Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kenny, Thomas James Bede (1896–1953)

by Matthew Higgins

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Thomas James Bede Kenny (1896-1953), by unknown photographer, c1917

Thomas James Bede Kenny (1896-1953), by unknown photographer, c1917

Australian War Memorial, P02939.017

Thomas James Bede Kenny (1896-1953), soldier and salesman, was born on 29 September 1896 at Paddington, Sydney, son of Austin James Kenny, butcher, from Auckland, New Zealand, and his wife Mary Christina, née Connolly, of New South Wales. Bede Kenny was educated at the Christian Brothers' College, Waverley. He began to train as a chemist's assistant at Bondi but after three months he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 23 August 1915 — a fortnight after the major Australian actions at Lone Pine and The Nek, Gallipoli. On 20 December he embarked with the 13th Reinforcements, 2nd Battalion, and, after arriving in Egypt, served with the 54th Battalion before joining the 2nd on 27 February 1916. In March he went to France and in the second phase of the battle of Pozières fought in the battalion bombing platoon.

In spring 1917, as British and Australian forces captured the 'outpost villages' of the Hindenburg line, Kenny won the Victoria Cross. In the attack on Hermies, mounted by the 2nd and 3rd battalions on 9 April, his platoon came under heavy fire from a machine-gun post which caused severe casualties. Kenny, single-handed, rushed the enemy, hurling three bombs, the last of which knocked out the post. He then made prisoners of the surviving Germans and his action contributed significantly to the success of the operation.

Kenny was immediately promoted lance corporal and soon afterwards was evacuated to England with trench feet. He rejoined the battalion at Hazebrouck and on 26 June 1918 was wounded during fighting in the Merris sector. Though he described his injuries as 'nothing to write home about' he was invalided to Australia in August, having become a corporal that month. He arrived in Sydney on 9 October to a tumultuous welcome. He rejected an offer to join the military police, whom he disliked intensely, and was discharged on 12 December.

Returning to civilian life, Kenny first worked for Clifford Love & Co., manufacturers, importers and merchants, as their northern New South Wales traveller. He then joined the Sunday Times newspaper in Sydney, and shortly after became a traveller for Penfolds Wines Ltd. He married Kathleen Dorothy Buckley, a florist, at St Mary's Cathedral, on 29 September 1927; they had three children and their home is remembered as a happy one. Kenny repeatedly suffered the effects of trench feet; the war had also made him partially deaf. He never recovered from the deaths of his elder daughter in 1943 and his only son in 1948 (both from rheumatic fever). Survived by his wife and one daughter, he died in Concord Repatriation Hospital, Sydney, on 15 April 1953 and was buried in Botany cemetery. It was a bitter irony that the pall bearers at his funeral were military policemen.

Kenny was a staunch Catholic, a vital man of immense character and physical stature. He had no shortage of friends and was often involved in good-natured pranks. Though he never talked openly of his wartime experiences, he always led the V.C. winners in the Sydney Anzac Day march. In 1957 the Bede Kenny Memorial Ward was opened at Wentworth Private Hospital, Randwick, to provide beds for ex-servicemen ineligible for repatriation hospital treatment.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1917-18 (Syd, 1933, 1937, 1942)
  • F. W. Taylor and T. A. Cusack, Nulli Secundus: A History of the Second Battalion, A.I.F., 1914-19 (Syd, 1942)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • Reveille (Sydney), Oct 1930
  • Sydney Mail, 20 June 1917, 23 Oct 1918
  • Bulletin (Sydney), 22 Apr 1953
  • A.I.F. nominal roll (Australian War Memorial)
  • war diary, 2nd Battalion (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Matthew Higgins, 'Kenny, Thomas James Bede (1896–1953)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kenny-thomas-james-bede-6935/text12033, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 22 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Thomas James Bede Kenny (1896-1953), by unknown photographer, c1917

Thomas James Bede Kenny (1896-1953), by unknown photographer, c1917

Australian War Memorial, P02939.017