Joseph Dempsey discharge papers

Postal clerk Joseph Edward Dempsey was one of the many returned servicemen who struggled to re-establish their civilian careers while continuing to suffer illness as a result of the war. Born in Onehunga in 1890, Dempsey joined the Post and Telegraph Department as a message boy in June 1906 at the age of 15. He was promoted to postman two years later, to clerical cadet in Hamilton in May 1913, and to clerk in Wellington in December 1914.

Dempsey enlisted for military service in July 1915 and was posted to the Army Service Corps (ASC) as a sergeant. He participated in the Senussi Campaign in Egypt in late 1915 before being despatched to the Western Front with the New Zealand Division in April 1916. He served with the ASC and the Field Ambulance until September 1917, when he was hospitalised with conjunctivitis, which soon developed into (or was reclassified as) oritis. He was also treated for jaundice in mid-1918, and his discharge from the NZEF on health grounds followed.

Dempsey returned home and resumed work at the Post and Telegraph Department in Wellington on 9 November 1918, just before the Armistice. He soon transferred to the Blenheim Post Office, where he worked hard to improve his qualifications by sitting competitive examinations. In August 1920 he married and started a family, but the work placed an ever-greater strain on his delicate health. On his doctor’s advice he resigned from the department in December 1922.

Dempsey soon discovered that working as a salesman was no easier, and after 18 months he had a ‘breakdown’ which resulted in a period of hospitalisation for psychiatric problems at Hanmer Springs. The family moved to Dunedin and then to Auckland in search of new opportunities, but Dempsey’s health remained fragile and he was in and out of hospital throughout the 1920s.

In October 1929, Dempsey gave evidence about his situation to the Ex-Soldiers Rehabilitation Commission in Dunedin. He was out of work and struggling to maintain his family of five on a weekly pension of £4. ‘I have given practically everything a trial’, he told the commission, ‘but feel that I have, or am, losing confidence in myself’. He believed the solution to his problem was a return to the Post and Telegraph Department, where he ‘could, after a few months work at my old position (P&T Dept.) hold down the position with the next officer.’ He had applied repeatedly for reinstatement but been rejected. [1]

Separated from his wife, Joseph Dempsey spent his final years working as a salesman in Auckland. He died there in September 1940 at the age of 50, succumbing to kidney problems and congestive heart failure. He was buried in the veterans’ section of Waikumete Cemetery.


[1] J.E. Dempsey’s evidence to the Ex-Soldiers Rehabilitation Commission, book 1, pp. 48-53, T65 1 1, Archives New Zealand Wellington

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