Henry Ernest KENNEDY

KENNEDY, Henry Ernest

Service Number: SX7784
Enlisted: 4 July 1940, Adelaide, SA
Last Rank: Sergeant
Last Unit: Not yet discovered
Born: Mount Gambier, South Australia, 9 August 1900
Home Town: Mount Gambier, Mount Gambier, South Australia
Schooling: Christian Brothers’ College, South Australia
Occupation: Somerset Hotel at Millicent, Lessee
Died: 13 November 1976, aged 76 years, cause of death not yet discovered, place of death not yet discovered
Cemetery: Mount Gambier Lake Terrace Cemetery
Section CA 17
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World War 2 Service

4 Jul 1940: Involvement Sergeant, SX7784
4 Jul 1940: Enlisted Adelaide, SA
4 Jul 1940: Enlisted Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Sergeant, SX7784
15 Jun 1944: Discharged
15 Jun 1944: Discharged Australian Military Forces (Army WW2), Sergeant, SX7784

“If they could only see the war as I have seen it”

Born in Mount Gambier on the 9th August, 1900 to John Patrick and Margaret Hilda Kennedy, Henry was the second son of seven children, including John Jens, Charles Stanislaus, William Alphonsis, Noel J. Kennedy and Stasia, who became Mother Mary Alocoque, eventually living at the Dominican Convent in Adelaide. A further daughter, Hilda Catherine died in December 1914 aged just 14 months. John Patrick’s father had come to Australia from North Tipperary and been one of the early pioneers. John was one of twelve children with six brothers. Home educated; he then spent his ‘finishing’ years at Christian Brother’s College in Adelaide. John, Margaret and their family lived at a property called ‘Sunnybrae’ and were one of the oldest known families to settle in the area. Typically, the family was heavily involved in the local community with John being a member of the Mount Gambier Racing and Hunt Clubs, was a member of the Mount Gambier Racing and Hunt Clubs, and had been a committee member of the A. and H. Society and representative of Young Ward for Gambier West. He was also highly regarded in the Catholic Church for his charity work. Not unexpectedly, Henry followed his family’s example.
He attended his father’s school, Christian Brothers’ College where he played cricket and performed satisfactorily in academic subjects. Back home, Henry was also particularly active in his local community. For New Year’s Eve in ’29 he headed a committee to organised a carnival to raise funds for the Millicent Institute. The hall was decorated with trailing streamers suspended from the lamps, while artificial roses and streamers framed the doorways and corners of the room. Attendees dressed to celebrate the carnival theme with dancing and singing being highlights of the evening, followed by confetti challenges to herald in the New Year. He was part of the inaugural meeting of the Catholic Young Men’s Society where he was reported to have contributed to the community singing but ‘what this popular feature lacked in melody it drowned with volume’.
By 1925 Henry’s parents bought the lease of the Somerset Hotel at Millicent. However, the early death of his 56-year-old mother, Margaret the day prior to Henry’s 31st birthday was a challenging time for the family. She had been in poor health for some time, despite being under specialists in Melbourne. Following her funeral, she was buried in the Lake Terrace Cemetery Mt Gambier in plot CA 19 with her infant daughter, Hilda. Margaret was a strong Catholic, having been educated at the Mount Gambier Convent and at the Dominican Convent in Adelaide. Her faith was pivotal to her life and her work with St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church and the Mount Gambier Convent of Mercy as well as being the President of the Convent Old Scholars' Association and was a member of St. Vincent de Paul's Society, whilst also supporting the poor of the district. As she had held the Somerset Hotel licence at Millicent, following her death this was formally transferred to Henry, who stated in Court that “he had been managing the hotel for several years.”
Henry and Mollie Dwyer later celebrated their marriage in ’38, with a huge gift evening being organised in May. Visitors came from Mount Gambier, The Springs, Millicent, Nangula, Snuggery, Tantanoola, Millicent and Glencoe East to enjoy the dancing, and musical items. Gifts were presented from St. Brenden's Catholic Church, St. Paul's Tennis Club and Tantanoola tennis team, where Henry had been Secretary. Other speakers praised Henry for the many public positions he had held in Tantanoola and for being a member and trustee of the Glencoe Hall Committee. Both were praised for their happy optimistic natures which would help them in overcoming difficulties.
