The Last Post Ceremony commemorating the service of (40052) Flight Lieutenant John Kennedy, No. 238 Squadron RAF, Second World War.

Place Europe: United Kingdom, England, Dorset
Accession Number AWM2016.2.259
Collection type Film
Object type Last Post film
Physical description 16:9
Maker Australian War Memorial
Place made Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, Campbell
Date made 15 September 2016
Access Open
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945
Copyright Item copyright: © Australian War Memorial
Creative Commons License This item is licensed under CC BY-NC
Copying Provisions Copy provided for personal non-commercial use

The Last Post Ceremony is presented in the Commemorative area of the Australian War Memorial each day. The ceremony commemorates more than 102,000 Australians who have given their lives in war and other operations and whose names are recorded on the Roll of Honour. At each ceremony the story behind one of the names on the Roll of Honour is told. Hosted by Richard Cruise, the story for this day was on (40052) Flight Lieutenant John Kennedy, No. 238 Squadron RAF, Second World War.

Speech transcript

40052 Flight Lieutenant John Kennedy, No. 238 Squadron RAF
KIA 13 July 1940
Photograph: P03655.001

Story delivered 15 September 2016

Today we remember and pay tribute to Flight Lieutenant John Kennedy, who was the first Australian pilot killed in the Battle of Britain during the Second World War.

John Connolly Kennedy was born in 1917, one of two children of John and Frances Kennedy of Dulwich Hill in Sydney. He attended St Charles’ School, becoming a champion gymnast and swimmer at Waverly College and playing in its First XV. He later studied accounting at night school, but soon realised that a desk job had little appeal for him and joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1936. Known as “Jack” during his time in the air force, he commenced a cadetship as a pilot at No. 1 Flying Training School at Point Cook in Victoria, and received his flight wings a month after his 20th birthday.

In 1937 Kennedy was accepted for a Short Service Commission in the Royal Air Force. After proceeding to England and completing an advanced training course, he was posted to No. 65 (Fighter) Squadron RAF in March 1939, flying the outdated Gloster Gladiator biplane before the squadron was re-equipped with the sleek and powerful Supermarine Spitfire.

By the time Britain went to war in September 1939, Kennedy was a skilled pilot in a British front-line fighter squadron. Over the following months pilots from No. 65 Squadron flew operations over France during what was known as “the Phoney War”, during which they made no contact with German aircraft. The squadron then conducted convoy patrols in the English Channel. Kennedy transferred to the RAF’s newly formed No. 238 Squadron in May 1940, flying Hawker Hurricane fighters and protecting southern England from German air attack.

Once France had fallen to German forces in 1940, Adolf Hitler issued instructions to prepare for a sea-borne landing on Britain. Air superiority was vital to launching a flotilla in the English Channel, and the battle-hardened pilots of the Luftwaffe began an aerial assault that ultimately became known as the Battle of Britain. Each day between July and October 1940 British and German aircraft clashed in the skies above England. British radar stations, airfields, and ports were repeatedly hit, while British aircraft were set upon by large sweeps of Messerschmitt fighters.

Kennedy carried out a number of sorties as a flight leader during the Battle of Britain, on one occasion attacking a Junkers Ju-88 heavy fighter over Winchester. During this exchange Kennedy’s Hurricane was damaged, but he managed to land safely back at the squadron’s airfield at Middle Wallop. He carried out a further 14 top-cover, interception, and convoy escort sorties over the next few weeks as British targets across southern England were bombed and strafed.

On the afternoon of 13 July 1940 Kennedy’s squadron intercepted two bombers over Portland Harbour preparing for a sweep of Messerschmitt fighters. Kennedy led his flight in an attack on the two bombers and opened fire at close range, killing the German gunner and damaging the enemy’s aircraft. However, Kennedy’s Hurricane began to lose height and crashed into high tension cables and burst into flames. Kennedy was killed in the collision.

Aged 23, he was buried at Warmwell (Holy Trinity) Churchyard. A small epitaph written by his grieving family appears on his headstone: “In memory of our dear son and brother … who gave his life in the Battle of Britain”.

Flight Lieutenant John Kennedy was the first of ten Australians killed during the Battle of Britain. He was among the airmen referred to by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in his powerful tribute to the men of RAF Fighter Command: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few”.

His name is also listed on the Roll of Honour on my left, among some 40,000 others from the Second World War. His photograph is displayed today beside the Pool of Reflection. Kennedy is standing third from the right.

This is just one of the many stories of service and sacrifice told here at the Australian War Memorial. We now remember Flight Lieutenant John Kennedy, who gave his life for us, for our freedoms, and in the hope of a better world.

Aaron Pegram
Historian, Military History Section