Ted Kenna VC, RIP16 Jul 2009
Over the weekend, Australia lost our last living World War 2 VC - at the ripe old age of 90. His name was Edward ‘Ted’ Kenna, and I met him a couple of times.
It would have been 1995, possibly 1996. I was 11, and we were living in Puckapunyal, the Army base smack-dab in the middle of Victoria. Primarily used as a training facility, Pucka is little more than a massive artillery range with an Army base and a married patch attached. It’s surrounded by electric fences - not for security, but to keep the ‘roos from jumping out of the range into nearby farmlands.
Dad was running 1st Recruit Training Battalion, Echo Company in Pucka. A big intake had meant that Kapooka didn’t have enough room, so E Company was detached to Puckapunyal. The first march-out called for a bit of pomp and ceremony, and it turned out that E Company was Ted Kenna’s unit way back when (or so I’m recalling - it’s been a while).
He came over to our place for dinner, with his wife. They were both genuinely lovely people - just nice, real nice. Ted was happy to talk to me and my brother, and he was even okay with telling the story of how he got his Victoria Cross - though he cautioned us not to call him a hero, because he was just a bloke who was under pressure and lost his cool when he’d had enough. In fact, I seem to recall he called his actions ‘reckless’ and ‘a little crazy’.
His unit was pinned down by Japanese machine gun fire, coming from two bunkers up a hill. Mates were dying all around him. They’d hunkered down, most of them in cover, but there was no way they were moving. Someone had to assault the position and take those MGs out for anyone to be able to move, but it was clearly a suicide run.
Ted, as I recall him describing it, snapped. He’d had enough. Under the greatest of duress, he went just a little bit mad. He stood up in full view of the Japanese gunners and began firing his Bren gun at one of the two Japanese bunkers. From the hip. John Rambo, eat your heart out.
Bullets whizzed between his arms and his body as he emptied his entire magazine at them. Without moving, he shouted for a rifle, discarding his now-empty Bren. With his first shot, he took out the Japanese gunner.Another Japanese soldier moved up to take over the gun, and again, Kenna fired a single shot and took the would-be gunner down.
I vaguely remember being told that at this point, someone in his unit dragged him to the ground.
When asked to explain himself, he said he’d just had enough. What struck me most about his story is that - like many other VC winners - he seemed repelled by the idea of ‘being a hero’; he was modest, perhaps to a fault. It’s amazing to think that so many of us have these reserves of insanity, bravado, madness, courage - whatever you want to call it - that, if we’re pushed hard enough, well up within us, and leave us wondering what the hell we were thinking.
RIP, Mr Kenna. I’ll never forget your bravery (madness?) and your humility. He leaves behind a lovely wife and extended family, and my thoughts are with them all.