Henry continued to be a sought-after speaker, including for formal Coming of Age celebrations and as Best Man which became a forum for his witty speeches.

Just prior to his 40th birthday, Henry enlisted on the 4th July ’40, with many other local young men enlisting in the following weeks. As they did so, greetings were sent from Henry and his fellow enlistees who were already in Adelaide. In October, the extended Kennedy family organised a sherry party to farewell Henry and Alan Pegler SX7727 (also in the 2/48th Battalion) and Privates Bob Harris and Ben Hunt (SX7728) at the local Jens’ Hotel where a toast was proposed to the men. Further farewells followed with the Mount Gambier Club organising a similar party for the newly promoted Corporal Henry Kennedy and his friends. The Kennedys, Peglers, and Hunts were three of the best known families in the district, and were wished a happy time in the Army and a safe return, before a presentation of a writing wallet was made to each of them. Speakers “expressed confidence in the boys succeeding in doing any job with which they were confronted, and would add lustre to the traditions of the A.I.F.” Each of the young men responded with Henry commenting “upon the cordial relations which existed among the club members” adding that he “had already noted that a similar atmosphere prevailed among the men of the A.I.F. The military authorities, he said, aimed at grouping men who knew one another and were friends in the same unit. This practice had been adopted in many military forces, it being universally recognised that it made for contentment and efficiency.”
The Southern Cross newspaper also paid tribute. “Henry E. Kennedy, "Sunny Brae," popular boy at Sacred Heart College in its tender years, is known far and wide for his social gifts, his pleasant repartee, and as a jolly good fellow. He has required the repulsion and demolition germ, and has assumed the uniform necessary to bring about the liquidation of Hitler and his 'ism. Henry never did like any form of dictatorship.”
Whilst on pre-embarkation leave ten of the local men, the largest group at that stage, were guests of honour at a social evening in the Soldiers' Centre. The Mayor “wished them all the best and expressed his admiration for the men who were voluntarily offering their services. In the future a great deal of their courage and determination would be needed, but he felt confident that they would uphold the traditions of the First A.I.F.” Many other speeches followed with Corporal Henry Kennedy then responded on behalf of his comrades, thanked them and the citizens of the town for the presentation. He added that it was an honour to represent a town such ais Mount Gambier, he took it as a compliment that the presentation should be made by the leading townsman in the Mayor, It was an honour to fight for and defend a country such as Australia - when other countries as fair, as our own were crushed and beaten.”
Following this leave Henry and his fellow 2/48th Battalion, headed overseas for the Middle East. Henry soon wrote a lengthy letter home to his father from Palestine, with the letter shared in the Border Watch of January ‘41. As with many of the soldiers who served, their knowledge of the Middle East was coloured by their church upbringing.
“It is Christmas afternoon and I am in Palestine. Dinner is just over. There was turkey, pork, beef, cauliflower, potatoes, plum pudding etc. Back in the tent we received our Christmas parcel. from the Comforts Fund. This afternoon is free, the first free time I have had since I arrived here. From the position I am in I can see the landscape spreading out before me to distant hills. And the scene might be anywhere about Mt. Gambier except for the fact that one misses the dark green of the pine trees. There are plantations of trees but they are a pale green colour. Around the spot where I am there are some big farms. But in most cases the farmers live together in small, groups and so comprise a village. The villages are mostly built on the hill side, and the houses are of stone covered with a mixture of clay and straw. The roof is almost flat and seems to be made of the same stuff; The walls around the houses are high and many of the houses join on, one to another. The whole scheme seems to be to make the village secure from attack by bandits. There are no glass windows and few openings, and from the positions they occupy, they would give great protection from an enemy attack. Close to the village the orchards and small gardens are hedged off by prickly pear. This too helps to protect the village.
