James Dalton Dinneen was one of 19 Collegians who died in 1916 during the pivotal Battle of the Somme. Many more Collegians were wounded in this Allied offensive, which killed more than 2100 New Zealanders and injured some 6000. The nearly five-month battle killed or injured up to 1.2 million from both sides of the conflict.1
Born in 1883, James Dinneen was the fourth of six children of Michael and Mary Dinneen (nee Given). Michael Dinneen fought in Taranaki and the Waikato during the New Zealand wars in the 1860s. The family lived at Kihikihi from the late 1880s and farmed at Ohaupo, Waikato, before moving to Remuera.2
Dinneen studied at Auckland Grammar School and earned a junior scholarship to university. Attending both Auckland University College (AUC) and the affiliated St John’s [theological] College from 1902-1904, Dinneen scored first class passes in most university subjects and won premiums for Latin and English.3 A member of the AUC Students’ Association Executive in 1903, Dinneen also played football for the St John’s-turned University team.4 He graduated BA in 1905 and was AUC’s nominee that year for a Rhodes Scholarship.5 Elder sister Alice studied at AUC, graduating BA in 1901, while younger brother Richard also briefly attended.6
From 1907 until he left the country, Dinneen taught at Auckland Grammar School and for a time commanded the school’s military Cadet Corps.7
The 31-year-old left New Zealand in February 1915 to volunteer for the Royal Flying Corps in England. He secured a commission and undertook pilot training but was thwarted by an eyesight problem which stopped him 'making efficient landings.'8
Instead, Dinneen undertook further officer training at London’s Inns of Court and was welcomed into the NZ Expeditionary Force in Egypt in February 1916. He was promoted Captain a month later with 16th (Waikato) Company, 1st Auckland Battalion, Auckland Regiment.9
The New Zealanders joined the fighting on the Western Front in mid-1916 in the French Armentières sector, where Dinneen earned praise for his efforts in the trenches.10
‘I miss him not only as an officer but as an old personal friend, and, though I was responsible for his joining the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, I do not regret it, and I don’t think that he would.'
The New Zealand Division joined the first Battle of the Somme in northern France in early September 1916 during the third big push of the offensive which aimed to break the German lines.
The Auckland Regiment went into action near Flers on 15 September. On 27 September, 1st Auckland Battalion, including Dinneen’s 16th (Waikato) Company, took part in the Battle of Morval. In their attack on the Gird trenches, the Aucklanders faced mud, uncut barbed wire and barrages of artillery, poison-gas shells and machine gun fire. They achieved their target but at the cost of many lives. The 16th sustained particularly heavy losses, including Captain James Dinneen, who was `mortally wounded’ leading his men across no-man’s-land.11
Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Plugge, commander of 1st Auckland, wrote to Dinneen’s mother after his death: ‘…he was twice wounded in the arm by machine-gun fire, he went on, but a shell burst close to him, fracturing his thigh, and a fragment striking him in the chest. We were not able to get him in until September 28. Three men were hit in attempting it, but one of his men got out to the shell-hole with food and drink, and covered him up.’12 Dinneen was eventually collected by stretcher-bearers and taken to the Royal Army Medical Corps’ 63rd Field Ambulance and then 36th Casualty Clearing Station, where he died on 1 October 1916.13
Dinneen was mentioned in despatches for ‘gallantry and devotion to duty. He led his company brilliantly in the attack on Grid [sic] Trench…’ He is buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-l'Abbe, Somme.14
The other 18 Collegians who died during the offensive served with the following units: Auckland Regiment (7), Otago Regiment (2), Wellington Regiment (1), Canterbury Regiment (1), NZ Rifle Brigade (4), NZ Field Artillery (2) and the Machine Gun Corps (1). Seven of the men were killed in action or from wounds received on 15 September 1916, the first day of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.15
Jo Birks, Special Collections
- A.U.C. roll of honour. MSS & Archives E-2, Special Collections, University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services; `New Zealand's Somme experience’, accessed via www.nzhistory.net.nz.
- Births, deaths and marriages online, Department of Internal Affairs; Waikato Argus, 30 May 1913, p.2, accessed via Papers Past; The Cyclopedia of New Zealand : Auckland Provincial District , Christchurch, 1902, p.735.
- Calendar, Auckland University College, University of New Zealand, Auckland, 1903, pp.69-70, 76; 1904, pp.73-75, 79; 1905, pp.75,79-80; Allan Davidson & St. John the Evangelist College, Selwyn's legacy : The College of St John the Evangelist, Te Waimate and Auckland, 1843-1992 : A history, Auckland, N.Z., 1993, p.335.
- Marte Nostro, the A.U.C. Chronicle, July, 1903, 1, 1, np, p.38.
- Calendar, Auckland University College, University of New Zealand, Auckland, 1906, p.76; Church Gazette, Auckland, 1 March 1905, p.45, accessed via Church Papers Online.
- Calendar, Auckland University College, University of New Zealand, Auckland, 1903, pp.59, 70.
- Kenneth Trembath & Wynne Colgan, Ad Augusta a centennial history of Auckland Grammar School, 1869-1969, Auckland, 1969, pp.147, 152.
- `Dinneen, James Dalton – WW1 66239 – Army', R7879858, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
- Ormond Burton, The Auckland Regiment, Auckland, 1922, p.115.
- `New Zealand's Somme experience’; Peter Cooke, John Gray, Ken Stead, Auckland Infantry, Auckland, 2010, pp.143-147; Burton, 1922, pp.114-115.
- Chronicles of the N.Z.E.F., II, 15, 28 March 1917, p. 65, accessed via Adam Matthew Digital.
- `Dinneen, James Dalton - WW1 66239 – Army’, R20997409, Archives New Zealand, Wellington.
- `James Dalton Dinneen’, accessed via Auckland War Memorial Museum Online Cenotaph; `Dinneen, James Dalton – WW1 66239 – Army', R7879858.
- Collegians who were killed in action or died from wounds received at the Somme were: Cedric G. Adams, William M. Alexander, Colvin S. Algie, Geoffrey C.W. Armstrong, Leslie R. Bremner, Alexander C. Cardno, Albert M. Cranwell, James D. Dinneen, Samuel [Stanley] O. Esam, Joseph F. K. Hunter, Donald L. Jack, John D. Macleod, Henry S. McLean, Alfred J. Powley, George B. Sheridan, George M. Stewart, Bertram Wallace, Frank R. Wilson and Harold J. Worsley. A.U.C. roll of honour.