Sharp-Healy Family

The Story of the first two Generations

Denis Healy 1896-1917

Denis Healy.

Denis Healy, (as on registered birth records, or Dennis as spelt on Army records and some newspaper articles) the youngest of the Healy family, was born in Kyeburn on 25 October 1896, and was registered at the Kyeburn School on 19 September 1904. He had six older sisters and three older brothers.

He was a true war hero, and his remarkable story is told here.

Early life in Central Otago - the 1908 Snowstorm

A massive snowstorm hit the Central Otago area in the middle of July 1908, including Kyeburn and Naseby, when Denis was only 12 years old. Thousands of sheep were lost, men were stranded in the hills, and settlers ran out of coal and kerosene, with bread reaching one shilling a loaf, butter and milk and meat also being very expensive.

Sheep at Kyeburn Station were left to fend for themselves because the shepherds could not get to them, or find them.

The Kyeburn school buildings at which the Healy children attended, received only superficial damage, but seven and a half weeks of schooling were lost (as reported on page 67 of "Gateway to Maniototo".)

The snow was followed by severe frosts, a thaw, then more snow. At its peak, everying was "frozen hard, including meat, butter, and milk, and water has to be carted or melted." (August 19, Otago Witness).

There was extensive damage to a government pine plantation and many township buildings succumbed under the weight of the snow.

The stormy weather was well reported in all the New Zealand newspapers of the time. Life must have been very hard for the Healy family at this time, with a house full of children to feed, and staggeringly cold winter conditions to contend with. We wonder how Margaret coped.

School Picnics

In 1912, the annual school picnic was held in the school grounds on Saturday 17th February. It proved to be a great success, with the weather being perfect, and visitors coming from all over the district. The book "Gateway to Maniototo" reported that "there were races for the grown-ups also for the children and each child received a prize either of money, toys or books. The ladies of Kyeburn supplied the refreshments in abundance, and there was a plentiful supply of fruit and lollies handed around several times during the day and much enjoyed by all. Games were played till late in the evening, when all went home well plesed with their day's enjoyment." You can be sure the Healy family were there. Denis would have been 16 by this time, and probably ready to leave school

Joining the Army

Private Denis Healy.

It appears that unlike his four immediately older siblings, Denis had no major illness or other condition, because if he did, he surely would not have been accepted in the Army. From the Army records obtained from Archives, Denis enlisted with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force on 25 July 1916 for the Duration of the War.

On 28 August 1916 at Trentham, Denis Healy signed the Attestation of Service and formally enlisted in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.

On the form he stated that he was a Farm Labourer for a Mr C Donald, and that he had served with the 10th Regiment Territorials. He had in fact registered for compulsory military training under the Defence Act 1909 at Naseby and was still serving in the territorials when he signed up for the NZEF. He was placed in D Company of the 19th Reinforcements.

When he was seen by the Medical Officer at Naseby on 26 June 1916, Denis was noted as being 19 years 9 months of age, and was 5 ft 10 and a half inches tall, with dark hair and hazel eyes and he was in good all round health. His religion was Roman Catholic.

The photo above is from the inside of a brooch given to Margaret Healy by Thomas on their wedding day. It has a photo of Denis Healy, aged about 4 years inside.

Off to War

On 15 November 1916, Denis left Wellington on the H.M.T. Maunganui (pictured) for Devonport in England, arriving on 29 January 1917, where he was marched in to Sling. (Sling was the name of a training camp in the UK on the Salisbury Plains). On the 30th he marched out to Codford, another military training camp near Salisbury. During the long sea voyage, Denis had twice been admitted to the ship's hospital during January suffering from mild influenza for a total of 7 days.

It appears Denis remained at Codford for four months, until 28 May when he left for France after being posted to 4th Company.

The next document in the Service Records was a Casualty Form. On this Casualty Form for Active Service, it is noted that Denis was "Wounded in Action" "in the field" on 4 October 1917, and was admitted to the 4th Australian Casualty Clearing Station with shrapnel wounds to the back and abdomen. On the 15th of October, he was transferred to the 2nd Canadian Stationary Hospital, where he later died.