“SAME AS BIBUCAL DAYS I passed through a small village a few days ago, the streets or rather lanes were very narrow, there was one building bigger than the others. I presume it was a meeting place or house of worship of some kind. Close-by was the village well. It may not have changed for two thousand years. There was a woman drawing water, which she poured into a huge jar or jug. It would hold three gallons or more. She tossed it up in the air on to her head and walked off as lightly as if it was one of those silly little hats the girls wear at home. The woman's dress was the same as that worn thousands of years ago by the various women we read of in the bible. Close by in an orchard an old Arab was complaining that someone had removed some pegs that marked off his land. He could not make himself understood too well, so he decided to go to Headquarters. He faced the east and prayed. He was standing quite close to me. He closed his eyes and his lips moved rapidly, so that I was reminded of a lady at home who prays like that. Then he bowed from the waist, still praying. Next her was on his knees and touched his forehead on the ground twice. Then he stood up and went through the same thing three times. This done, he removed a couple of cloaks and then took off one of our jackets. He called a little boy and sent the jacket home. Then he put on his cloaks and marched off with great dignity to lay his complaint at Headquarters. I suppose Allah had told him in his prayers to take the jacket off first. The Arabs are most interesting. The laborers and lower-class Arabs who hang about the camp are great sharpers, and could buy and sell most of our smart Alecs.
“THE GOOD SHEPHERD, The farmers about here are quite a different type. They have a very good carriage, and they look very proud and independent. The land is all unfenced, and the different farmers must have marks or pegs to indicate where their property begins and ends. There are wheat crops, about six inches. high all over the flat country here. The crops look well, but I presume there is no kind of manure used, as they only have the most primitive farming methods. Everywhere one can see a camel or two oxen pulling a wooden plough. Though the implements are simple, they seem to do a good job. Some of the ploughing I have seen has been particularly good. The country is hilly with big plains between. It is the plains that are cultivated for cereal crops, while the best of the hill country is planted with grape vines figs and stone fruits. The remainder of the country is used for grazing sheep and cattle. All stock is shepherded, and it is easy to realise why the Bible contains so many references to the Good Shepherd as the shepherd is one of the most important men in this land. All around here one sees small flocks of sheep, each cared for by a man or by a couple of little boys as big as Philip. The sheep are very quiet and are easily led or driven about. At night they are taken home to the fold, which is usually around or alongside the house in the village. The fold has a high wall or a prickly pear hedge around it. Some, of the sheep are black, but others are white-they look the better type to me. They. look rather like our Lincolns but are longer in the legs and in shape they resemble a staghound; 0ne remarkable feature is a huge tail that appears to be about six inches or more broad, The sheep all have long tails.
“ANCIENT AND MODERN In contrast with all this primitiveness is everything of the modern world. Trains pass quite close to me by day and by night with sleeping cars and other comforts, beautiful motor cars, dash up and down a perfect bitumen road at terrific speed, passing lorries and buses packed with queer looking passengers; and as they dash along a great flying boat passes overhead. Yet along this same road comes a camel train, or a lone Arab riding his donkey. They seem quite untouched by the new rush and hurry. There are donkeys everywhere, and such small donkeys, so small that often the rider’s feet have to be lifted up to prevent them dragging on the ground. And that even though the rider sits up as high as he can because they usually sit right on the donkey's rump. They have no bridle, but often carry a little stick with which they tap the donkey on the shoulder or neck to direct him.
“I had hoped to have leave and to be able to get to Bethlehem for Christmas day, but I was unable to manage it. I was offered a trip to Tel Aviv today but preferred to wait until I can go to Jerusalem. I attended Mass this morning, which was celebrated by a Sacred Heart Father. He was at Hindmarsh for a while and knew Mrs Callary. There were no trimmings, or finery as we are accustomed to associate with Christmas at home, but it was good to feel that we could attend Mass as you all were this morning at home. I thought of the jollity and fun and feasting, even when I was back in my tent scraping the mud off my working boots after I had had breakfast.
“MUD OF HOLY LAND The climate here is much like that of South Australia. And it is winter now. We had heavy rain last week and the flats are all clay so you can imagine how my boots get covered in mud. I let the mud dry on them before cleaning them, so this morning I had to spend quite a time cleaning up. As I sat there scraping away, I thought of the many times when I was a small boy, when I was told to scrape the mud off my boots while it was wet. Mother would always be correcting us for things like that. Little did she think that someday it would be some of the Holy Land that I would be scraping off my boots with a stick. The Security Regulations prevent me from writing lots of things I would like to tell you and make it fairly difficult to write a letter. These restrictions must be where there is so much at stake.
