William James Dempsey

Information about birth

Date of birth:
Place of birth:
Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand

General information

Last known residence:
Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand
Roman Catholic

Army information

New Zealand
New Zealand Expeditionary Force
Service number:
Enlistment date:
Enlistment place:
Christchurch, Canterbury, New Zealand
 —  4th New Zealand Field Ambulance  (Last known unit)

Information about death

Date of death:
Place of death:
Northampton Farm, Geluveld, Belgium
Cause of death:
Died of wounds (D.O.W.)

Distinctions and medals 2

British War Medal
Medal — 07/10/1921
Victory Medal
Medal — 21/08/1922

Points of interest 4

#1 Place of birth
#2 Last known residence
#3 Enlistment place
#4 Place of death (approximate)

My story

William James Dempsey was born on 4 October 1898 in Christchurch, the son of James William and Edith Dempsey. He was working as a gardener when he enlisted on 18 October 1916. William was attached to the 22nd reinforcement battalion (4th Company). They left New Zealand on 16 February 1917 and sailed for Britain on the HMNZT Navua, where he was assigned to the 4th New Zealand Field Ambulance.

In November 1917, the ambulance unit had to support New Zealand troops stationed at Polygon Wood in Zonnebeke. Although the major Allied offensive in Flanders on the heights east of Ypres had already bled to death, the New Zealanders were sent on the attack again in early December 1917. The Germans controlled the higher Polderhoek chateau and looked straight into the lower New Zealand positions, which were often under precise fire. An attack on the castle was supposed to improve Allied positions here. The first shelling of the ruins of the castle and surrounding bunkers took place on 28 November 1917. The Germans answered this shelling with heavy artillery fire, which was mainly directed at the Butte and Cameron Covert.

William James Dempsey was killed on 28 November 1917. He had just turned 20. On 5 December 1917, a few days after the attack on Polderhoek that ended in failure for the New Zealanders, William was buried, according to his personal military record, "100 yards NW of Northampton Farm 28.J.16.c.8.8., by Reverend G.Robinson." The coordinates in William's file are remarkable. Northampton Farm was at coordinate 28.J.15.c.8.7. Either a wrong coordinate was noted or the burial unit had a different position from Northampton Farm in mind. Either way, after the war, William's body was not found or could not be identified. William is listed on the New Zealand Memorial to the Missing at Buttes New British Cemetery, Polygon Wood.

Sources 3

Carberry A.D., The New Zealand Medical Service in the Great War 1914-1918 (Uckfield, Naval&Military Press, s.d.) 358-522.
Sources used
New Zealand Defence Force Personnel Records (Archives New Zealand, Wellington (ANZ), R20996711).
Sources used
Stewart H., "The New Zealand Division 1916 - 1919" (London, Intype London Ltd, 1920) 306-307.
Sources used

More information 5