Victoria Cross : Private T J B Kenny, 2 Battalion, AIF

Unit 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion
Accession Number REL/13559.001
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Award
Physical description Bronze
Location Main Bld: Hall of Valour: Main Hall: Somme to Hindenburg Line
Maker Hancocks
Place made United Kingdom: England, Greater London, London
Date made c 1917
Conflict First World War, 1914-1918

Victoria Cross. Engraved reverse suspender and cross with recipient's details and date of action.

History / Summary

Thomas James Bede Kenny was born to Austin James and Mary Christina (nee Connolly) Kenny on 29 September 1896 at Paddington, Sydney. Educated at Christian Brothers College in Waverley, Kenny had barely begun instruction as a chemist assistant when he enlisted as private 4195, reinforcement to 2 Battalion on 23 August 1915.
Embarking with the 13th reinforcements on board HMAT 'Aeneas' on 20 December, Kenny was posted briefly to 54 Battalion before joining 2 Battalion in Egypt on 27 February 1916. After transferring to a training battalion he rejoined his unit at Rubempre, France on 11 August, just two weeks after the 2nd lost well over half its number in the battalion's first major action at Pozieres.
The battalion spent the remainder of 1916 on the Somme battlefields around Ypres and Flers till the Somme winter made movement difficult around Geudecourt and Becourt, reducing the fighting to artillery shelling, the occasional raid and fatigues.
By April 1917 with the weather improving the Germans had withdrawn to the Hindenburg line, leaving three heavily defended 'outpost' villages; Boursies, Demicourt and Hermies. The capture of Hermies, considered the most difficult task of the three, was given to 2 Battalion. Launched at 4.15 am on 9 April, the objective was achieved in little over an hour but at a high cost.
Kenny' s 15 platoon was ordered to skirt the village and take up a position that would enable them to engage any of the enemy that attempted to leave. The unit suffered numerous casualties reaching its position following by twenty minutes of intense fighting to stop fleeing Germans.
During a pause in fighting the platoon moved to a nearby chalkpit to consolidate its position. While digging in an enemy machine gun opened up on their position, badly wounding three and pinning the remainder to the ground. The situation was made worse by unsuspecting Australian units that had broken through the village and were about to come into the gun's field of fire.
Sensing the inevitable, Kenny rushed forward under heavy fire throwing bombs as he closed in on the strongpoint. Two of the bombs fell short but the third, thrown when Kenny was within yards of the gun pit, fell among the crew, killing or wounding the enemy soldiers. The episode is described in the battalion's unit history, 'Nulli Secundus', as 'one of the most stirring episodes of individual heroism in the history of the battalion.'
Many years later, Allan MacPhee, a sergeant in Kenny's platoon, recalled the incident. 'Give me covering fire, Mac!' said Kenny to MacPhee, as he stood and rushed the post. The vision of Kenny 'streaking across that ground against the early morning sky with the machine gun hammering at him' remained a lifelong memory to MacPhee.
By the time the village was captured, 2 Battalion had lost 186, killed or wounded. For his actions during the taking of Hermies, Kenny was awarded the Victoria Cross. The recommendation for the award reads:
'Pte Kenny displayed most conspicuous gallantry in our attack on HERMIES on April 9th 1917. His platoon was held up by an enemy strong point, with a machine gun, on a commanding position which inflicted heavy casualties and effectually prevented further progress. Pte Kenny wormed his way to a flank, then rose under heavy rifle and machine gun fire at close range and dashed alone towards the position. He killed one man in advance of the strong point who fired at him and strove to bar his way, then bombed the position, wounded and made prisoners the whole gun crew of five, killed an Officer that showed fight and seized the gun.
This action enabled the platoon to occupy the position which was the key to the locality and commanded the country for 1000 yds. in front.'
On the day of the action Kenny was promoted to lance corporal and soon afterward was evacuated to England suffering from trench feet. Rejoining his unit in May 1918, Kenny was wounded in action near the town of Mereton in June but remained on duty.
On 1 August he was promoted to corporal and later that same month joined nine other Victoria Cross recipients on HMAT 'Medic' returning to Australia to assist with recruitment at the invitation of Prime Minister W. H. Hughes. The war ended while he was in Australia and he was discharged from the AIF on 12 December.
Post war, he worked for a time with Clifford Young & Company, a foodstuffs manufacturer, and later joined the 'Sunday Times' newspaper before becoming a traveller for the Penfolds wine company. He married Kathleen Dorothy Buckley in Sydney on 29 September 1927.
Kenny maintained a keen interest in the welfare of returned soldiers and was a regular figure on Anzac Day, marching with his mate 'Snowy' Howell. During the 1940s, he lost two of his three children to rheumatic fever.
Kenny died at Concord Repatriation Hospital on 15 April 1953 and was buried at Botany Cemetery with full military honours. Popular to the end, thousands attended the service held at the Mary Immaculate Church in Waverley. The procession that trailed the gun carriage bearing his coffin to Botany Cemetery was over three kilometres long.