“WITH THE LOCAL BOYS The climate is pleasant the food good, and the work reasonably hard but I have little time to myself, and so cannot get much opportunity to write. There are still many I should write to. Phil Doe called to see me today. Les Barry and Tiger Lyons came to church with me this morning; all are well, including Ben Hunt and Alan Pegler. Hedley Buchanan is in our company now. When you write, use air mail; it reaches here in ten days. I suppose I will soon hear from you, Always address letters as I have shown you.”
Back home, the extended family joined to celebrate the 63rd birthday of Henry Leo Kennedy, an uncle. A duplicate was made of the cake and packed off to reach Cousin Henry ‘somewhere in Palestine’.
Worrying news arrived at Sunnybrae at the start of May ’41 that ‘Corporal Henry E. Kennedy, has been wounded in action. Mr. Kennedy is a former proprietor of the Somerset hotel at Millicent, and the family lived there for several years. Cpl. Kennedy is well-known throughout the lower South-East.’ More information was gleaned when another local, Private Reg Penny SX8327 returned home with a shattered arm bone in August. He shared that “there were several men in hospital whom he knew, and these included CpL Henry E. Kennedy, of Mount Gambler, who received a wound in the thigh. He reported that when he left hospital Cpl. Kennedy was making good progress.”
Henry eventually wrote home with his letter again published in the January ‘42 edition of the Border Watch. He had been at a training battalion, waiting to return to the 2/48th when he met up with many of his old friends from Mt Gambier. They included Angus ‘Angry’ Underwood SX6789, Hedley Buchanan SX7066, Alan Pegler and Gerald, all from the 2/48th Battalion. “I had a great couple of days meeting them all again."
That year was to be a challenging one for the 2/48th. Orders had been received to capture West Point of Tel el Eisa in a dawn attack. In late June ‘42 with Rommel crossing into Egypt, the 2/48th were in an offensive to capture Trig 33, which was achieved on the 10th July. In doing so, over 400 Italian prisoners were taken. The 2/48th battalion then advanced south, capturing the Tel el Eisa station and repelling numerous counter attacks. However, they were eventually forced to withdraw, having suffered over 100 casualties. It was during this attack that Private Stan Gurney was awarded the 2/48th Battalion’s first VC having captured two machine gun posts and bayonetting the gun crew firing on his company but was killed attempting to take a third. The 2/48th battalion suffered 215 casualties between the 7th July and 23rd October. Of that number, 64 men were killed and six, died of their wounds. 125 other men were wounded but survived.
In July the battalion was attempting to capture West Point in a dawn attack. In his book, ‘Tobruk to Tarakan’, John G. Glenn described the ferocious encounter.
‘When the troops were well forward of the start-line they came under terrific fire from shells and mortars from the front and left, and suffered heavy casualties. With the slow deliberate movement of perfectly trained soldiers both companies continued the advance in perfect formation, over ground that trembled and erupted with vicious explosions. Through this, sometimes obscured by the smoke and dust, the men moved, and, as they advanced, the fire kept place with them, leaving behind the still shapes of fallen men among the camel bush and sand.’
Back home, family concerns were alleviated when Henry’s brother Charles, living in Suttontown received a very brief cable at the start of August ’42 with the welcome news from Cpl. Henry Kennedy, worded "All safe; all well." The message came from Egypt. The following month a more unusual event occurred with an exhibition of War Souvenirs, including many beautiful and curious objects from the Far and Middle East, the British Isles and the Americas. They included a parachute, scarf, bedspreads, tapestries and from Corporal Henry, ‘Examples of Arab needlework including several blouses, pairs of pyjamas and a child's bolero which formed part of the national costume and Arab headgear’.
