Edward (Ted) Kenna
Edward 'Ted' Kenna was born in the woolgrowing Victorian town of Hamilton on 6 July 1919. His parents were Brian, a railway ganger, and Emma. Kenna and his brother would often shoot rabbits to supplement the family income.
Kenna left school when his father became ill. He worked with a plumber, but the war interrupted his apprenticeship.
Kenna joined the Citizens' Military Force in August 1940. Before his posting to New Guinea in October 1944 with the 2/4th Australian Infantry Battalion, Kenna served in Victoria, the Northern Territory and Queensland.
Kenna's brother, John Joseph Kenna was also posted to the 2/4th Battalion.
In May 1945, Kenna served in northern New Guinea, as part of the Aitape-Wewak campaign. This was one of the war's final campaigns. The Australians' objective was to seize the coastal area and drive the surviving Japanese inland, where they would split into smaller groups unable to offer coordinated resistance.
Conditions were challenging and there were many casualties. There were tropical diseases, supply shortages, numerous small-scale skirmishes and difficult jungle terrain. Wide rivers had to be crossed, and in January 1945, 11 Australians from the 19th Brigade drowned in flash flooding.
Kenna was one of 2 Australians awarded a Victoria Cross (VC) in the New Guinea Campaign. The other was New South Wales officer, Bert Chowne, killed in March 1945.
In May 1945, Kenna was involved in fighting around Wewak airfield. Without orders and with Japanese soldiers firing at him, he advanced towards a Japanese machinegun crew.
His citation records how close the bullets came:
The enemy machine gun immediately returned Private Kenna's fire and with such accuracy that bullets actually passed between his arms and his body. Undeterred, he remained completely exposed and continued to fire at the enemy until his magazine was exhausted. Still making a target of himself, Private Kenna discarded his Bren gun and called for a rifle. Despite the intense machine gun fire, he seized the rifle and, with amazing coolness, killed the gunner with his first round.
A second automatic opened fire on Private Kenna from a different position and another of the enemy immediately tried to move into position behind the first machine gun, but Private Kenna remained standing and killed him with his next round.
[The London Gazette, 4 September 1945, Supplement 37253, page 4467]
Kenna's actions saved lives and allowed the Australians to advance.
Three weeks later, Kenna was seriously wounded. He was taken to Melbourne's Heidelberg Military Hospital to recover. While there, he met his future wife, Marjorie, a nurse.
After the war
Kenna married Marjorie Rushbury in 1947. The couple made their home in Hamilton and raised 4 children together. Their children later talked of their parents' enduring wartime love story.
Kenna worked as a gardener for Hamilton City Council. He was also a keen Australian Rules football player.
Edward Kenna died in Geelong at the age of 90, following complications from a fall.
Commemorating Edward Kenna
In 1988, Kenna's hometown of Hamilton organised the painting of a portrait of their local VC hero. Sir William Dargie was an 8-times winner of the Archibald Prize and a former official wartime artist. He was commissioned to paint the portrait for the town's performing arts centre.
In 2013, a sculpture by Peter Corlett was unveiled in Hamilton.
In July 2000, Kenna featured on a VC commemorative postage stamp.
In 2011, his wartime medals were sold for more than AU$1 million.
- 2009 'TED KENNA VC', The Telegraph (UK), 8 July, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/military-obituaries/army-obituaries/5780161/Ted-Kenna-VC.html, accessed 27 August 2020.
- ABC News (2009), VC hero Edward Kenna dies, 9 July, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2009-07-09/vc-hero-edward-kenna-dies/1347568, accessed 27 August 2020.
- Australians at War Film Archive (2002), Edward Kenna (Ted) interviewed on 17 April, Archive number 665, http://australiansatwarfilmarchive.unsw.edu.au/archive/665-edward-kenna, accessed 30 August 2020.
- AWM (undated), Private Edward (Ted) Kenna, Australian War Memorial, https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P10676563, accessed 27 August 2020.
- Damien Fenton (undated), Remembering the war in New Guinea, Aitape–Wewak, 1944–45 (Photographs) Module name: Campaign history (All groups perspective), http://ajrp.awm.gov.au/ajrp/remember.nsf/Web-Printer/F3A735790A1F4507CA256B6000039F0D?OpenDocument, accessed 27 August 2020.
- David Hawker MP, Private Edward (Ted) Kenna VC, 12-08-2009, Main Committee, Parl No. 42, Page 75, https://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansardr%2F2009-08-12%2F0192%22, accessed 30 August 2020.
- Find A Grave (2009), Memorial page for Edward “Ted” Kenna (6 Jul 1919–8 Jul 2009), Find a Grave Memorial ID 39238864, citing Hamilton Lawn Cemetery, Hamilton, Victoria, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/39238864/edward-kenna, accessed 27 August 2020.
- Noble Numismatics Pty Ltd (2011), Orders, Decorations & Medals - Australian Groups, Sale 97 26–28 Jul 2011, Lot 3985, https://www.noble.com.au/auctions/lot?id=279814, accessed 30 August 2020.