in the Leader dated 26 February 1917 declared:
The late Private McMurtrie was a robust young Australian, quiet and unassuming, and well liked by a host of friends, who will deplore his early death whilst fighting for his King and country on the bloodstained battle fields of Europe.
On 3 March 1917 the Empire Theatre in Orange paid tribute to Jack by displaying his photograph as the orchestra played the Dead March.
On 25 April 1917 the second ever Anzac Day service in Orange was held at the Orange Public School. Mayoress McNeilly placed a laurel wreath on the Union Jack for each fallen soldier who had attended the school, including Jack McMurtrie.
In September 1917 Jack’s father received a package containing his personal possessions, which included his identity disc, religious objects, a notebook, wallet, cards and letters. John wrote to the Base Records Office to acknowledge receipt of the parcel, adding:
There is one thing missing which I would have liked to have received and that is a presentation wristlet watch, so if you hear anything of it at any future time will you kindly let me know and I will be very grateful to you.
Unfortunately Jack’s service records do not contain any information regarding the fate of his watch.
In 1923 the Anzac Memorial Avenue of trees was planted along Bathurst Road to commemorate fallen WWI soldiers. A tree was planted in honour of “Pte JJ McMurtrie”; it was donated by John McMurtrie. Very few of the trees are still standing today.
John James (Jack) McMurtrie is commemorated on the Patrician Brothers’ Roll of Honour, St Joseph’s Church Orange Honour Roll, the World War I Roll of Honour on the southern face of the Orange Cenotaph and on panel number 83 on the Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Jack’s uncle, Olympic gold medal winning rugby union player, Charles Herbert McMurtrie, also served in WWI. He was invalided home from the front in May 1917.