H.M.T. Maunganui.

THE ROLL OF HONOUR: Otago Daily Times, Issue 17141, 22 October 1917, Page 3 reported wounded on 4 October: Healy, Dennis (Mrs M Healy, Mornington, mother).

ROLL OF HONOUR: Otago Daily Times, Issue 17142, 23 October 1917, Page 2 lists the following: Died from Wounds: HEALY, DENNIS (Mrs M Healy, 37 Bourke Street, Mornington, mother).

Denis and his brother Thomas had been involved in the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge, the precursor to the Battle of Passcendaele. (See below for more information).

Killed in Action

On a document named Field Service, it was reported that Private Dennis Healy 32666 of 4th Company, 3rd Battalion, Otago Regiment, NZEF, had died on 16 October 1917. He was at the No 2 Canadian Stationary Hospital in the field, France, and he died of "wounds received in action". No Will was found in his paybook or other documents. The form was signed in Rouen, France on 28 November 1917.

The Casualty Form and other documents state that Private Denis Healy was buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, in the town of Boulonge-Sur-Mer, France.

A letter from the Chief Clark, Base Records Branch, New Zealand Military Forces, Wellington, dated 28 March 1918, to Mrs M Healy, of 37 Burke St, Mornington, Dunedin, sets outs Denis's military career. It states: "Dear Madam, Re 32666 Pte Dennis Healy. I have to inform you that the official Army Form relative to the above-named deceased soldier has been received from the Front, and the following particulars are extracted thereform for your information:"

  • Embarked HMT Maunganui, Wellington, 15.11.16
  • Disembarked ex HMT Maunganui, Devonport, 29.1.17
  • Marched in Sling, 29.1.17
  • Marched out to Codford, Sling, 30.3.17
  • Taken on strength and posted to 4th Coy. Codford, 30.3.17
  • Left for France, Codford. 28.3.17
  • Wounded in Action, in the field, 4.10.17
  • Admitted 4th Australian Casualty Clearing Station in the field, 4.10.17
  • Admitted 2nd Canadian Stationary Hospital, in the field, 15.10.17
  • Died of Wounds, in the field. Shrapnel Wound Back and Abdomen, Boulogne. 16.10.17

Another document from the Local Deputy Public Trustee in Dunedin on 11 December 1919 to the Officer in Charge of War Expenses in Wellington, note the following: "I have to advise that deceased died intestate leaving him surviving a mother, 6 sisters and 3 brothers. Two of the sisters and two of the brothers are at present inmates of the Mental Hospital, Seacliff."

Early in March 1920, Margaret Healy received a letter from the Defence Department enclosing the sum of one pound 3 and 7, being the balance of the pay owed to Denis at the time of this death, along with his paybook.

Denis Healy - memorial plaque.

Memorial Plaque

Sometime in 1922, Margaret received Denis's War Medals, including the Victory Medal. This medal was issued to all those who had already qualified for the 1914 or 1914-15 Stars, and to most persons who had already qualified for the British War Medal. The Victory Medal is distinguished by its unique 'double rainbow' ribbon. Approximately 6 million of these medals were issued to military personnel from the British Empire. You can see what the medals look like on Thomas's page.

Margaret also received a memorial plaque and scroll issued by King George V. The plaque was recently returned to the family after 90 years, and is now held by Dale Hartle. These large bronze medallions (about the size of a modern CD disk) were issued to the next of kin of members of His Majesty's armed forces who died in military service in World War I. The scroll was despatched on 13 June 1921, and the plaque on 14 January 1922. (The scroll has been lost!) You can see what the memorial plaque and scroll looks like on the Wikipedia site, and a further description on the Great War website. While 1.3 million plaques were issued, though not rare, they are totally unique, in that every plaque has the individual person's name engraved on it.

It must have been heartbreaking for a family to send their young men off to war, and receive a bronze plaque in return for those killed.