At last, in March ’43 news was shared of Henry’s return home with a large group of his fellow soldiers. The Border Watch was unsure how word had got out but excitedly reported ‘Men who comprised one of Australia's most famous divisions have arrived home from the Middle East and spent well-earned leave in visiting relatives and friends throughout the length and breadth of the land. Among them were many South Australians who were "Rats of Tobruk," and many took part in the initial break-through at El Alamein which started Rommel on his long retreat across North Africa. There had been no official notification that the evening train from Adelaide one Saturday would carry many local boys who had just returned from the Middle East, but news had spread like wild fire during the day and the railway station was crowded as never before. The Railway authorities showed much consideration for wives, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, and sweethearts who were awaiting the return of their loved ones, and amid cheers the train arrived right on time, and a crowd of a thousand people were on their toes as it steamed in. The Mayor (Mr. W. E. Pyne) and the President of the R.S. A. (Mr. W. R. Hunt) were among the crowd, although there was not an official word of welcome, which would probably have been out of place when all those who were to be considered most had but one thought, and that was to be together again. The Citizens' Band and Pipe Band were in attendance. The men looked fit and happy to be home again. Some had been away for as long as two years, others only months.’
‘When members of the 2nd A.I.F. were entertained at Suttontown the crowd was so large it was not possible for all who attended to get in the school room at the one time. Those who were welcomed home were Capt M. Clements, Cpl. Henry L. Kennedy, Ptes. D. and J. Bigham, S. Galpin, R. Turner, L. Styles and Lindsay Elett.’
Henry was soon heading to Queensland to train for a very different conflict against a totally different enemy in New Guinea. His letter was published in the Border Watch in January ’44. ‘Sgt. H. E. Kennedy Writes from New Guinea A/Sgt. Henry E. Kennedy, who is with the A.I.F. in New Guinea, and who took part in the capture of Lae, gives a brief insight into the present life in New Guinea, in the following letter to Mr. C. T. Major, of Glenburnie.
'"For the fourth successive Christmas it looks as if we will be away from home. But despite the Jap., the risk of sickness and the general hardships of New Guinea, we are mostly fairly well. And I personally am as fit as ever I was. I had the thrill of my life when I took a platoon into action for the first time. As usual the lads acquitted themselves well, and brought more credit to our unit. Unfortunately, we lost many fine chaps, some of whom fought right through since our unit was formed three and a half years ago. It is a sad state of affairs when men are dying continuously in the front line, while many people back in Australia seem blissfully unaware that there is a war on. If they could only see the war as I have seen it, they would appreciate what they owe to these gallant men. And they would realise from what a terrible fate they and their women folk in Australia were saved. The Jap. is not a human being, but a savage beast, untouched by Western civilisation.
"Conditions here have improved since our attack on Lae, when we ploughed through mud and jungle for weeks, on little food, and no fires, wet through every night. Now we are in the hills with magnificent scenery, perfect climate and plenty of good food (even bread and butter). As a result, morale is very high, and everyone is feeling very fit. We captured certain heights recently from the Jap., and there found ruins of extensive German Lutheran Mission buildings, polluted for a year by the filthy Jap. A few roses and other flowers were all that remained to welcome us. A church service was held on the summit, below a large weather beaten wooden cross, erected years ago by mission pioneers. After the war let us hope that their good work is taken up again. The genuine missions did not help the Jap., only the newly arrived ardent Nazis. I hope you are well and able to manage along despite manpower shortage and short rations. With every wish for a happy Xmas and good luck in the New Year."
Henry was able to return home in April that year. By August ’44 he had become an almost regular contributor to the letters page of the Border Watch. He was particularly disappointed with the reporting of the increasingly contentious "Preference to Returned Soldiers" issue where the leader of the Opposition Mr. Richards made for the transfer of powers to the Commonwealth to facilitate repatriation and orderly marketing in the post-war period. His well-worded letter was published in August ’44. A further missive was published in June ’52 regarding the Mayor taking the salute of the 27th Scottish Battalion and the Central Command Band at the march past. The second issue was the letting of the Civic Hall to Jehovah's Witnesses. His military service was evident in his passionate reasoning. “Ten years ago, the Witnesses of Jehovah would have had little chance of hiring this same hall, and any plea of soldiers, returned soldiers or legionnaires to have them kept out of any hall would have received a very favourable hearing. But there is no danger now. There are no German raiders in the Indian Ocean. There are no Japanese in New Guinea. Who cares now what the R.S.L. or the Legion think? They've had their day. They've served their purpose; I wonder who will take the salute at the Convention of Jehovah's Witnesses?”
