Topic: Staff Sergeant Don Murray 1RNZIR

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Interview with Te Puke resident Don Norman Murray who served in the 1 NZ Regiment 1RNZIR New Zealand Infantry in the Malayan Emergency 1955-1957 and again in 1963-1965 in the Malayan War.

Looking wrong? Archived version here.

Staff Sergeant Don A Murray

Staff Seargent Don Murray

1 NZ Regiment 1RNZIR New Zealand Infantry
DOB: 28th March 1936
Overseas Service: 1955-1957 Malaya Advanced Party
1963-1965 Malaya
1972-1974 Singapore (21 Years in Infantry)

 Interviewed 24/7/12 Te Puke

Click here to listen to the full interview

 The first contact I have with Don Murray is over the phone a week prior to our interview. We had talked about the Malaya War, the Kete (Tauranga Memories website) and my interest in interviewing him. Sounding much younger than his 76 years Don spoke with the calm demeanor of a soldier who had lead men; respectful, firm and precise. His words, he chooses carefully, never rambling, and always to the point. We arranged for the interview to be in his home, as he and his wife are home most days now anyway, enjoying their retirement together.

I have arrived at Don and Miriam Murray's property just in time for our interview. The torrential downpour the night before had caused havoc on state highway 2 from Tauranga to Te Puke, and it was just as well I left early, as the speed I traveled for most of the trip was at walking pace. Their home is welcoming, a semi rural family home. Even though their kids are adults, and Don and Miriam have retired, it is obviously important that there is still space for family visits and grandchildren. Welcoming me in with a smile, Don may be a retiree but straight away I can see the army man in him. He holds himself straight, looks me straight in the eye when he talks and respectfully pays attention to everything I say. He is quiet, a real listener and the kind of man who leads from the front, setting an example along the way. As we prepare for the interview, Miriam, knowing I will be recording the interview, kindly turns off the TV and quietly leaves the room. Don and I are ready, and although nervous at first, Don forgets about the microphone and tells me of his love for his army life and what 21 years in the armed forces meant and still means to him.

The Early Years

Don was raised by the Sisters of Mercy along with his siblings in Takapuna as an infant. Life was strict and hard but rewarding. During the beginning of his teen years, the children were sent to Invercargill where he pursued an active life of rugby, rowing and an apprenticeship in carpentry. Don was destined to be a soldier, after having been raised with discipline and being positively influenced by structure, he was to embrace the teachings and comradeship that comes with the armed forces. In 1955 he joined our Armed Forces with the 1 Otago/Southland Regiment, and in 1957 the call came for soldiers to go to Malaysia. Don enlisted, after having first spent his training in Waiouru. At the age of 21 Don became a private of the 1st New Zealand Regiment. Leaving New Zealand was not difficult for Don, his brother had already left for Australia and his mum’s support gave him the opportunity to do as he chose.

Leaving on a DC 3 they arrived in Singapore and the heat hit them. Despite acclimatizing to a certain degree, the men were to suffer heat stroke on and off throughout their service in Malaya. Don was to serve from 1955 to 1957 as a Private, selected to depart with 19 other soldiers as what was to be called the Advanced Party, he was to be one of the first New Zealand troops of the regiment to arrive in Malaya. Responsible for setting up the Kota Tinngi Camp and training areas for the rest of the regiment, the twenty men were under orders of the 22 S.A.S along with a British regiment. The British influence hit them straight away, it was to be HP sauce and chips with every meal in the camp, even with breakfast, but the meals were very good, and so were the British soldiers. He had the basics from his training in Waiouru (Combat Military Training), but it was the incredible experience and knowledge of the ex World War II soldiers that impressed him the most. They taught Don so much more than what any training solider back in New Zealand could teach him. He spoke of his absolute respect for these men, and they were to become the biggest mentors for Don and his fellow comrades throughout their service in the forces. One particular ex-veteran, Rangi Whaanga, A 28th Maori Battalion WW2 soldier took the new boys under his wing. Rangi was Dons section commander in 12 Platoon, and it was Rangi who taught them crucial survival tactics that would eventually smooth the way for the men as they were tested more and a more in the soldiers realm. These men were in their 50's during this period, and although, for their age, they were at the end of their career, their experience was to become invaluable to the 'green' young soldiers.

