Every Name A Story Content

Kenny, T., C.S.M., V.C. 1914-18 (1948)

Thomas Kenny V.C.

Photo : Gallaghers Collection

Kenny and Isabel with their gifts

In Wheatley Hill cemetery is the family grave of 17424 Company Sergeant Major Thomas Kenny V.C. serving with 'B' Company, 13th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, who died 29/11/1948.

Thomas Kenny was born on the 4th April 1882 at Front Street, South Wingate, Durham, the son of Darby, [born in Wolviston], employed at the brickworks, and Mary Kenny, born Pontefract, [nee Maguire]. He was baptised at St. Peter's and St. Paul's Church at Hutton Henry. He was the eldest brother of four children, John, and two sisters Annie and Winifred. In 1891 the family were residing at Hutton Henry.

He was educated at St. Mary's Roman Catholic School at Wingate. After leaving school he was employed as a Quarryman then a Miner. In 1901 Thomas was living at Pond Row, South Wingate. He married in 1903 Isabel Applegarth, [from Coxhoe], and together they had seven children, 5 boys and 2 girls. All the family resided at Walker's Building in South Wingate in 1911.

Thomas enlisted in August 1914, and joined the 13th (Service) Battalion Durham Light Infantry. On the 16th September 1914, the Battalion was sent from Newcastle to Bullswater Camp, which is near Pirbright in Surrey. The battalion were to become part of the 68th Brigade of the 23rd Division.

The battalion disembarked at Boulogne on the 26th August 1915. On the 7th October 1915, the 11th Durham Light Infantry relieved the 12th (Service) Battalion Durham Light Infantry at Bois Grenier, near to Armentieres.

A description of the first few weeks in the trenches survives in letters that a Lieutenant Philip Anthony Brown sent to his mother.

Lieutenant Brown was a tutor for the 'Workers Educational Association' [WEA] and in 1912 a lecturer at Durham University.

Private Thomas Kenny was his 'Irish' observer.

At 9.15 pm on the 4th November 1915 Lieutenant Brown was the Officer on watch and went to visit a working party in front of trench 1.26.4. accompanying him was Private Thomas Kenny as his observer. Soon a thick fog enveloped No-Manís Land and Lieutenant Brown lost his bearings. They decided to retrace their steps. At about 9.45 pm as they rose to move, a single shot rang out and severely wounded Lieutenant Brown in both thighs.

Thomas Kenny immediately went to his assistance, and hoisted Lieutenant Brown on his back. When machine gun fire became too heavy, he laid still until it had slackened, then carried on again. This took about an hour. Lieutenant Brown beseached him to put him down and go it alone, Kenny refused.

Eventually they found a familiar trench. Kenny made Brown as comfortable as possible and then left to find his own Battalion lines.

Just after 11 pm, Kenny arrived at the Battalion's Listening post located in Trench 1.26.4. Here he found Captain G. White who, on hearing Kenny's story, immediately asked for volunteers to go with him out into No-Man's-Land. Two stretcher bearers, plus Privates C. Cameron, 16874, Robert Watt, 16706, Ernest McLane, Thomas O. Kerr and Michael Brough volunteered (these last two were both from the Stanley area) plus Sergeant W. Calvert, Corporal R.A. Campion. Private Kenny, despite his condition, guided them to where Brown was located. The Germans by this time were only 30 yards way, firing and throwing grenades. Captain White immediately ordered the party to go on, whilst he stayed behind to cover their retreat. Private Robert Watt from West Hartlepool was killed, [remembered on W111.55], and Ernest McLane from Middlesbrough died from wounds.

Captain White ordered the rescue party to return while he covered their retreat.

Lieutenant Brown, recovered consciousness for a brief period and was heard to say 'Well, Kenny, you're a hero.'He died on the way to the dressing station.

Source: London Gazette 07/12/1915.

In Wheatley Hill W.M.C. is a display telling the story of Private Kenny V.C. The citation reads:

"Private Thomas Kenny
The Durham Light Infantry
4th November 1915, France
Citation for V.C.;

His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to award the VICTORIA CROSS to

No. 17424 Private Thomas Kenny, 13th (Service) Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry.

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the night of 4th November, 1915 near La Houssoie.

