Ted Kenna, VC
Ted Kenna, who died on July 8 aged 90, won the Victoria Cross on May 15 1945 while serving with the 2nd/4th Australian Infantry Battalion in the South West Pacific. He was the last surviving Australian VC recipient of the Second World War.
6:06PM BST 08 Jul 2009
Japanese troops had established a defensive line in rugged terrain south of Wewak, New Guinea, and were shelling the Australians from the missionary station at Wirui. After a sharp battle on May 14, the 2nd/4th had captured all but the north-western spur. The only position from which supporting fire could be obtained was continuously swept by heavy machine-gun fire, making it impossible to bring artillery or mortars into action.
On May 15, Private Kenna's platoon was ordered forward to deal with three enemy machine-gun posts. Kenna moved his support section as close as possible to the bunkers in order to provide covering fire for a flank attack by the rest of the platoon.
Two sections of the platoon attacked, but as soon as the enemy spotted them they were pinned down with heavy automatic fire from a position which had not previously revealed itself. With several of the men already wounded, Kenna endeavoured to bring his gunner to bear on one of the bunkers but was unable to bring down effective fire because of the difficult ground.
On his own initiative and without orders, Kenna stood up in full view of the enemy less than 50 yards away and engaged the bunker, firing his Bren gun from the hip. Fire was returned at once, bullets passing between his arms and his body but somehow missing him. Undeterred, Kenna continued to fire at the enemy until his ammunition was exhausted. He then discarded his Bren gun, called for a rifle and despite intense machine-gun fire killed the enemy gunner with his first round.
When a machine gun opened up on him from a second position, Kenna, who had remained standing, killed the gunner with his next round. The bunker was captured without further loss, the company attack went forward and the enemy position was carried.
The citation declared: "There is no doubt that the success of the company attack would have been seriously endangered and many casualties sustained but for Private Kenna's magnificent courage and complete disregard for his own safety." Kenna was invested with the Victoria Cross by the Governor-General of Australia, the Duke of Gloucester, at Government House, Melbourne, on January 6 1947.
Edward Kenna, always known as Ted, was born on July 6 1919 at Hamilton, Victoria, the fourth child of a family of seven. He went to St Mary's Convent, Hamilton, but left at 14 and worked as a plumber to look after his mother when his father fell ill. He was an accomplished sportsman and a keen cyclist and sportsman.
Kenna served in the Citizen Military Forces before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Forces in 1940. He served initially in the 23rd/21st Battalion but was posted to the 2nd/4th in 1943. In October 1944 he embarked from Cairns with his unit bound for New Guinea.
In June 1945, three weeks after the attack on the Wirui Mission feature, Kenna was taking part in a similar operation when he was hit in the mouth by an explosive bullet and evacuated. When told he was likely to die he simply exclaimed: "Pigs". But he recovered and in December 1946 he was discharged.
Kenna returned to work in Hamilton at the Borough hall and then as curator of the Melville Oval. He was presented to the Queen when she visited the newly-restored Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra in March 2000; he appeared on a postage stamp in the same year. A portrait of Kenna by Sir William Dargie hangs in the Borough hall.
Ted Kenna married, in 1947, Marje Rushberry, who had nursed him in hospital. They had two sons and two daughters, one of whom predeceased him.
Published July 8 2009
Signed postal cover for the Victoria Cross and George Cross Memorial Appeal
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