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Howard Kynaston Denham (1883–1972)

by J. B. Hopley

This article was published:

Howard Kynaston Denham (1883-1972), soldier and medical practitioner, was born on 14 February 1883 at Glebe Point, Sydney, son of Edward William Richard Denham, merchant, and his wife Julia Frances, née Knight, both from Somerset, England. He was a nephew of Digby Frank Denham.

Because of poor health, Denham was tutored privately before attending Ashfield Grammar School and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1903; LL.B., 1906). He was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1907 and practised in Phillip Street, Sydney. Family pressure had influenced him to study law, and as he was not happy as a barrister he returned to the university in 1911 to study medicine, his original choice of career.

Denham had joined the University Volunteer Rifle Corps in 1901 (renamed the Sydney University Scouts in 1903) and was commissioned second lieutenant in 1905. He gained the university's Diploma in Military Science in 1908, and in 1913 reached the rank of major. After graduating M.B., Ch.M., in 1915, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 5 August as a combatant officer, and was posted to the 30th Battalion as major and company commander. On 6 October he married Gertrude Rosina Silburn Jenkins at the Congregational Church, Pitt Street. A month later he embarked for Egypt where he served in the Suez Canal Zone. He was transferred to the 46th Battalion as second-in-command in March 1916 and saw further service in Egypt before the unit left for France in June.

Denham first saw action on the Western Front in July. He fought at Pozières in August and served in the Somme trenches during the following winter. In December he was appointed lieutenant-colonel and battalion commander, and in January 1917 was mentioned in dispatches. On 11 April his battalion led the 12th Brigade's attack at Bullecourt. The official historian recorded that Denham 'despite long experience and militia training and fine qualities of brain and character, was not apt in handling men' and that his orders for Bullecourt did not follow the final instructions from the higher staffs, apparently because of some ambiguity in directions given at brigade headquarters. The resulting confusion delayed the brigade's advance, although it seized part of the enemy's trenches until obliged to fall back. Nevertheless, in June Denham received the Distinguished Service Order 'for distinguished service in the field' and was again mentioned in dispatches. His own account of the events of 11 April was later published in Reveille (April, 1933). In June 1917 he took part in the battle of Messines; his last major action was at Passchendaele, in October.

Relinquishing his command in December because of sickness, by February 1918 Denham had recovered sufficiently to take command of the 12th Training Battalion in England but further illness caused his return to Australia in May. He was demobilized in December and returned to the Sydney University Scouts, commanding the unit until March 1921. He later received the Volunteer Officers' Decoration.

In 1919 Denham had entered private medical practice at Randwick, and in 1921 he moved to a practice at Coonabarabran. He joined the New South Wales Department of Public Health in 1924 as senior medical officer at Waterfall Sanitarium and became, in 1929, director of the tuberculosis division, and thereby a member of the Board of Control of the Campaign against Tuberculosis. In 1931 he also became medical superintendent at Newington State Hospital and Home for Women, filling both posts until his appointment in the tuberculosis division ended in 1934. In 1930-37 he was honorary chairman of examination committees, on the New South Wales Nurses' Registration Board. He left Newington in 1937 to join the New South Wales Workers' Compensation Commission as chief medical referee, and after retiring from full-time service in 1947 continued with the commission as a part-time medical referee until 1968.

Denham was a Freemason from 1911 to 1930 and for a time was worshipful master of Ionic Lodge, Sydney. He was rather reserved in his later years, his recreational interests reflecting his private nature: tapestry and woodcarving—originally taken up as therapy after his war service—and collecting coins, stamps, antique porcelain, clocks and furniture. He had a great love of domestic animals, read widely—particularly English history—and researched his family's genealogy.

Denham died at Cremorne on 21 October 1972 and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife and two daughters had predeceased him. His estate was sworn for probate at $102,463.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917 (Syd, 1933)
  • H. Sloan (ed), The Purple and Gold: A History of the 30th Battalion (Syd, 1938)
  • Book of Remembrance of the University of Sydney in the Great War, 1914-1918 (Syd, 1939)
  • A. B. Lilley, Sydney University Regiment (Canb, 1974)
  • London Gazette, 2 Jan, 1, 4 June 1917
  • Dept of Public Health, Records, (State Records New South Wales)
  • war diaries, 30th, and 46th battalions, AIF (Australian War Memorial)
  • University of Sydney Archives
  • private information.

Citation details

J. B. Hopley, 'Denham, Howard Kynaston (1883–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


14 February, 1883
Glebe, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


21 October, 1972 (aged 89)
Cremorne, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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