Click here to learn more about Rangi and the 28th Maori Battalion

On Parade Malaysia War soldier Don Murray

 Don’s role on patrol was to carry a Bren gun, a modified version of Czechoslovak-designed light machine gun. In the 1950s many Bren's were barreled to accept the 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge, developed in the 1950s as a standard for small arms among NATO countries, all in all a very capable weapon according to the soldiers. It was fairly quickly that Don and his colleagues were taught how to barter, something that he had never done before. New Zealand soldiers were paid far better that their British counterparts so the locals bargained hard with the Kiwi boy’s. The men in the New Zealand contingent were taught to treat the locals with the utmost respect, and a 'Hearts and Minds' approach was adopted and practiced. It was to be rewarded and reciprocated by the locals for the years to come and is something that Don is extremely proud of. Rightly so, these men set the standards for our current relations with Malaya as I were to find on the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website:

“Here is a history of close
and friendly links, stemming originally from Commonwealth ties, the
Colombo Plan and shared security concerns. New Zealand deployed troops
in the country during the “Malayan Emergency” (1948-1960), and during
the “Confrontation” period in the 1960s. These early connections have
been built on and enhanced. The relationship is friendly, has many
aspects, and is significant to New Zealand╩╝.

Don Murray on Patrol, Malaya War

Bull leeches were a problem with the men, and stories emerged of non-New Zealand soldiers dying of blood loss because they had not followed procedure by checking each other every night. Although these claims were unofficial, it was enough to get the men to practice thorough examinations daily, in time the men were to use the leeches to draw out infection from boils they acquired during their patrolling. Malaria tablets were a necessity, and were jokingly named 'ugly pills' by the men, and as ever the heat was a problem, causing chaffing and 'Prickly Heat' (heat rash). One of the most challenging aspects of patrolling, Don says, was having to put on wet clothing in the morning, not a very comfortable way to start the day. Patrolling was a long affair, and each platoon would patrol in 1-month stints in incredibly difficult terrain. Each soldier carried 7 days rations, which were not too bad as far as rations were concerned, says Don.  Airdrops would be made to where the platoon was, and the boy’s favorites were onions and potatoes. There would be a big 'cook up' the night of the drop as nobody wanted the extra weight in their pack the next day on patrol.

When asked what would be the most prized possession Don carried on patrol he says with a grin from ear to ear 'Curry powder...oh and onions!’. Patrolling was slow; and the jungle was at times very dense, especially if they were patrolling secondary jungle. In particular bamboo growth was not deemed as something to look forward to. Primary jungle on the other hand was fairly clear of undergrowth, and at times was like walking in a park that was filled with huge trees.Don’s career to date had enriched his character as a soldier. He had learned so much from his comrades and his experiences, and it was this early role that would ultimately set him up for a return trip a few years later. His first tour and the knowledge he had gained were to ultimately propel him into a leadership role.


The Return to Service in Malaya

In 1963 to 1965 he returned to Malaya. This time serving as Platoon Sergeant for the Charlie Company, serving under Major Bob Straight and Sergeant Major Ray Delves, an ex SAS soldier. His First Lieutenant was Tony Birks, followed by Lt Barry Dyer, both excellent Platoon Commanders.

Click here soon to view Historical film archive of New Zealand 1 Battalions departure from New Zealand

Staff Sergeant Don Murray on patrol, Malaya circa 1964 Don and his men were now stationed in Batu Lingtang Camp. Batu Lingtang lies some 35 kilometers up the Sarawak River from the sea; the camp is situated some 5 kilometers to the southeast of Kuching. The contingent consisted of three platoons, and it was at this stage that Don and his men were to patrol the border between Malaya and Indonesia. They would occasionally cross the border and engage the Indonesian forces in spates of attacks, these patrols were shared between each of the platoons. These incursions are a well recorded in Robert Gurr's Voices from a Border War.  The various contacts involved ambushes, a small warning group who came under attack on multiple occasions, surveillance missions, intelligence gathering and fire assaults with rocket launchers, mortars and small arms, all of which Don was involved in.

During the interview Don did not touch on his involvement in any incidences of conflict with the enemy. His story, the one he wanted to be told, was about morals, respect, camaraderie, commitment and diligence. It was not until later that the information was offered to me. I have included it because Don thought it was important enough to be included as a part of the history of his memories and the war he was a part of. This was when he was in the Company quartermaster 'W' (Whisky) Company in 1972-1974.