When on patrol in thick fog with Lieutenant Brown, (13th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry), some Germans, who were lying out in a ditch in front of their parapet, opened fire and shot Lieutenant Brown through both thighs. Private Kenny, although heavily and repeatedly fired upon, crawled about for more than an hour with his wounded officer on his back, trying to find his way through the fog to our trenches. He refused more than once to go on alone, although told by Lieutenant Brown to do so. At last, when utterly exhausted, he came to a ditch which he recognised, placed Lieutenant Brown in it, and went to look for help. He found an officer and a few men of his battalion at a listening post, and after guiding them back, with their assistance Lieutenant Brown was brought in, although the Germans again opened heavy fire with rifles and machine-guns, and threw bombs at 30 yards distance. Private Kennyís pluck, endurance and devotion to duty were beyond praise."

His story is also told in Beyond Praise: The Durham Light Infantrymen who were awarded the Victoria Cross; Stephen D. Shannon; County Durham Books, 1998; ISBN 1 897585 44 6

According to Kevin Brazier's bookThe Complete Victoria Cross: A full chronological record of all holders of Britain's highest award for Gallantry Thomas Kenny died in 1958 as a result of a mining accident. This is incorrect. He died of natural causes in 1948. (David Beresford - grandson.)

TheDurham Chronicle and Seaham Weekly News 03/12/1948 reports his death. It tells how, on leaving Buckingham Palace after receiving the V.C. from the King, he met a lady at the gates, who was Lieut. Brown's mother. They kept up a regular correspondence and every year, on the anniversary of the deed, Mr. Kenny received a gift of money from her. After she died, her daughter, then living in Canada, kept up the payments, the last one arriving just a month before Mr. Kenny's death.

On the 4th March 1916, Lance Sergeant Thomas Kenny was presented with the Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace. Mrs Brown, Lieutenant's Brown mother was there.

In a letter dated 17th November, written from Broomhill, Southend Road, Beckenham, Kent, Lieutenant Brown's mother wrote as follows :- I am writing to express to you the deep gratitude I feel to you for your most gallant and heroic service on 4th November, when you risked your life over and over again in rescuing Lieutenant Brown after he was wounded. I am thankful to feel that he died among friends, and that he was able to thank you. I know you would value his last words. He had often mentioned you to me in his letters home as 'a very nice Irishman from County Durham, who goes with me everywhere.' I am glad to hear that your heroism will be recognised and rewarded. You have earned our deepest gratitude, and I can never thank you enough. I pray that you may be spared to see the hour of victory, which surely will come.

In another letter dated 8th November, Major C. E. Walker, of the 13th Durham Light Infantry, writing to Mrs Kenny, said how proud they all were of her husband for the magnificent pluck and endurance he showed under very heavy fire when Lieutenant Brown was wounded. 'Your husband' he wrote, 'was what we call observer to Lieutenant Brown-that is to say, he acted as a sort of shadow to his officer, who never moved anywhere without him. On the night in question, the Lieutenant went out in a thick fog to superintend a party of our men mending barbed wire, Kenny accompanying him as usual. They overran our wire and lost their bearings in the fog, and, finding they were on unfamiliar ground, they sat down to listen for sounds to guide them. After a while they decided to go back, but as soon as they rose a rifle was fired from a listening post about fifteen yards away. Lieutenant Brown fell, shot through both thighs, and Kenny at once went to his assistance, and, although Lieutenant Brown was a good-sized man, he got him on his back and started off with him. when the Germans opened rapid fire, Kenny dropped to his hand and knees, and began crawling with the officer, and this continued for over an hour, until he came to a ditch, where he was able to place him. Kenny then went off in search of assistance. Lieutenant Brown was brought in still living, but he died at the dressing Station. His last words were : 'Kenny, you're a hero.'

Another letter to Private Kenny, written from Queen Ann's Mansions, St James's Park, London, S.W., on the 9th November, Mrs Walker, wife of Major Walker, wrote saying how very proud and glad she was to hear of his brave deed, and tendering her congratulations. If this war had done nothing else it had shown how brave Englishmen could be. he could imagine no finer act than to risk one's life for a friend.

Writing from 11 Stanley Mansions, Park Walk, Fulham Road, London S.W., Mrs White, wife of Captain White, wrote:- that she had just heard of Private Kenny's brave deed, and congratulated him on what he had done. She hoped he would especially 'B' Company, were very proud of him, but see was very sorry to hear Lieutenant Brown died.

He was the first soldier of the Durham Light Infantry to be awarded the VC in World War 1.

At the Palace Theatre, the manager of the Wingate Colliery presented him with £50 in War Bonds, and a testimonial in recognition of being awarded a V.C., which had been raised by local people, and then he went to his old school to hear the poem that the children had composed in his honour.Mr C. H. Leeds manager of the Wingate Colliery, presided, and the testimonial was handed over Mr John Magee of Castle Eden. who said he known Sergeant Kenny from his boyhood, and had always found him an upright, brave and chivalrous man, and he was glad Kenny has secured the highest honour of the British Army. The Directors of Wingate Palace added £10, the proceeds of the evening's entertainment.

The Reverend Father James O' Dowd presented Kenny with a marble clock and bronzes, a set of silver scounces, and a pipe and tobacco from the children of St Mary's School.

Thomas Kenny returned to the front line only to be wounded in October 1916 whilst in 'A' Company. By 1918 his rank was Company Sergeant Major.

At the end of the war, Thomas Kenny returned to his old job as a miner. King George V gave an Afternoon Party at Buckingham Palace on the 26th June 1920 for Recipients of the Victoria Cross. His Majesty was accompanied by The Queen and Members of the Royal Family.

The Victoria Cross Recipients assembled at Wellington Barracks, and marched to the Garden of the Palace via Birdcage Walk, Horse Guards Parade and The Mall preceded by the Band of the Welsh Guards. The King inspected the VC Recipients, who afterwards filed past His Majesty, and had the honour of being presented to The King and Queen. Thomas was at this Garden party.

There was another Victoria Cross reunion dinner on Saturday 9th November 1929, which was held at the Royal Gallery, House of Lords. Thomas Kenny V.C., attended this event and was on table 12, seat number 365. On Thomas Kenny left was a CSM George Evans VC., seat number 364, and on his right was the "New Zealand Press" seat number 366. They were on the left hand side of the Prince of Wales in the hall.

He was employed at Wingate Colliery until about 1927, then Wheatley Hill as a stonemason drifter, [there was a Drift named after him The Kenny Drift which closed in 1968, when the Colliery closed]. Age 62 in 1944, he moved to a surface job because a shoulder injury forced him to do light work. Kenny was by now living at 13 Darlington Street, Wheatley Hill, Durham. He also was attending Thornley Roman Catholic Church.

On the 1st July 1940, during the Second World War, Thomas Kenny joined his Local Defence Volunteers in Wheatley Hill. The Home guard were disbanded on the 31st December 1945, Kenny's discharge from the Home Guard was not confirmed until the 18th January 1951.

Sergeant Kenny served with this unit, later re-named the 22nd Battalion Durham Home Guard, until the Home Guard was stood down in December 1945.

Thomas Kenny died in Durham on the 29th November 1948, aged 66 and was buried in Wheatley Hill cemetery on the 2nd December 1948.

His name also appears in Gilesgate, alongside other VC winners Ė Kenny Place.

His unmarked grave was finally given a headstone in August 1994 after an appeal by the "Faithful Inkerman Club." The stone was unveiled by Captain Richard Annand V.C., during a simple service.

The Durham Times 19/09/2014 carries an article on Private Kenny, which includes photos of the family, and also of a memorial of stones by John Davies, superintendent of Wheatley Hill Cemetery, which is surrounded by 189 crosses made by Keith Newton in memory of the fallen of the district.

Thomas Kenny is remembered in Durham on D47.071 and in Wheatley Hill on W114.12

Note: There were many sources used for Thomas Kenny research, the links below are just a few.

Unveiling of Thomas Kenny V.C. commemorative Memorial stone

A Lonely Tower production film made about Kenny V.C., called 'Beyond Praise' was given its premiere on the 8th November 2017 at the Gala Theatre in Durham City, commissioned by the Wheatley Hill History Club.

Durham at War
Northern Echo
Durham DLI South Shields Association

Private Thomas Kenny Citation from the Gazette

If you know more about this person, please send the details to janet@newmp.org.uk