The Battle of Broodseinde Ridge

This commentary compiled from the References listed at the end of this page, tell the story of the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge, in which brothers Thomas and Denis Healy fought.

More than 27,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers had marched for days, and were finally in position were outside the town of Ypres, in Belgium. The date was the 2nd of October 1917.

They received a thorough briefing from their commanders about their role in the impending battle.

The plan was to capture a ridge and a hill, overlooking some towns, where the Germans had a stronghold.

The initial assault group would seize the area up to the base of the ridge. They would then be leapfrogged by a second group, who were to capture the ridge and nearby hill. But on the evening of the 3rd of October, the weather changed. There was gale-force winds and rain.

Private Denis Healy, and Private Thomas Healy, from the Otago Regiment, along with all the other New Zealand troops, were huddled in their assembly trenches, trying to keep dry. They tried to get some sleep, but it was a cold, wet, windy night. The next morning, even though the rain had stopped, the whole area was a bog, with mud and puddles everywhere.

Map of Battle of Broodseinde Ridge.

The order was given for the Australian artillery guns to prepare for shelling the German lines, so that the infantry could capture the fields in front of the ridge and hill. Unfortunately, the Germans had planned an attack for exactly the same time.

Just before dawn, at twenty past five in the morning, the German artillery opened up, firing thousands of shells and rockets onto the Australian and New Zealand troops, 2 kilometres away.

Then, at 6 o'clock, the Australian artillery started up, firing thousands of shells and rockets back onto the Germans up on the ridge. The idea was to blast the enemy, and force them to retreat before the infantry advanced.

The noise was deafening. Giant shells full of shrapnel rained down and exploded all over the place, for over an hour. Thick smoke blanketed the battlefield. When the shelling stopped and the smoke started to clear, the order was given for the Australian and New Zealand troops to move out.

They climbed out of their trenches, and started moving across the muddy fields through the razor sharp barbed wire. The Australians headed for the nearest ridge, and the New Zealanders were to capture the hill next to it.

To their surprise, they found the Germans doing exactly the same thing - coming down the hill towards them, through the mud and smoke. The Australians managed to recover from the shock more quickly than the Germans, and launched a bayonet charge.

Then the machine gunners opened up, and mowed down the Germans, killing nearly everyone in sight. The remaining Germans broke, and ran, and the Australians managed to capture the ridge.

Wounded Soldiers awaiting transport to hospital.

The New Zealanders secured the nearby hill, known as Abraham Heights by 11 o'clock that morning. But it took a terrible toll. They had suffered nearly two thousand casualties - one in four of the assaulting force, with 330 soldiers killed and over 200 missing.

This fight became known as the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge. The Germans officially named it "a black day".

See the History of War website, or the Australian Battlefields website for a description of the battle.

During the battle, Thomas Healy got separated from his younger brother, and he couldn't find him afterwards. He had seen him being carried away on a stretcher, wounded.

Letter from Thomas to his sister

On the 30th of October, he wrote a letter to his sister Margaret, back home in Dunedin, telling her what happened.

"Dear Maggie, Just a few lines to let you know I am still alive and well hoping I'll find all with you the same. You will all have heard before this of Dennis being wounded, he was hit on the fourth, it was a piece of shell that stuck him, he was hit through the abdomen. I saw him getting carried away on a stretcher but could not get speaking to him as we were in a scrap at the time and I could not leave the gun. I am a machine gunner and he was a stretcher-bearer. I wrote to Rose and Mother two days ago and was going to write to you but I wanted to see if I would hear from Denis but I have not heard from him since he went away. All I know is that he was admitted to the Australian General Hospital on the day he was wounded. It is very hard to get news here. It was near Ypres where it happened. Ypres is a town in Belgium. We are out of the line just now having what they call a rest in a little place in France. I received a parcel from you and one from mother the other day and I can tell you they came in very handy at the time. There was a big lot of New Zealanders fell in the last stint, Jack Crutchley and Jim Mullholland were both killed. It is a very wet country this and not much sunshine. No nice warm days like NZ. Dennis is lucky to miss here for the winter, he will get six to eight months holiday out of his wound and perhaps he will get to New Zealand. I am going to write to the base records office today to find out where he is and get in touch with him. I was glad to hear Eileen was home again but sorry to hear her foot was not much better. I will have to stop now so wishing all well, I remain your brother Tom. PS Tell Jack there is no races here, only a race for life sometimes."

