The story of the Kenny brothers

The Kenny brothers - Herbert with the colour patch of the 7th Light Horse. Pictures: SUPPLIED

By John Telfer, History Writer

Anzac Day 2021 has been commemorated all over the country but many stories of courage and commitment by these remarkably resilient men of Australia, still abound in the nation’s folk lore and some only emerge on this, our national day. Warwick resident, Di Deighton provided inspiration for this story of her two great uncles, Bert and Jack Kenny, two brothers who were Gallipoli veterans, and who came from the small settlement of Koreelah. Koreelah was situated near Killarney in Queensland where the Herbert and Rose Kenny ran a cattle property. The Kenny’s seven children all grew up on the property until 1907, when the family moved to Riverstone in New South Wales prior to World War 1.

With Australia committed to recruiting volunteers to serve the Empire, Jack was the first to enlist on 3rd March 1915, quickly followed by his older brother Herbert, who was signed up on 6th April, 1915. Both had prior service in the Citizens Military Forces and after initial training, both were deployed to the Gallipoli Peninsula to defend the Dardanelles. Bert was with the 7TH Australian Light Horse Regiment, while the younger Jack, was posted to the 17/34th Battalion. They sailed on different ships to the battlefields with Jack embarking on HT “Maheno” on 28th August, and Herb on HT “Euripides” a bit later, in early October.

When the Anzacs landed on the shores of Gallipoli, Jack described the landing in one of his letters when he stated:

“Turkish gunners had a precise fix on Anzac Cove and many

men were killed or wounded in the beach area, or in the water,

by bursting shrapnel shells. Most of these came from a gun

battery christened ‘Beachy Bill’. It was estimated that during

the campaign, over 1,000 men were killed or wounded in Anzac

Cove by ‘Beachy Bill’ alone.”

Jack spent six weeks on Gallipoli and saw a lot of action and in letters home from the front told of being only separated by no more than 27 yards from the Turkish trenches at Quinn’s Post, before the 17th relieved the Queenslanders there. It was a very dangerous place to be as Jack told of the carnage caused by hand grenades which the Turks used incessantly. However, Jack’s time on Gallipoli ended when he was struck down with severe dysentery and sent by hospital ship to Heliopolis, Cairo. After several weeks there and also, at Helouan hospital from 5th to the 25th October, the army decided to send him back to Australia on HT “Ulysses” to Australia to fully recover from his affliction on 8th January 1916. On the 7th June 1916, Jack was medical discharged from the army, but his war was not over yet as he re-enlisted on 11th June 1918, was promoted to Corporal, and served with the 34th Battalion until the end of the war.

Jack’s older brother Bert decided to enlist on the 14th April 1915, and served with the 7th Australian Light Horse Regiment. Perhaps Bert decided to enlist to look after his younger brother, but being a Light Horseman, he sailed with the 7th Light Horse Regiment for Gallipoli headed for Egypt, but owing to the high casualty rate of the forces on Gallipoli, he was one of the thousands of light horsemen who were seconded to the infantry, and landed on the peninsula on 2nd October 1915. Sadly, their horses went on to Cairo. Bert was in the thick of the action at Lone Pine before receiving a facial wound to his nose on 16th October and was evacuated to the hospital in Malta on 24th October to recover.

It was while on Gallipoli, fighting almost hand to hand with the Turks, that Bert showed a moment of compassion for a wounded Turkish soldier when he stopped to dress his wounds and show a degree of chivalry to a formidable foe. To show his appreciation to Bert, The Turk presented Bert with his Turkish Gallipoli Star awarded to him for bravery in battle, for his kindness. Bert carried this medal throughout his service, and it is now a family heirloom with the Kenny family. (The Turkish Gallipoli Star is a military decoration awarded by the Ottoman Empire. It was known as the Ottoman War Medal or the Iron Crescent. It was instituted by Sultan Mehmed V on 1st March 1915, and given to Turkish soldiers for gallantry in Battle).

Bert Kenny went on to the desert campaigns in the Sinai and Syria, and witnessed the famous charge at Beersheba. He rose in rank to Sergeant Major and one of the saddest things that he experienced with the Regiment, was when many light horsemen decided to shoot their horses rather than sending them to an unknown fate, when they were told they could not bring these faithful ‘companions’ home at the war’s end. Bert’s war ended when he embarked on board HT “Madras” on the 8th of July 1919, bound for Australia.

Both Jack and Bert Kenny lived through the horrors of Gallipoli and came home to live very productive lives. Their letters home from the Front gave an impelling look into the dangers that were ever present in their lives on Gallipoli. Jack arrived home on 23rd September 1919 and Bert on 28th June 1919 both reasonably physically unscathed from their experience, but, like thousands of returning soldiers, thay had to cope with mental demons for many years after.

Jack never married after returning to Australia in 1919. His family said that the war had a detrimental effect on him as he died at the relatively young age of 51. Family said he returned to his roots at Killarney and worked as a butcher at Legume, northern New South Wales, before returning to Sydney where he passed away in 1946.

After the war Bert also returned home for a short time before he and his older brother Eyre, moved to Bowen in Queensland to start a farm. It was here that Bert met and married May Maclean in 1924, where he lived until his death at the age of 91 and now lies at rest in the Bowen War Cemetery.

The story of the Kenny brothers is just one of the many men who answered the call in the patriotic fervour of the times. Both were wounded in battle and had solid war records. They both demonstrated the highest ideals of the Anzac legend. Bert returned with both campaign service medals and that unique Gallipoli Star given to him by a grateful Turk, that has now become a treasured family relic.