Another letter in October ’52 was published when a failed move was made to have shops close on the first afternoon of the Mount Gambier Agricultural Show. He took aim at those perceived not to have interest in the progress of the district stating that “it is not to be expected that the managers of chain stores, or branch businesses, or even Banks would have very much interest in the general welfare; apart from the financial welfare, of this or any other district. The improvement of stock, the happiness and well-being of the people on the land, and the increased production which will follow these, means nothing to most of these people, who are here today and gone tomorrow. Their chief concern is increased dividends for their shareholders, most of whom have probably never seen Mount Gambier.” He concluded that it was the price of being a city. Not unexpectedly it created return letters from branch businesses and others who did have interest in their town.
Henry’s confidence and entertaining speaking manner was also utilised in October ‘45 when he was invited to speak to the Catholic Soldiers' Guild. The Southern Cross reported that ‘Henry Kennedy had a vivid story of horrors to relate of soldiering in the Middle East and the Islands, and paid a tribute to the chaplains, whose work, difficult at any time, was rendered terrific by conditions of transport and climate.’
When peace was finally declared, Henry was able to have precious time with his father, John who soon after died aged 75 on the 7th May 1949. Within five years, Henry’s 49-year-old brother, Charles, who had taken over his father’s farm, had also died on the 22nd September ’54. He had been on his way to help his son with milking the cows when he collapsed.
In 1950 Henry was caught in a media misrepresentation when the covering of an old well on a property Henry rented out, fell in. It exposed a deep chasm as it had been one of many in the town used in the early days for water supply prior to mains laid by the Waterworks Department. A local well digger explained that its depth would be about 80 feet. The incident could have caused injury as it was close to a garden path and under a clothes line. “The hole itself was about 2 ft 6 in. in diameter at the top and opened into a shaft six or eight feet across.” Henry resealed it a concrete top. However, the story was much more dramatic when reported in the June issue of the Mail as ‘A grazier here believes he might have discovered another Blue Lake under a back yard.’ It continued that the hole was ‘a vertical cavern, 6 ft. in diameter and at least 150 ft. deep. Large stones dropped down the cavern had produced a tremendous roar as if the whole house were going to fall in.' Locals who knew the facts were suitably amused.
His skills as a speaker continued to come to the fore as Henry was part of the RSL group who met to remember the Alamein anniversary in which many of the local men had been involved. He was the guest speaker in October ’52 with the Border Watch reporting that ‘we listened with rapt attention to his thoughtful and scholarly survey of the position at Alamein both before and after the battle and some of his comments on morale. He closed with a moving appeal; the applause was instant and spontaneous, and it was the unanimous opinion that this was one of the best efforts yet in what has become our annual Alamein Memorial talk.’
Henry experienced a debilitating injury just prior to Christmas ’52 when he suffered a dual break of his leg. He had been assisting to unload bore casing from a trailer at the rear of Lange and Co., when a length of casing weighing a quarter of a ton, rolled off the trailer and crashed into him. Initial reports suggested he was ‘comfortable in spite of his injury.’ In reality, Henry remained a patient at the Mt. St. Ives Hospital in Melbourne well into the following year but was still reported as ‘making good progress’ in February. He finally returned to Mount Gambier in April to then leave for Adelaide to attend Anzac Day ceremonies. Henry continued to receive treatment for what was later described as two broken ankles but nine months later was restricted to using ‘two-sticks to get about; but he is showing great improvement.’
Aged 76, Henry died on the 13th November 1976. He was buried in the Lake Terrace Cemetery at Mount Gambier, in Section CA 17 alongside his aunt Margaret Therese Kennedy who died on the 24th March, 1901.
Researched and written by Kaye Lee, daughter of Bryan Holmes SX8133, 2/48th Battalion

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