Stretcher bearers helping wounded soldiers.

Apparently Denis was hit in the back and stomach by shrapnel while helping to carry wounded soldiers from the battlefield. Tom had seen him getting taken away for treatment, but hadn't heard from him since. He was hoping to find out soon.

In fact Denis was evacuated to the 4th Australian Casualty Clearing Station. A Casualty Clearing Station was part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than the Aid Posts and Field Ambulances. It was manned by troops of the Royal Army Medical Corps, with attached Royal Engineers and men of the Army Service Corps. The job of the CCS was to treat a man sufficiently for his return to duty or, in most cases, to enable him to be evacuated to a Base Hospital. It was not a place for a long-term stay.

Denis was then evacuated to the 2nd Canadian Stationary Hospital for further treatment where he died on 16 October.

So Denis had actually died 12 days later from his wounds. But Tom didn't know that when he wrote his letter on the 30th of October. It must have been quite worrying for him, not knowing what happened to his brother.

Denis, who was a stretcher bearer, had the most dangerous job of all, to help evacuate wounded New Zealand soldiers from the battlefield. The stretcher bearers were known as the "Khaki Angels".

Transcript of the newspaper article in the "Mt Ida Chronicle" on 5 April 1918 reported what happened:

Newspaper article.

The Late Private Denis Healy. The following letter has been received by Mrs Healy from Captain Ivan Spedding, which will be interesting to the many friends of Private Healy:— "As medical officer of the unit to which your son Denis belonged, I take this opportunity of extending to you my sincerest sympathy and regrets at your son's death. He was one of my stretcher-bearers, and was wounded while attending to the wounded on the battlefield. He was brought down to me, and I did all I could for him, and had every hope of his recovery, but it was not to be so. He with the other stretcher-bearers did magnificent work, and I thought I would like to let you know how much we all appreciated what he did." This is one of many letters received regarding the splendid work of our stretcher-bearers. One of Private Healy's mates wrote: "You will no doubt wonder from whom this letter comes. Well, it is from a working mate of Denny's who was with him when he got wounded out here. He was a stretcher-bearer, and believe me, he was out on his own. I never knew anyone to work so hard before, and he never flinched from his duty. He was game to the last, and the company all have the highest praise for him. He was wounded while attending to another chap's wounds on the 4th of October, and died later." [Mount Ida Chronicle, Volume XLV, 5 April 1918, Page 3]. (Captain Dr Ivan Spedding resumed practice in Mosgiel in November 1918.) Apparently Margaret received a number of letters of condolence from friends and relatives. None of these documents are known to exist, except the letter from Thomas to his sister.

It would take eight men to carry one wounded soldier through the knee-deep mud, back to the safety of the trenches, where they could be bandaged up before being sent to hospital.

Denis was a true hero. He was hit when a shell exploded near him, while trying to save other soldiers' lives. He paid the ultimate price, with his own life. He was just 21 years old.

Captain Spedding returned to Mosgiel after the war and took up a medical practice. He died on 7 March 1942 aged 58 years.

About Boulogne

The photo is of the memorial to all the New Zealanders who were killed in the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge. It is located in Belgium.

Location: Boulogne-sur-Mer is a large Channel port. Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, one of the town cemeteries, lies in the district of St Martin Boulogne, just beyond the eastern (Chateau) corner of the Citadel (Haute-Ville). The cemetery is a large civil cemetery, split in two by the Rue de Dringhem, just south of the main road (RN42) to St Omer. The Commonwealth War Graves plot is located down the western edge of the southern section of the cemetery, with an entrance in the Rue de Dringhen. Car parking is available along the Rue de Dringhen.

NZ Memorial, Ypres.

