War hero is remembered

Pte Austin Heyes
Pte Austin Heyes

A First World War hero is to get a headstone on his final resting place - 99 years to the day since he died.

At noon on Friday, a moving ceremony will take place at the hitherto unmarked grave of Pte Austin Heyes in the grounds of Standish St Marie’s RC Church.

And the amateur historian who discovered the 26-year-old had not been properly commemorated has appealed for any surviving family to come forward to attend - and he is also looking for a bugler to take part.

Pte Heyes was born in Standish and indeed features on the village’s and St Marie’s war memorials. But the Rev David Long, researching the contribution of Standish soldiers in the Great War, could find no acknowledgment of him with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The former Ince St Mary’s CE minister’s detective work took him to back issues of our sister paper the Wigan Observer where he found that Pte Heyes joined the Australian Infantry Brigade after emigrating with an aunt and uncle, Mary and John Dunderdale, in 1912. He had lived on Preston Road, Standish.

Rev Long’s efforts, covering Heyes’s service at Gallipoli, eventual wounding on the Somme and death at a Salford military hospital, have resulted in Friday’s dedication ceremony. Lt Col Brendan Hogan, of the Australian High Commission, will travel up from London for the service conducted by Fr Michael Hindley.

Rev Long said: “At the start of my researches I could find no entry for Pte Heyes on the CWGC site. However I found a report from the Wigan Observer of August 5 1916. This recorded his wounding and his local family connections, as well as that he was in the Australian Infantry Brigade.”

This information was followed by the discovery Pte Heyes had signed up at Helena Vale, Western Austrialia, in November 1914.

While he survived the Gallipoli landings, he suffered serious shrapnel wounds on July 21, 1916. He was invalided back home but died two years to the day of his wounds.

Rev Long also discovered that Heyes’s father was Thomas Valentine, his stepfather was William Cooper and a cousin, William Halsall, of the Royal Artillery, died on the Somme. Another relative, Robert Halsall, lived in Collingwood Street.

One of the reasons why he was never afforded a military grave may be that news of his death never reached the Australian military. But he now appears on Australia’s Debt of Honour website, after a death certificate was forwarded.

Surviving family and any bugler willing to take part in the ceremony can ring Rev Long on 01257 400720.