b. 29/09/1896 Paddington, NSW.. d. 15/04/1953 Concord, New South Wales, Australia.
Thomas James Bede Kenny (1896-1953), known as Bede, was born at Paddington, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on 29th September 1896. His father, Austin James Kenny, was a butcher from Auckland, New Zealand, and his mother was Mary Christina nee Connolly, whose father was Irish. Bede had two siblings, a younger brother Edward and a sister Berenice. Bede was educated at Waverley College run by the Christian Brothers’ at Waverley, New South Wales, and became a pharmaceutical student.
On 14th September 1915, Bede enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Warwick Farm, Sydney, New South Wales and was posted to Liverpool, New South Wales. He embarked on HMAT A60 Aeneas at Sydney with the 13th Reinforcement Group on 20th December 1915 and arrived at Alexandria in January 1916. He moved to Tel el Kebir before joining 54th Battalion at Zeitoun on 16th February and transferring to 2nd Battalion on 27th February. He joined 2nd Battalion in the bombing platoon on 11th August and was involved in the fighting at Pozieres on the Somme.
On 9th April 1917 at Hermies, France, when his platoon was held up by an enemy strongpoint, and severe casualties prevented progress. Private Kenny, under very heavy fire at close range, dashed alone towards the enemy’s position, killed one man in advance of the strongpoint who endeavoured to bar his way. He then bombed the position, captured the gun crew, all of whom he had wounded, killed an officer who showed fight, and seized the gun. Private Kenny’s gallant action enabled this platoon to occupy the position, which was of great local importance.
He was promoted Lance Corporal the same day. His dark complexion and cheery disposition caused him to be compared to “Chunder Loo” who featured in boot polish advertisements of the time. The nickname stuck and many members of the Battalion did not initially connect him with the award of the VC. Bede reported sick with trench foot on 21st April and was evacuated to England. He was admitted to Richmond Military Hospital on 4th May until sent to No 2 Australian Command Depot at Chickerell, Weymouth, Dorset for convalescence. On 21st July he was presented with the VC by the King in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. Bede was charged with being absent without leave from 22nd July – 9th August and on the day he returned he was sick again until 18th August.
After recovery, he rejoined 2nd Battalion on 9th May 1918 and on 26th June, he was wounded in the Merris sector, but remained at duty. He was promoted to Corporal on 1st August and returned to England on 4th August for duty at AIF HQ in London. On 24th August, he embarked on HMAT D21 Medic with fellow VCs John Carroll, John James Dwyer, Reginald Inwood, Jorgen Jensen, Leonard Keysor, Stan McDougall, Walter Peeler, William Ruthven and John Whittle. They returned to Australia to help with recruitment and arrived in Sydney on 9th October. Bede rejected an offer to join the military police, who he disliked, and was assigned to recruiting duties until being discharged on 12th December 1918.
After the war, he worked for Clifford Love & Co, manufacturers, importers and merchants, as the northern New South Wales traveller. Later, he joined the Sunday Times in Sydney and finally worked as a traveller for Penfold Wines, trading with hotels around Sydney from Surry Hills to Woolloomooloo. He was also an executive of the Waverley College Old Boy’s Union for over thirty years. He attended a number of commemorative events, including the 1928 1st AIF Reunion Dinner. On 4th June 1932, he was one of eight VCs attending the wedding of Walter Ernest Brown VC DCM at Bexley, New South Wales.
Bede married Kathleen Dorothy Buckley, a florist, on 29th September 1927 at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney. Bede and Kathleen had three children: Judith, Bede and Hilary. Bede suffered from the events of trench foot and was also partially deaf due to his war service. He died from a combination of illnesses at Concord Repatriation Hospital, New South Wales on 15th April 1953. He was buried in the RC Section of Botany Cemetery, Matraville, New South Wales, with his daughter and son. His wife was also buried there when she died in 1970.
In addition to the VC, he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 and George VI Coronation Medal 1937. His family sold the medals at auction at Spink’s in Australia on 24th November 1985 for A$46,000. On 15th February 1986, they were handed over to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA.
BURIAL PLACE: BOTANY CEMETERY, SYDNEY, NSW, AUSTRALIA. RC SECTION 3, GRAVE 441.
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of the Kenny VC Medal Group at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Richard Yielding – Image of the Kenny VC Plaque at Rookwood Crematorium, Sydney.