Michael Henry DOWNEY DSO MiD***

DOWNEY, Michael Henry

Service Number: Officer
Enlisted: 10 February 1916
Last Rank: Colonel
Last Unit: 11th Field Ambulance
Born: Toolleen,Victoria, 20 October 1877
Home Town: Adelaide, South Australia
Schooling: Echuca Grammar School, University of Melbourne
Occupation: Medical Practioner
Died: Heart Attack, North Adelaide, 17 April 1933, aged 55 years
Cemetery: West Terrace Cemetery (AIF Section)
Memorials: Adelaide Treasurer and Chief Secretary Roll of Honour, Adelaide University of Adelaide WW1 Honour Roll
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World War 1 Service

10 Feb 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Lieutenant Colonel, Officer, 11th Field Ambulance
31 May 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Lieutenant Colonel, 11th Field Ambulance, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '23' embarkation_place: Adelaide embarkation_ship: HMAT Suevic embarkation_ship_number: A29 public_note: ''
31 May 1916: Embarked Officer, 11th Field Ambulance, HMAT Suevic, Adelaide
26 Apr 1918: Promoted AIF WW1, Colonel, 11th Field Ambulance

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Biography contributed by Sharyn Roberts

Excerpt from Blood Sweat and Fears: Medical Practitioners and Medical Students of South Australian who Served in World War 1. Courtesy of the Authors

Michael Henry Downey was born on 20th October 1877 in Toolleen, Victoria.  He was the son of farmer William Downey and his wife Ann, nee Lynch. He went to Echuca Grammar School and later began medicine at the University of Melbourne in 1896.  During his school years he joined the Victorian Rangers, which was a citizen military organisation.  He joined the University Officers Corps at the University of Melbourne in 1898. Before completion of his MB BS he moved to the University of Edinburgh where he completed his LRCP, LRCS in 1901.  He served in the Boer War in 1902 at Cape Colony and at the western Transvaal as surgeon to the RAMC.  Downey then returned to the University of Melbourne and completed his MB BS in 1904. He showed an interest in mental diseases and studied with Sir Thomas Clouston whilst in Edinburgh. He continued this interest in Melbourne with William Beatie, and on the 15th June 1905, was appointed assistant resident medical officer at Parkside Mental Asylum in Adelaide, South Australia. He lectured in psychiatry at the University of Adelaide in 1912, and in 1914, on the retirement of Dr C L Cleland, he became the Superintendent of the Parkside Mental Asylum. Downey continued his military service in the Reserve in South Australia and, in 1909, was commissioned as a captain in the AAMC.  He was promoted to major in 1912 and lieutenant colonel in 1915. 

Downey joined the AIF on the 10th February 1916 and posted in command of the 11 FdAmb. After initial training in England 11 FdAmb was sent to France in November 1916 to take over the rest station at Steenwerck.  Downey was admitted to hospital with bronchitis on 10th February 1917 and returned to duty later that month. During the battle of Messines on 7th June 1917 he was awarded the DSO for his ability as a leader for the evacuation of the 3000 wounded from the Advance Dressing Station at Kandahar Farm. He was posted as ADMS to the 5th Division as temporary Colonel in October 1917, and confirmed as Colonel on 26th April 1918. He was Mentioned in Despatches three times including a special mention in General Haig’s despatches for distinguished and gallant services and devotion to duty in the field on the 8 November 1918. He returned to Australia in June 1919. Downey was issued with the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and Victory Medal with Oak Leaves.

Downey continued his career in the Reserve and commanded the 6th Cavalry Field ambulance from 1920 until he retired from the Army in 1926. After the war he went back to his work at Parkside Mental Hospital and continued to give lectures and examinations in psychiatry at the University of Adelaide.  It was said that he had an ‘orderly brain’, was slow to make decisions but once made never altered his mind and was rarely wrong.  Michael Henry Downey died at the early age of 56 years from a heart attack at Calvary Hospital North Adelaide on 17 April 1933.  There are two buildings at Glenside Hospital named in his honour; Downey House and Downey Grove. He was survived by his wife Eva Agnes, nee O’Brien and their son Don.