Courtesy of Elizabeth Whiteside
Corporal Alexander St Leger Henry
Pakenham & District War Memorial
Born: 28 September 1892 - Traralgon, Victoria
Enlisted: 31 August 1915 aged 23
Unit: Field Artillery Brigade 2, Reinforcement 11 (SERN: 5574)
Served: Egypt & Western Front
Died: 19 Jan 1966 - Kyabram, Victoria
Known to his family and friends as “Alex” or “Jim” (1), Alexander was the son of John and Levina Ellen (also “Lavinia”) Henry. The Henry family was one of the pioneering families of the district, with Alex’s grandparents having settled in the 1840s on a property called “The Meadows” on Cardinia Creek between Pakenham and Berwick. Alex’s father later settled in the Warragul District, where he was a prominent resident. He returned to Pakenham in the early 1890s, when he leased the famous IYU estate, one of the district’s original pastoral runs. The name “IYU” was said to be the “nearest approach to the pronunciation of the name given by the aborigines to the creek running through the estate” (3). Later John and some business partners purchased the estate, The Henrys acquired some 500 acres (including the IYU homestead), which they named “Doneraile” (4). There, Alex “spent his early life amongst cattle, sheep and horses” (5). Reflecting their Scottish heritage, the Henry family was staunchly Presbyterian and very active in the local “kirk”. As a boy, Alex also attended the Presbyterian Sunday School (6). The faith learned in home and kirk would remain strong in Alex all his life. He eventually followed in his father’s footsteps as a farmer and grazier (7). Alex was nearly 24 years old when he enlisted for the AIF on 31 August 1915. Interestingly, he was six feet tall (8), which made him relatively tall for those enlisting at the time.
Alex was initially assigned as a gunner to the 2nd Field Artillery Brigade 11th Reinforcement and embarked for Egypt in October 1915. By the time he arrived, the Anzacs were being withdrawn from Gallipoli, Alex’s stay in Egypt therefore was relatively short, although he managed to run into his good friend, Clair Whiteside from Officer. At the time, Alex was trying to transfer to the same battery as some other local lads who were also serving in Egypt (9). Alex proceeded to France in March 1916 with Anzac units reinforcing the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front. There, he was transferred to the No 9 Section, 1st Divisional Ammunition Column. In May 1916 Alex was also appointed to the rank of acting Bombardier. Later, in 1917 he was sent for training with the 21st Anzac Trench Mortar School (10). Naturally, Alex’s parents were concerned for his safety and well-being at he Front. In May 1916, Levina Henry wrote to the Minister of Defence seeking confirmation that Alex was alright. This was prompted by a cable she had received from Alex saying he was in London, when only recently he had sent her a card from Paris. Mrs Henry feared this could only mean that Alex was either sick or wounded. However, as Alex had neither been reported as wounded nor sick, the Defence Department could only conclude that the cable had been sent from Paris too, but routed to Australia via London (11). Mrs Henry’s fears though were realised in August 1917, when Alex was wounded by shrapnel from a high explosive (“H.E.”) shell in Belgium on 8 August 1917 and invalided to England. There, a piece of the metal shell was extracted from his foot which for a while left Alex with tenderness and pain when walking (12). In December 1917, Alex reverted to the rank of gunner at his own request. He rejoined his unit in January 1918. Before doing so, he managed to catch up again with Clair Whiteside, this time in London where they did some sightseeing, including visiting Westminster (13). Later, Alex and Clair met again in France, where they exchanged news about the death of a mutual friend, Mervyn Lecky of Officer (14).
After rejoining his unit, Alex was quickly appointed to acting bombardier again and did some time serving at an ammunitions dump. In April 1918, his rank of Bombardier was confirmed and he was later promoted up to temporary Corporal. At some point, Alex was gassed at the Front (15). Shortly after the Armistice in November 1918, he was given leave in England, rejoining his unit in France just before Christmas 1918. Alex was subsequently appointed as a temporary Sergeant, but reverted to the rank of temporary corporal when he left England for Australia in May 1919. After arriving back in Melbourne in early July 1919 (16), Alex received a “hearty welcome” when he arrived home with the Pakenham Gazette reporting: “His many friends will be pleased to know that he is looking well - in fact he says he never felt better” (17). Together with around 20 other returned soldiers, he was officially welcomed home to Pakenham in early October 1919 at a social evening attended by between 400 and 500 people. The returned soldiers were each presented with a gold medallion on behalf of the grateful community. In returning thanks for the soldiers present, Alex said they should “wear them on their watch chains so that they might point to them with pride when asked ‘What did you do in the great war, daddy’” (18). Alex’s service was also remembered on the Pakenham & District Soldiers’ Memorial dedicated in 1921.
After returning to Pakenham, Alex worked as a grocer (19). In 1923, he married Minnie Bunt of Beaconsfield Upper. Alex and Minnie later moved to the NSW Riverina, where they joined his brother Evan grazing on a property in the Moira District (20). By 1930, Alex was listed on the electoral roll as a grazier at Gidney’s Hut near Moira (21). There, he was active in community affairs, serving as the President of the Mathoura Presbyterian Church Committee and the local irrigation committee (22). In April 1942, Alex enlisted for service again at Echuca Victoria. He subsequently served as a Lieutenant (V363068) with the 21st Battalion Volunteer Defence Corps (23). Alex later moved to another property at Busby Park, Kyabram in northern Victoria (24). There, he also became actively involved in community affairs, including the Kyabram Agricultural Society, the Kyabram Golf Club, and the local Presbyterian Church, of which he was an elder. After Alex was widowed in 1958, he travelled extensively around Australia and overseas with his son Lex, but increasing ill health saw him move to a retirement village (25). Alex died in January 1966. After a large funeral in Kyabram, his funeral cortege travelled down to Berwick, “followed right through by many of his friends from the Riverina and the Goulburn Valley”. At Berwick Cemetery “many friends who had known him from his youth were awaiting to pay their last respects” (26).
The Henry family’s pioneering contribution to the district is remembered in the naming of Henry Rd Pakenham. In early 2017, a new state primary school which is located on the former IYU / Doneraile property was also named John Henry Primary School in honour of Alex’s father.
The assistance of Elizabeth Whiteside (daughter of Alex’s good friend Clair Whiteside) is gratefully acknowledged.
(1) (5) (15) (20) (25) & (26) PG 28/1/1966 p. 13
(2) Argus 15/5/1933, p. 8
(3) The Age 5/11/1928, p. 10
(4) Argus 15/5/1933 p. 8 & PG, 26/5/1961 p. 9
(6) South Bourke & Mornington Journal 4/7/1906 p. 3
(7) (8) (10) (11) (12) (16) NAA B2455 HENRY A ST L
(9) Whiteside 2002 p. 20
(13) Pakenham Gazette 22/2/1918 p. 2
(14) Whiteside op.cit p. 168
(17) Pakenham Gazette 4/7/1919 p. 2
(18) Pakenham Gazette 17/10/1919 p. 2
(19) Ancestry.com.au - Electoral Roll - Flinders - Pakenham Sub Division 1921 p.11
(20) Ancestry.com.au - Electoral Roll - Riverina - Moama Sub Division 1930 p. 17
(22) Riverine Herald 28/10/1944, p. 8.
(23) WWII Nominal Roll - www.ww2roll.gov.au
(24) Ancestry.com.au - Electoral Roll - Murray - Kyabram Sub Division 1949 p. 29