Henry Owen Daikee – #24145, 1st Bn., Canterbury Regiment

Posted on August 10th, 2017

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They also lost it at Passchendaele – By Michael Thoms

I recount here in short form the sad story of my Great Uncle, a young man from Picton, 20-year-old Henry Owen Daikee who volunteered in early 1916 with the NZEF 12th reinforcements, service # 24145

He was attested 6th February 1916 at Blenheim, sent to Trentham for training, sailed from Wellington 31st May and marched into Sling Camp, 28th July where he was then posted to 1st Canterbury Reserve Battalion.

Henry spent 14 months on active service in France and Belgium starting at Cordonerie in early 1917 with the 1ST Canterbury Battalion. During this 14-month period his unit suffered horrendous casualties, 442 killed and died of wounds, 1328 wounded and a further 19 missing.

On a daily basis 3 men became casualties of sorts, most were at Messines and Passchendaele. At full strength, the 1st Canterbury was only 1000 strong, over this 14-month period total casualties were just under 2000, statistically speaking this means the 1st Canterbury was decimated almost twice over.

I won’t go into the physical conditions under which life was endured at the front, I recommend you refer to the volume of information now available on this subject on the internet. Suffice to say that Henry was not reported injured or sick over this period of his time at the front.

Perhaps the fact that he had escaped injury for so long combined with the high causality rate occurring around him played on his mind. Or maybe it was the shear horror of the war around him that took control. Whatever the reason, he started going downhill after his stint at Passchendaele in October 1917.

On October 19th 1917, he was court martialled for desertion and sentenced to death, this sentence was quashed and he continued to serve with his unit.

Henry from this point forward lost all control and went absent in February, March and May 1918. This on the surface may indicate that he was incorrigible but, please don’t be too hasty in your judgement.

Passchendaele – here the New Zealand Division set itself against the well defended slopes leading up to the Passchendaele Ridge. October 1917 saw involvement in two significant battles starting on October 4th (Broodseinde) and October 12th 1917, (Belle Vue Spur) respectively where the Kiwis had to battle in the rain soaked quagmire against well defended German positions.

In the second battle, the New Zealand Division was almost destroyed and morale plummeted to an all-time low. In retrospect, we cannot even begin to understand the state of minds of the men that had seen their mates blown apart, gassed and killed on the barbed wire, they were a small tight knit group from a small country, this event must have affected every man.

Once broken at Passchendaele, Henry could no longer face the strain of war, the intense physical and mental pressure had overcome the young man from Picton. Today we would recognise the symptoms as severe combat fatigue and stress, but this was 100 years ago and the army of the day had the mindset that they had to maintain discipline.

The military discipline system was still learning about mental health in WW1, terms such as shell shock, concussion, fatigue, fear and stress were usually seen as being excuses for desertion.

For Henry, his desertions were symptomatic of his mental state, a result of his prolonged frontline service. To the military he had no good reason for his actions and he was sentenced to death at Passchendaele, it is noted prior to Passchendaele his service record was clean.

In June 1918, he was back in front of a court martial for a string of desertions and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with hard labour. I will not go into the treatment of these men as punishment, suffice to say it was extremely harsh. He was released from jail in June 1919, even then he was unable to help himself and failed to turn up to board the ship for his transport back to New Zealand.

Henry Owen Daikee eventually arrived back in Picton, but found life untenable in the small community of Blenheim/Picton. By this stage he was unable to look after himself and as he was not eligible for any returned soldier Government support, he was admitted to the mental hospital in Nelson where he spent the rest of his life till he died in 1957. I have visited his grave at the Returned Soldiers section and thought awhile as I have done so many times since, what might have been?

Regrettably I never had the chance to meet Henry Owen Daikee, we lived in Nelson when I was much younger while he was still alive and I never knew his story until I grew older. I was told by an Aunt that he was considered a real gentle person who enjoyed the simple pleasure of tending the gardens at the hospital.

As was often the case in a small town such as Blenheim, the fact that he was found guilty of desertion caused tensions that echoed around the family even into later years. In the year 2000 the New Zealand Government, by an act of Parliament, issued a posthumous pardon to those 5 Kiwi WW1 Soldiers who were shot for their alleged crimes. The remaining 23 soldiers who were also found guilty but were not shot, of whom Henry Owen Daikee is one, have not been pardoned.

It is of interest that Australia did not execute a soldier in WW1, the events from the Boer war was still well established in the public psyche and this was to their credit. I believe it is time that New Zealand acknowledged that these 23 men also ‘did their bit’ for King & Country and through no fault of their own, went over the edge into an abyss from which many could not climb out.

They also paid the ultimate price.

Michael Thoms

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