Hugh Lester Murgatroyd MC

Rank Captain
Date of Death 27 September 1918
Age 23
Regiment/Service Leicestershire Regiment attd. 1st/7th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers.
Awards Military Cross

As Hugh was not resident in East Wickham and Welling, he is not remembered on the memorials locally. However his name does appear alongside that of Valentine Lloyd and Thomas Arthur Martin on the Bexleyheath War Memorial at the top of Oaklands Road.

The story of Hugh Lester Murgatroyd was uncovered during research on Valentine Lloyd. A house in Watling Street, called ‘Westerland’, was sold following the death of William George Lloyd and Valentine’s mother moved to a smaller house at 24 Park View Road.

The new occupants of Westerland were John Murgatroyd (b.1863), a wool and leather merchant and his wife Mary Alice (nee Fletcher (b.1863) with their family. It stood on the South side of Watling Street, opposite the Lord Hill Public House (now renamed The Coach House), today there is a terrace of 1930s houses in its place, behind which is Gravel Hill Infants School. Next door, Stoneyhurst, a house that stood in extensive grounds on the south side of Watling Street, was the home between 1884-88 of Hyram Maxim, inventor of the Machine Gun. His invention was to  be so used extensively by both sides during World War One. Knighted in 1901, Sir Hyram Maxim died in Sydenham in 1916. (http://maypolehistory.wikifoundry.com/page/Sir+Hiram+MAXIM)

Hugh Lester Murgatroyd’s military service very much paralleled that of Valentine Lloyd, although it is unlikely they knew each other, even if they both lived in the same house. They both joined up with Leicestershire Regiment in September 1914, although in different places and different Battalions, both were to be awarded the Military Cross for bravery during the war … and they were killed within a few days of each other in France during 1918, both aged 23 years.

Hugh’s parents, John and Mary Murgatroyd, originally both from Yorkshire, married in 1888 and emigrated to Canterbury, New Zealand, an area that was booming at the time with the coming of the railways. They had six children there – Gordon Fletcher (b.1889 – d.1890), Olive Gertrude (b,1890), Alice Muriel (b.1892), Sydney Allen (b.1893), Hugh Lester (b.1895), Margaret Lillian (b.1899) and George Fletcher (b.1902).

As a wool and leather merchant John Murgatroyd travelled back to England several times, bringing his family with him – no flying in those days, it meant a long sea voyage stopping off at Rio de Janiero on the way. Their first voyage aboard the passenger ship ‘Corinthic’, arrived 8 May 1903 in London and they returned on the same ship on 18 October.

14 May 1906, arriving in London, again aboard the ‘Corinthic’, and leaving on 18 October. Although they were without Sydney Allan, who had died (aged 10) the year before in New Zealand.

2 January 1912, travelling in First Class on the ‘Turakna’, arriving in Plymouth. This time John left had  instructions to sell his 3400 acre property know as ‘The Horatio Estate’, by sub-division at Auction on 23 March 1912.

There latest visit started on 28 February 1914, arriving aboard on the ‘Orvieto’. On this occasion they stay was longer either by design or as result of the outbreak of war, hence buying the house in Bexleyheath as a result.

Captain Hugh Lester Murgatroyd served in Leicestershire Regiment, attached to 1st/7th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers. He enlisted in September 1914. Quite why a 19 year old, although British, who lived in New Zealand would join up so soon after the start of the war is not known.

Assuming that Hugh Murgatroyd remained attached to the 1st/7th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, he had quite an eventful war seeing service in Egypt, Gallipoli (Turkey) and France. Its service is recorded as:  August 1914: in Salford. Part of Lancashire Fusiliers Brigade, East Lancashire Division. 25 September 1914: Landed in Egypt. 5 May 1915: Landed on Gallipoli. 26 May 1915: Formation became 125th Brigade, 42nd (East Lancashire) Division. 28 December 1915: Landed on Mudros and proceeded to Egypt. 27 February 1917: Landed Marseilles and proceeded to the Western Front.

Promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 11 January 1915 and then Lieutenant on 1 April 1917, he was later awarded the Military Cross for an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy:
“Lieutenant Hugh Lester Murgatroyd, Leicester Regiment, For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in commanding his company with great dash and determination and beating off several attacks by the enemy. Later, he led his company with great coolness through a heavy barrage to reinforce a unit heavily engaged in front. He displayed gallantry and fine power of command.” (London Gazette, 23 July 1918)

Sometime later he was promoted to Captain. He died, of wounds sustained, on 27 Septrember 1918 at Beaucamps, Somme, Picardy, France. He is buried at Lebucquiere Communal Cemetery Extension, Lebucquiere Departement du Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France. Plot: III. C. 7.

The Murgatroyd family eventually returned to New Zealand, after the war. They lived at Culverden, a small town even today in the Hurunui District, near Canterbury, where his mother Mary died in 1940, his father John in 1951, and his sister Alice a year later. The rest of the family continued living in the same area until the end of their lives – Alice (d.1969), George (d.1972), Olive (d.1973), Margaret (?) and Ida (1982). Members of the Murgatroyd family still live in Culverden to this day.

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