The unsung stretcher bearers

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Stretcher bearers such as Henry Staley didn’t have much time for the likes of John Simpson Kirkpatrick, who had the benefit of carrying the Gallipoli wounded on the back of his donkey.

Staley and his mates had to lug heavy bodies up the steep, broken terrain by foot.

Staley sometimes spoke to his daughter, Lynette, about his horrible experiences in burying the dead at Gallipoli. He would pick up decomposing bodies and dug in graves in old trenches, using just the men’s dog tags for identification. For all that gruesome activity, Staley and the stretcher bearers never received the acclaim given to Simpson and his animal.

Staley was a 19-year-old labourer from Inglewood when he enlisted on August 20, 1914, alongside his older brother Robert Percival Staley and three cousins – Henry Theodore, Joseph Henry and John Leslie Stagg. They together joined the 7th Infantry Battalion and left Melbourne on October 19.

Staley suffered from pneumonia and spent many weeks in hospital. By late 1915, he was discharged for light duties in Egypt but went on to France.

He contracted venereal disease and after the war often joked to his children about them possibly having more brothers and sisters in France. Staley was a jovial, happy-go-lucky man according to his family who was known to have a somewhat crude sense of humour. In his late 40s, he gave up smoking and alcohol to win a 100 pound-bet among his mates.

Staley married twice, after the war and then 15 years later in 1947. The family of nine settled on a wheat and sheep farm in Rochester.

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Staley died in 1978 just before his 83rd birthday. His second wife died shortly afterwards. Staley had at least 27 grandchildren and many great grandchildren.

Originally written for the Herald Sun.


About Alana Mitchelson

Alana Mitchelson is a journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @AlanaMitchelson.

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