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Wray, Frederick William (1864–1943)

by David Dexter

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Frederick William Wray (1864-1943), Anglican clergyman and military chaplain, was born on 29 September 1864 at Taradale, Victoria, sixth son of English-born Robert Mackie Wray, clerk, and his Irish wife Anne Rebecca, née Bury. Educated near Castlemaine, at 14 Fred joined the Victorian Volunteer Force and later the militia, serving a total of seven years. He was an undergraduate at Trinity College, University of Melbourne, in 1889-90 and decided to study for the Anglican ministry. Made deacon in 1894 and ordained priest on 22 December 1895 by Bishop F. F. Goe, Wray was minister at Dookie (1894-96) and Euroa (1896-1900). On 4 June 1897 he was appointed chaplain in the Victorian Military Forces.

An accomplished rower, marksman and Australian Rules footballer, the 'sporting parson'—nearly six feet (183 cm) tall, weighing 15 stone (95 kg) and 'a splendid type of a muscular Christian'—sailed as chaplain with Victoria's 2nd (Mounted Rifles) Contingent and arrived in South Africa on 5 February 1900. The contingent saw action in the Cape Colony, Orange River Colony and the Transvaal, then returned to Melbourne in December. Two bouts of enteric fever delayed Wray's repatriation until mid-1901. On 3 April 1902 he married Henrietta Olive Elizabeth Catford at Christ Church, Hawthorn. He resumed parish work, first at Yarrawonga (1902-13) and then at Rushworth, retaining his military appointment and gaining promotion to chaplain 2nd class in 1912.

On 1 December 1914 he joined the Australian Imperial Force and sailed for Egypt three weeks later. Allotted to the 4th Brigade, with particular responsibility for the 13th Battalion, he 'slipped ashore' at Gallipoli early on 26 April 1915 despite orders forbidding non-combatants from so doing. He became a familiar figure at the front line and earned the soldiers' gratitude. A fellow chaplain described him 'moving about in full view of the enemy' with 'a notebook and pencil in his hand … busy with the work of keeping a check on the names of the dead and a list of their personal effects'. On 3 May, after the 4th Brigade had suffered heavy losses, Wray described his duties: 'During the day I did field dressing, stretcher bearing, grave digging and filling and putting the bodies in'. Suffering from enteritis in August, he was successively taken to Malta, England and finally to Rushworth. For his service at Gallipoli he was mentioned in dispatches and appointed C.M.G.

Rejoining the 4th Brigade in Egypt in March 1916, Wray accompanied the 13th Battalion on operations in the desert and was again mentioned in dispatches. In June the brigade transferred to the Western Front, taking part in the battles of Pozières and Mouquet Farm in August. As at Gallipoli, Wray moved among the troops, giving spiritual and practical support; once more his work included assistance at dressing stations, burying the dead, sorting effects such as identity discs and pay books, and writing to the bereaved. On 14 October he wrote a letter critical of his Church for not providing as chaplains 'those specially fitted for work among men'. Posted in December as staff chaplain to Administrative Headquarters, A.I.F., London, he became senior chaplain early in 1917. Until his overseas service ended in August 1919, he administered chaplaincy affairs from London, making periodic visits to France. He was appointed C.B.E. in June.

Returning to civilian life, in 1920 Wray was appointed canon of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Wangaratta, and in 1928 rector of that parish. Erect and square-shouldered, he kept his soldierly bearing and traversed the Wangaratta area on foot or on a bicycle, never having learned to drive a motor car. He retained his interest in sport, and was active in the affairs of returned servicemen and in Freemasonry. Wray retired in 1935. Predeceased by his wife, he died on 18 November 1943 at his home in Sandringham, Melbourne, and was buried in the new Cheltenham cemetery. Two sons and three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1911)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac, vol 2 (Syd, 1924)
  • T. A. White, The Fighting Thirteenth (Syd, 1924)
  • M. McKernan, Padre (Syd, 1986)
  • Church of England Messenger (Victoria), 2 Dec 1901
  • Church Standard, 1 Dec 1916
  • Australasian, 20 Jan 1900
  • Herald (Melbourne), 19 Nov 1943
  • Age (Melbourne), 20, 22 Nov 1943
  • Wray war diary and letters from Sth African War (privately held)
  • war diaries from World War I and newsclippings (privately held).

Citation details

David Dexter, 'Wray, Frederick William (1864–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/wray-frederick-william-9194/text16239, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 5 December 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

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