Historical Information: Boulogne was one of the three base ports most extensively used by the Commonwealth armies on the Western Front throughout the First World War. It was closed and cleared on the 27 August when the Allies were forces to fall back ahead of the German advance, but was opened again in October and from that month to the end of the war, Boulogne and Wimereux formed one of the chief hospital areas. Until June 1918, the dead from the hospitals at Boulogne itself were buried in the Cimetiere de L'Est, one of the town cemeteries, the Commonwealth graves forming a long, narrow strip along the right hand edge of the cemetery. In the spring of 1918, it was found that space was running short in the Eastern Cemetery in spite of repeated extensions to the south, and the site of the new cemetery at Terlincthun was chosen. During the Second World War, hospitals were again posted to Boulogne for a short time in May 1940. The town was taken by the Germans at the end of that month and remained in their hands until recaptured by the Canadians on 22 September 1944. Boulogne Eastern Cemetery contains 5,577 Commonwealth burials of the First World War and 224 from the Second World War. The Commonwealth plots were designed by Charles Holden.

Headstones

Denis is remembered on his parents headstone located in Plot 55, Block 24 in Andersons Bay Cemetery, which reads: "Thomas Healy, Also Pte Denis Healy, Killed in France 16 Oct 1917, Also Margaret, Beloved Wife of above, Died at Naseby 5 April 1926, Aged 69 years. R.I.P."

Headstone - Denis Healy.

Swinburn Cemetery Memorial

Denis is also remembered on a memorial which was erected by the residents of Kyeburn and Kokonga at Swinburn Cemetery to the memory of their fallen soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice in the Great War 1914-1918, which was unveiled in April 1920. On State Highway 87 from Middlemarch, go past Kokonga towards Kyeburn. The Swinburn Cemetery is marked by a lamppost "Cemetery" sign on the left side of the road. Turn right and go about 200 m down the road, and look on the right to see a wooden Swinburn Cemetery sign. Enter the cemetery and you will see a large WW1 Memorial at the centre rear of the cemetery. The names are inscribed on the back of the monument. The photos below were taken by Desmond Sharp in April 2008. You can view the full details on the New Zealand History Online website.

Swinburn Cemetery Memorial. Front of memorial.
Back of memorial. "The inscription reads: Roll of Honour. Pro Patria. Erected by the residents of Kyeburn and Kokonga to the memory of their fallen soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice in the Great War 1914-1918. THEIR DUTY DONE, UNVEILED APRIL, 1920. There is a link death cannot sever, Fond remembrance lasts forever. In grateful Remembrance."

Boulogne Cemetery Memorial

You can look up Denis's entry on the Commonwealth Graves Commission website. You can also print a Certificate. Desmond Sharp also visited the Boulogne Cemetery when the photos below were taken. You can also view a map of Boulogne showing the location of the cemetery, marked by Desmond Sharp when he visited there.

Plaque - Denis Healy, France. Des tending to Grave of Denis Healy.
Memorial Plaque, Pte Denis Healy Des tending to grave of Denis Healy

References

This story was compiled from the following sources (slightly edited):

  • Army Service History - NZ Archives
  • Lieut A E Byrne MC, Otago Regiment NZEF. Official History of the Otago Regiment, NZEF, in the Great War 1914-1918 , 2nd edition
  • Lyn Macdonald. They Called it Passchendaele. The story of the Third Battle of Ypres and of the men who fought in it. Michael Joseph Limited, London, 1978.
  • Chris McCarthy. The Third Ypres. Passchendaele, the Day - by - Day Account. Arms & Armour Press, London, 1995.
  • John Laffin. The Western Front Illustrated, 1914-1918. Kangaroo Press Pty Ltd, 1991.
  • Stretcher Bearers on the Western Front - New Zealand History Online. Includes this reference: "It took stretcher-bearers three days to clear the field of wounded after the opening salvo of Passchendaele at Gravenstafel on 4 October. Four men would carry a stretcher the 3 miles to safety — a trip that took them about four hours."

Online database and website references: