Military History

The Highest Honour #27 | Bede Kenny | Leonard Keysor

By The Cove July 19, 2021


Private Thomas James Bede Kenny VC (1896 - 1953, 56yo)


Bede Kenny was born on 29 September 1896 at Paddington, New South Wales and at the completion of schooling began training as a chemist's assistant but after only three months enlisted in the AIF on 23 August 1915.

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 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 to Lance Corporal and soon afterwards was evacuated to England with trench foot. 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. On his arrival back to Sydney he rejected an offer to join the military police, whom he disliked intensely, and was discharged on 12 December 1918.

Kenny 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. 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.

Lieutenant Leonard Maurice Keysor VC (1885 - 1951, 64yo)

Leonard Keysor was born on 03 November 1885 in London. After schooling he spent 10 years in Canada and then migrated to Sydney, New South Wales where he was employed as a clerk. On 18 August 1914 he enlisted in the 1st Battalion, AIF and embarked for Egypt on 18 October 1914.

Keysor landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and was promoted to Lance Corporal on 20 June 1915. His deeds during the second (and last) great effort to take the peninsula are among the most spectacular individual feats of the war. At 1730h on 06 August 1915, the 1st Australian Infantry Brigade launched a diversionary attack at Lone Pine and by nightfall had seized the Turkish trenches; but bitter fighting with bayonets and bombs continued for three days and nights as the Turks retaliated. Keysor, a master of bomb-throwing, scorned danger. As Turkish bombs lobbed into his trench he would leap forward and smother the explosions with sandbags or coat. If time allowed he would throw a bomb back; he caught several in flight and smartly returned them as though playing cricket. Twice wounded, he nevertheless maintained his efforts for fifty hours. His bravery saved his trench and removed the enemy from a temporarily commanding position.

After Lone Pine, he went to England suffering from enteric fever. Rejoining his battalion in France in March 1916, he took part in the fighting at Pozières. On 17 November 1916 he was transferred to the 42nd Battalion and promoted to Sergeant on 1 December 1916. Commissioned to Second Lieutenant on 13 January 1917 and was promoted to Lieutenant in July. He was wounded on 28 March 1918 while fighting on the defensive Méricourt-Sailly-Le-Sec line and evacuated. Back with his unit, he was again wounded on 26 May 1918 in a gas bombardment near Villers-Bretonneux.

Discharged from the army as medically unfit on 12 December 1918, he resumed clerical work but in 1920 he entered business in London. Keysor was rejected for military service in 1939 on medical grounds. He died in London of cancer on 12 October 1951. His Victoria Cross is held at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.


Portrait

Biography

The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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