War hero's courage is honoured by family

The Northern Echo: Trooper James Howell lays a tribute at his grave Trooper James Howell lays a tribute at his grave

ONE hundred and fifty years ago and thousands of miles from home, Michael Murphy rushed over to the aid of a senior officer, in the heat of battle.

Yesterday, at his final resting place in a Darlington cemetery, the usual silence was broken by the army's pomp and ceremony to honour his bravery that day.

Murphy had lived a hero - yet died a pauper and in disgrace.

He was born in Cahir, Tipperary, Ireland, in 1831, before enlisting in the 17th Lancers, in 1855. The Lancers were still serving in the Crimean War and Murphy joined the 2nd Battalion Military Train.

In 1857, he was posted to the Indian Mutiny and saw action in Cawnpore and Lucknow, where his leader Sir Henry Havelock was killed.

By April 15, 1858, the Military Train and the 3rd Sikh Cavalry chased down the rebels to Azimghur.

The adjutant of the 3rd Sikhs, Lieutenant Hamilton fell from his saddle and lay wounded with sepoys around.

Sgt Murphy and Private Samuel Morley rushed to his aid and fought off the indigenous sepoy soldiers, killing up to five of them. Sgt Murphy was wounded five times and, even though Lt Hamilton died of his injuries, he and Pte Morley were both awarded the Victoria Cross.

Sgt Murphy was presented with his honour by Queen Victoria on January 4, 1860, at the Quadrangle, Windsor Castle.

But 12 years later, he was caught stealing six bushels of oats and 12 pounds of hay.

He wore the Victoria Cross to his trial, but forfeited it after he was sentenced to nine months hard labour.

By 1891, he had moved to Blackwell, on the outskirts of Darlington, where he was a blacksmith. He died a pauper two years later of pneumonia.

Sir Harry Havelock-Allan, Sir Henry's son, paid for his grave, in Darlington's North Road Cemetery and, years later, the Victoria Cross was posthumously awarded back to Sgt Murphy.

Yesterday, 150 years after his finest hour, Sgt Murphy's descendants and the modern-day equivalent of his regiment, the Royal Logistics Corp, gathered at his grave.

Shortly before 11am, the first chords from the Heavy Cavalry and Cambrai Band drowned out the murmurs of the assembled masses. They paraded with the 8 Transport Regiment, from Marne Barracks, to the grave.

Assembled there were more than a dozen of Sgt Murphy's family, from across the country, other Army personnel, Darlington Mayor Councillor Marian Swift and children from the local Harrowgate Hill Primary School.

In total, more than 100 people met to honour Sgt Murphy.

The Reverend Roy Butler opened the remembrance service with a description of Sgt Murphy's story. He said: "The Victoria Cross inscription simply says For Valour. This is exactly what Michael Murphy showed 150 years ago today."

Commanding Officer of 8 Transport, Lieutenant Colonel Greg Hughes read out the original citation: "For daring gallantry on April 15, 1858, when engaged in the pursuit of Koer Singh's Army from Azimghur, in having rescued Lt Hamilton, Adjutant of the 3rd Sikh Cavalry, who was wounded, dismounted, and surrounded by the enemy.

"Farrier Murphy cut down several men, and, although himself severely wounded, he never left Lt Hamilton's side, until support arrived."

The centerpiece of the ceremony was performed by Sgt Murphy's greatgreat- great grandson, Trooper James Howell, of the Queen's Royal Lancers, a descendant of Murphy's first regiment. He laid the Victoria Cross at the foot of Sgt Murphy's grave, before a bugler played The Last Post and The Reveille.

Trooper Howell, 21, from Stoke, Staffordshire, is based at Catterick, in North Yorkshire, but only learnt of the whereabouts of his ancestor's grave last week.

He said: "It is a fantastic day. I am so proud and honoured that I have had the opportunity to do this for my family."

Wreaths were also laid at Sgt Murphy's grave by his greatgreat niece Olive Cairns, Lt Col Hughes and Les Matthew, of the Army's fellowship.

Mrs Cairns, from Reading said: "It is tremendous. They have really put on a lovely display. They have done the occasion proud.

"We are very pleased they have made a brilliant effort."

Murphy's grave has been refurbished and a plaque added, unveiled by the mayor, with Queen Victoria's citation, by the 8 Transport regiment.

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