Thomas Kenny (1882-1948)
Wingate’s Victoria Cross hero
Thomas Kenny was born in South Wingate, County Durham in April 1882. After leaving St Mary’s Roman Catholic School, Wingate, Thomas worked as a quarryman and, later, as a coal miner. By 1914 he was living with his wife, Isabel, and their six children in Walker’s Buildings in South Wingate.
In August 1914, Thomas Kenny enlisted – just one of the thousands of County Durham miners who answered Kitchener’s call for volunteers – and joined the newly-formed 13th (Service) Battalion DLI. In 1915, after training, 17424 Private Kenny was sent with his battalion to France, and there was selected as observer for a young officer, Lieutenant Philip Anthony Brown. Though born in Kent, Philip Brown had worked as a tutor in Newcastle with the Workers’ Educational Association, and then as a lecturer at Durham University.
One night in early November 1915 in the front line near Armentieres, Lieutenant Brown and Private Kenny went out into No-Man’s-Land on patrol. Thick fog covered the area and they lost their way. As they tried to retrace their steps through the mud, Philip Brown fell, shot through both thighs. Kenny then hoisted the wounded officer onto his back and, under heavy rifle fire, set off to crawl towards 13 DLI’s front line. After an hour, Kenny, exhausted, was forced to leave Brown and go for help. Thomas Kenny then guided two stretcher bearers, Thomas Kerr and Michael Brough, back to the wounded officer, who was carried back to the battalion’s front line. There Philip Brown, despite his wounds and loss of blood, recovered consciousness for a short time and said “Well, Kenny, you’re a hero.” Lieutenant Brown died whilst he was being carried back to the dressing station.
For this action, Thomas Kenny was awarded the Victoria Cross – the first DLI soldier to win this award during the First World War – and in March 1916 Lance Sergeant Kenny was presented with this VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace. Philip Brown’s mother was present at the ceremony.
At the end of the First World War, Company Sergeant Major Kenny returned to his old life as a miner. He worked at Wingate Colliery until 1927 and then at Wheatley Hill. He continued to work underground until 1944, when, aged 62 years, he finally moved to a surface job. At this time, he was living at 13 Darlington Street, Wheatley Hill and attended Thornley RC Church.
In July 1940, when Britain was once again at war, Thomas Kenny joined his Local Defence Volunteers in Wheatley Hill. 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 29 November 1948, aged 66, and was buried in Wheatley Hill cemetery. In August 1994, following an appeal organised by DLI veterans, his unmarked grave was finally given a headstone, which was unveiled by Captain Richard Annand VC.
Note: On some documents, eg census returns, Kenny is spelt as Kenney.
Victoria Cross citation for 17424 Private Thomas Kenny, 13th (Service) Battalion DLI, London Gazette, 7 December 1915: “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 Kenny’s pluck, endurance and devotion to duty were beyond praise.”
Where to look for more information about this person:
BEYOND PRAISE – Thomas Kenny VC (Lonely Tower Film & Media/Wheatley Hill History Club), 2017. Duration 57:53 minutes.
The London Gazette, 7 December 1915: https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/29394/supplement/12281
Wheatley Hill History Club – The life of Thomas Kenny VC:
Northern Echo 29 July 2014: http://www.thenortheastatwar.co.uk/in_your_town/durham/well-kenny-youre-a-hero
Northern Echo, 24 Sept 2012 http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/history/9946171.War_hero___s_village_colliery_honour/
DLI Museum Friends: http://www.dlimuseumfriends.co.uk/inkerman_t_kenny.htm
The Light Infantry:
The WEA in World War 1 in the North East – Philip Brown and Thomas Kenny VC
Durham Home Guard Enrolment Forms 1940-45: Thomas Kenny WO 409/27/79/742
Information about First World War Centenary commemorations:
Unveiling of Thomas Kenny VC commemorative paving stone on 4 November 2015
Commemoration for Co Durham war hero, ITV News, 4 November 2015
DLI Museum Friends Blog: Thomas Kenny VC, November 2015
Watch video of the commemorative stone unveiling ceremony on 4 November 2015:
DLI First World War Victoria Cross hero honoured http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/video/4596394391001/?ref=vidshare
DCLG Victoria Cross commemorative paving stones interactive map
North East War Memorials Project
Civil Parish: Hutton Henry
Birth date: 4-Apr-1882
Death date: 29-Nov-1948
Armed force/civilian: Army
Residence: Front Street, South Wingate (1891 Census)
Pond Row, South Wingate (1901 Census)
Walker’s Buildings, South Wingate (1911 Census).
13 Darlington Street, Wheatley Hill.
Education: St Mary’s Roman Catholic School, Wingate.
Religion: Roman Catholic.
Employment: Quarryman, Wingate.
Coal miner, Wingate.
Stoneman drifter, Wheatley Hill.
Family: Wife – Isabel (Isabella) Kenny.
Enlisted in the 13th (Service) Battalion DLI, August 1914, as 17424 Private.
Promoted to Lance Sergeant, then Company Sergeant Major.
Wounded October 1916.
Served with 22nd Battalion Durham Home Guard 1940-1945.
Medal(s): Thomas Kenny’s Victoria Cross, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal are with his family. Thomas Kenny would also have been eligible for the Defence Medal for his service with the Home Guard.
Memorial(s): Wheatley Hill Cemetery.
Contributed by Durham County Record Office
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