Stretcher-bearer ‘Dick’ Henderson with his donkey and a casualty at Gallipoli. Stretcher-bearers worked in 12-hour shifts during which they would make six or more exhausting trips from the front to the relative safety of the beach, where the medical facilities were.
A mild-mannered school teacher from Auckland, Private Richard ‘Dick’ Alexander Henderson, was with the New Zealand Field Ambulance when in late May “a donkey came into my hands”, he said after the war. He soon put it to work helping collect the wounded.
Henderson took wounded men by donkey several times a day from Walker's Ridge to the dressing station at Anzac Cove. “I also used the donkey the night our mounted troops were relieved from No.2 outpost, after being cut off for twenty-four hours.” His solitary work took him “through the hottest shrapnel, through the aimed bullets of snipers, and the unarmed bullets that came over the ridges”.
After Gallipoli Dick Henderson went on to serve on the Western Front. In 1916 he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery during the Battle of the Somme: “he went out repeatedly under heavy shell fire and brought in wounded who were exposed to it. He set a fine example to the other bearers.” The following year during the Battle of Passchendaele Henderson was gassed. He was then invalided home and discharged from the NZEF, aged 24.
In the picture above Henderson was mistaken for the Australian stretcher bearer, Private John Simpson Kirkpatrick by the media, who also used a donkey. Unfortunately this wasn't cleared up until later and he didn't publicly get the full recognition he deserved until late in life.
Henderson continued his military career after the war and in December 1919 he was commissioned in the Territorial Force as a 2nd lieutenant. He served until January 1925 when he transferred to the Reserve of Officers.
Sadly in 1934 Henderson lost his sight from the effects of the mustard gas. A few years later the mistake of the photo was cleared up and his name finally associated with the legend of the man with the donkey.
Dick passed away in 1958.
Brothers Private Richard (Dick) Alexander Henderson (right) and his elder brother, Rifleman William John Henderson(seated). The photo was most likely taken when the brothers were in France.