Trooper John Keighley Denny survived multiple gunshot wounds during an attack on the biblical city of Amman by Australia’s light horsemen in the Middle East in March, 1918.
Remembered as K Denny on Canungra’s memorial, he was born at Echuca in Victoria in June, 1893, and had been named after his uncle, bush balladeer Keighley John Goodchild, author of While The Billy Boils.
Keighley was a 21-year-old sawyer when he enlisted in the 5th Light Horse Regiment in Brisbane on June 19, 1915.
He embarked for the Middle East from Brisbane on the HMAT Hymettus on September 17 and on November 26 was taken on strength with the Company Light Horse Regiment at Heliopolis in Egypt.
He rejoined the 5th Light Horse Regiment at Maadi on January 18, 1916, following the return of the remainder of the regiment from Gallipoli after the evacuation of the peninsula a month earlier.
In February 1916, as part of the ANZAC Mounted Division, the 5th Light Horse Regiment helped to defend the Suez Canal from a Turkish advance across the Sinai Desert and carried out numerous long-range desert patrols.
Keighley was hospitalised with a hernia at Zagazig in Egypt from mid-April to late July 1916, and continued to be plagued by the condition throughout his service in the Middle East.
Discharged from hospital on July 27, Keighley rejoined the regiment which in August was involved in a number of skirmishes with the Turks as they retreated following their defeat at Romani.
The regiment moved into Palestine in late December 1916, and continued its patrols and raids during early 1917 before facing fierce opposition in its attempts to take the Turkish bastion of Gaza.
In July, Keighley was taken on strength of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment and attended a Hotchkiss machine gun course at Zeitoun in Egypt before rejoining the 5th Light Horse Regiment in Moascar on November 27.
Gaza had fallen three weeks earlier, marking the collapse of the Turkish position in Palestine and the 5th Light Horse Regiment was involved in the ensuing pursuit of the fleeing Turks. In the early part of 1918, the regiment was tasked with holding the west bank of the Jordan River.
It was during a raid at Amman that Keighley was wounded in action on March 28, suffering gunshots to his right shoulder, the side of his chest and his elbow and knee.
A month later he had recovered sufficiently to be admitted to a rest camp at Port Said. He then rejoined his regiment on May 23 – less than two months after being wounded in action.
While the raid at Amman in March had been considered a tactical failure, it was not so on September 25 when the town was finally taken. Four days later, just two squadrons from the regiment captured 4500 Turks who surrendered at Ziza.
Although hostilities between the British and the Turks of the Ottoman Empire had ended in October, 1918, and the war in Europe ended on November 11, there was still one last job for the light horsemen.
Deployed to quell the Egyptian Uprising in early March 1919, the 5th Light Horse Regiment was tasked with patrols to stop the murder of soldiers and civilians and the destruction of vital infrastructure including bridges, railways and telephone and telegraph lines.
On June 28, 1919, Trooper Denny was the among men who marched to the wharf at Kantara, took their kit bags from the pile and, after the embarkation roll was called, filed up the gangway of the Madras for the voyage home.
The ship arrived in Sydney on August 3 and on October 4 Keighley was discharged from the AIF.
He married Gladys Price in 1920, but the marriage did not last. Like so many young men who had fought in the Great War, Keighley was restless and struggled to find his place in the world.
According to an item in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail newspaper of March 12, 1938, Gladys applied to divorce Keighley 10 years after he had left home to find work and never returned.
Following his divorce, Keighley married Johanna Deveney in 1938. In May, 1942, as Australia faced the threat of Japanese invasion, Keighley re-enlisted in the Army at Wooloowin in Brisbane.
A Signalman, Keighley served until his discharge in June, 1943 and in the years after the war continued to work as a linesman.
After the death of Johanna in 1978, Keighley passed away on November 5, 1979, leaving no children from either marriage.
Keighley’s name is listed on Canungra’s war memorial with that of his half-brother, Roland Denny, who was awarded the Military Medal and Bar for his bravery in action on the Western Front.