Of the approximately 3,000 “Kiwis” who landed at ANZAC Cove on 25 April, about 20 percent had become casualties by the end of the day, signalling the beginning of a bitter and fierce campaign that would not see the Anzac’s leave until nine months later. The campaign cost the New Zealand Expeditionary Force some 7,500 casualities of whom 2,721 were killed.
There are many stories of ordinary New Zealanders who embarked on an adventure here at Gallipoli that in many cases, cost them their lives. The incredible events of the Anzacs is a tale of harsh realities, courage, defeat, pride and spirit in war. One such story told by the National Army Museum is that of 3/168 Staff Sergeant William Henry, DCM, New Zealand Medical Corps.
Born in Timaru in 1887, William “Bill” Henry developed an early interest in the medical profession and spent three years as a volunteer with the St John Ambulance Service, learning first aid and nursing.
At the outbreak of war, whilst studying medicine in Auckland, he decided to join up and was posted to the Field Ambulance, New Zealand Medical Corps. After a month of training, he left New Zealand, arriving in Egypt on 6 December 1914.
In Cairo, he worked for a few months as a hospital nursing orderly before embarking for the Dardanelles aboard the Hospital Ship Gosla, on 12 April 1915.
On 25 April, under a cold grey sky, he landed on the beach of Anzac Cove with the first group of stretcher bearers as a member of No. 1 Field Ambulance. Throughout the campaign, both Bill Henry and his unit gave gallant service in moving the wounded to safety, often under heavy Turkish fire. His brave devotion to duty was recognised with the awarding of the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The citation read:
For conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the 25th April 1915 at Gaba Tepe (Dardanelles). During and subsequent to the landing, Private Henry attended on the wounded under a very heavy fire, allowing no danger to interfere with his duties. He invariably showed the greatest courage and presence of mind.
Recently it has come to light that Bill Henry may have been the original ‘Man with the Donkey’ as very early in the campaign, Bill organised two stray donkeys ‘souvenired’ on the beach, into an independent unit for evacuating wounded from the forward positions. Subsequently, other members of the Ambulance Unit used the donkeys for ‘equally gallant work’ but Bill Henry remained the ‘leading figure’ in this work. It is also been said that he named one of the donkey’s “Murphy” (not the Australian, Simpson) and that he, along with ‘Dickie’ Henderson, were the ‘models’ for Sapper Moore-Jones’ famous painting. The name “Murphy” was also given to Henry, as man and beast were often seen as one.
At the end of the war, Henry returned to New Zealand to resume his medical studies but the war had drained his health and he was advised to take up farming for the fresh air. He purchased a farm in the Te Kauwhata district, later retiring to Maraetai. He also joined the Red Cross and assisted the Home Guard during WWII. William James Henry died on 6 September 1950, aged 63 and is buried at Rangiriri.
Bill Henry’s medal group including DCM are on permanent display in the National Army Museum’s new Medal Repository.