As the interview comes to an end Don begins to reminisce... the British army and the formidable Gurkha soldiers were to make a first class impression on Don and his men.  The Gurkha were very efficient and exceptional soldiers, and their rum was very good as well says Don. Although the Gurkha were respectful with the New Zealander's they did not take too kindly to the locals, and at one stage Don recalls an incident where a driver Gurkha swerved towards a local on a bike who had two large tins of excrement. Suffice to say they looked in the rear vision mirror to see the poor local ending in a heap on the side of the road, and the Gurkha driver turning to Don with a wide grin as he carried on driving. There was the 'Icy Icy' man, an old man who sold them ice cream from his bicycle. He somehow always seemed to find the platoon, turning up in the middle of nowhere and ringing his bell even when they were on a 'secret' mission. Don has no idea how he managed to find them each time. He tells of a time where a colleague, Dan Waratini was injured and to get him out of the jungle they emptied water bottles, tied them around his waist and floated him out. You can see Danny on the first photograph inside Robert Gurr's book Voices from a Border War, he is one of two Maori warriors in the photo (furthest from the camera). His last night was spent 'camping' with the boys of his platoon in particular beautiful shady spot beside two rivers that branched around them, it rained heavily that night and the river swelled sending most of the boys up the trees!

The Camp

These experiences have given him, he says, a healthy regard of the importance of respect. He thinks due to this he has taught his children the same, and he believes life would have never been the same had he not spent these years in the forces. Coming home, Don returned to a military life within the army bases in New Zealand and passed on his knowledge to others. Qualified as an Army Parachutist he spent two years posted as an Instructor at the Support Weapons Wing, School of Infantry. This was a highlight of his career. It was at this stage he pointedly reminds me of those who lost their lives and the loss that comes with returning without them.

Click here to view these statistics on the New Zealand Army Website.

One good friend who never returned he has fond memories of, was told to ‘burn off’ the toilets by his superiors, he literally blew them up by using the incorrect accelerant, that of a highly explosive material. Don remembers his mate walking across the yard covered in the mess he was told to burn. He mentions Dave Haywood his best mate who served with him, and the continuance of their strong friendship and how much it means to him. 'Those are the things and the memories I got out of the army, if you want something or you are hurting, there is always somebody there to help you'. Since his time in the army Don has been involved in talks with students and the importance of respect and sacrifice. They have asked for specifics/details regarding his life as a soldier (likely the fighting) and he says that the important thing is what you get from it as a person and how it shapes you not the glamorized stuff. It was the respect of the exemplary officers and fellow colleagues that were the most rewarding memories Don has of his visits to Malaya.

With the interview over we look at his photographs, the men in the photos look incredibly fit, young and confident. There are photos of the terrain, impossibly thick, the camps well established. There are photos of men in drills and marching. And of course there are the photos of Don. He is stern in some and smiling in others, a strong sturdily built young man always surrounded by his men. Don as a young man looks like the man that he is now, respected, loved and wise. 

Miriam and life in Malaya

Miriam comes in with a plate full of the most delicious scones I have ever eaten and I am warmed by how prepared they are for my visit. We drink coffee and she tells me of her time there. Many of The New Zealand soldier’s wives and children lived in Terandak Camp while their men served. She says she loved the life there, the support between the women was strong and they looked after each other. They would play tennis together and socialize, she says she found it a little hard when they returned to New Zealand, joining a tennis club meant having to go and find one first! Earlier on, Don Had told me of how he is so very grateful to his wife for her understanding his need to soldier, 'We have a lot to thank our women for'. I can see that the gratitude and respect is still there today.Having met such warm, kind and caring people I am truly grateful for their return to New Zealand, they have reminded me of how honor, commitment, and practicing what you have learnt can positively influence the people around you. It is due to them that we, as New Zealander's, have developed a truer understanding of who we are, and what we represent.

 Don Murray Te Puke September 2012

The following are a list of medals that Don has received during his 21 years of service to our country:

New Zealand Operational Service Medal

General Service Medal 1918-1961Malaya

New Zealand General Service Medal 1992 Warlike - Malaya 1960-1964

The General Service Medal 1962 - Malaya Peninsula and Borneo

New Zealand Long Service and Good Conduct Medal

New Zealand Defence Service Medal - Territorial, CMT, Regular

The Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal

Other Resources for more information on New Zealands involvement in the Malaya War


This page archived at Perma CC in September of 2016:

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Staff Sergeant Don Murray 1RNZIR

Year:c.1950, c.1960, and c.1970
First Names:Don
Last Name:Murray