The story, as we first hear it, starts at six o’clock on Tuesday, 16 January 1917 when Andrew Healey, a discharged soldier, walks into the Port Melbourne Police Station and said “I have taken poison because I am friendless and out of work“.
He then handed a small box containing a white powder labelled ‘Poison’ to the attending officers Sergeant A J Sims and Senior-constable J A Finlayson.
The officers immediately administered two emetics – one of warm water and salt and another of hot water and mustard. These took effect and before long Healey was feeling better.
Healey explained he was born in Manchester, England and had come to Australia two years prior on the RMS Marathon. He had enlisted in the AIF but was discharged when he was injured in camp.
He was taken to the Melbourne Hospital and put under the care of Dr Park for further treatment.
The following week, Healey was due to appear in the local court before Mr T Testro JP but Sergeant Sims reported that Healey was in the gaol hospital and had not regained good health yet. A remand of one week was granted.
In the meantime, the Standard reported that the State War Council had previously helped Healey. David Barry, secretary of the Council, stated that their records showed that a man named Andrew Healy had enlisted on 2 February 1916 and was discharged at Ascot Vale on 14 September 1916. He had met with an accident while at camp which led to his discharge.
On 31 October 1916, Healey applied to the War Council for £2 which was paid to him immediately. On 16 November, Barry received information that Healey was to appear in the Prahran Court on a charge of attempted suicide. In circumstances similar to those in Port Melbourne the following January, it was said Healey had taken poison and was very despondent due to his financial difficulties. Barry sent Constable T H Clements of the War Council to the court where the case against Healey was dismissed and he was given in the care of Constable Clements. Healey was taken to the War Council where Barry gave him an order for clothes and boots and also gave him £2 in cash. Further to this, the Council found work for Healey in the country and he accepted the position.
Barry went on the say he received a letter from Healey on 24 November stating that he was in Lara and doing well. He said that he had been offered 213 acres of land for £650 and wished the Council to advance him the money. Healey was informed the following day that it was not possible for the repatriation trustees to make grants to purchase land and he should apply to the Secretary of the Lands Department who was making arrangements for settling soldiers on the land.
The interesting thing is, we cannot find an Andrew Healey who enlisted in the AIF in February 1916.
There is an Andrew Healey who was born in England and enlisted in May 1915. He suffered an epileptic fit and indicated it was an affliction he had had since childhood and was subsequently discharged on 14 September 1915. The attestation papers contain little information other than his next of kin – Mrs Rose Healey (wife), Gladstone Road, Ipswich, England.
In court, in early 1917, Healey pleaded not guilty to the charge of attempted suicide. The court heard that Healey had recently received help from the Returned Soldiers’ Association, had been cared for by the Salvation Army and was given employment. This is probably the assistance described by David Barry from the State War Council.
In his statement, Healey said he had been worried because he had not received acknowledgement of his letters from his wife, who was in England. He was found guilty and remanded for sentencing.
On 23 February 1917 in the Criminal Court, Andrew Healey was discharged. Justice a’Beckett said ‘It is no use seeing in gaol for a long time a man who wants to kill himself‘.
Here, the story takes an interesting twist.
On 5 June 1917, Gordon Ross enlisted at St Kilda. The papers state he was born in Ipswich and his next of kin was his father Gordon Andrew Ross of 15 Gladstone Road, Ipswich. His papers show a large number of changes including the additional of his wife, Ethel at three different addresses as next of kin and most importantly his name is altered to Andrew Gordon Healey.
Further reading of his file indicates Ross assumed his true name of Andrew Gordon Healey by sworn declaration on 6 May 1918. He was granted leave without pay in London for family reasons between 22 May 1918 and 22 September 1918. This was then extended until 21 March 1919 but by this time Healey had been discharged.
By January 1918, his epilepsy had been discovered. The Medical officer had been waiting for some time to catch him having a fit so he could be assessed and when there was sufficient evidence Healey was declared permanently unfit for service. Why he wasn’t immediately discharged is unclear but as we saw above, he confessed to his true name and went on leave. It wasn’t until 21 February 1919 that he was formally discharged being medically unfit. His address was given as 23 Hillhouse Road, Ipswich, England.
To close the loop somewhat, the war service file from Healey’s original enlistment in 1915 holds correspondence between the Salvation Army and the Military Authorities.
On 14 November 1917, Colonel D T Hoskin of the Salvation Army Men’s Social Department wrote to the Officer in Charge of Base Records, Melbourne on behalf of Healey’s wife seeking his regimental number, unit, etc. The response indicated that a soldier matching the information provided had been discharge medically unfit on 14 September 1915 and his present whereabouts were unknown.
From the fragments of these newspaper reports and war service files we can piece together a reasonable story.
Andrew Healey was born in Manchester, England. In his early 20s, married to Rose, he worked as a seaman and found his way to Australia on the RMS Marathon. For reasons unknown, perhaps the intervention of the war, he stayed in Victoria while his wife remained in Ipswich, England.
In 1915 he enlisted for the AIF but was discharged medically unfit due to epilepsy. Despondent he sought and received support from the State War Council and the Salvation Army but on two occasions claimed to have attempted to commit suicide by poisoning himself but in each case was discharged.
In 1917 he enlisted under an assumed name, Gordon Ross, and successfully hid his epilepsy through training and embarkation to the front on 4 August 1917 onboard the HMAT Themistocles.
In late 1917, his wife Rose wrote to the Salvation Army in Melbourne looking for details regarding the whereabouts of her husband. The response was that his whereabouts were unknown.
Healey couldn’t hide his epilepsy or his true identity forever and when his illness was discovered it appears he confessed it true name and arranged leave without pay for family reasons, presumably to return to Rose in Ipswich. His leave was extended for a further six months and near the end of that second period of leave in February 1919, Healey was discharged medically unfit for service.
We wonder what happed to Andrew and Rose. Perhaps Andrew, reunited with his wife, was able to dispelled any demons he felt and was able to live with his epilepsy. We certainly hope so.
1917 ‘MAN TAKES POISON.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 20 January, p. 2. , viewed 16 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88370046
1917 ‘CHARGE OF ATTEMPTING SUICIDE.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 27 January, p. 2. , viewed 16 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88366126
1917 ‘WAR COUNCIL HELPED HEALEY.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 27 January, p. 2. , viewed 16 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88366124
1914-1920 ‘NAA: B2455, Healey A N/A’, National Archives of Australia, viewed 16 Aug 2019, https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=4749413
1917 ‘ELECTRIC SPARKS’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 24 February, p. 3. , viewed 16 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88366839
1917 ‘SUICIDE ATTEMPTED’, The Herald (Melbourne, Vic. : 1861 – 1954), 23 February, p. 6. , viewed 16 Aug 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article242453704
1914-1920 ‘NAA: B2455, Healey A G 7553’, National Archives of Australia, viewed 16 Aug 2019, https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/ViewImage.aspx?B=4749414