b. 04/04/1882 South Wingate, Durham. d. 29/11/1948 South Wingate, Durham.
Thomas Kenny (1882-1948) was born at Hartbushes, Hutton Henry, South Wingate, County Durham on 4th April 1882. His father was Dermot Kenny, who had a variety of jobs ranging from a navvy drainer to a brickyard labourer. His mother was Mary “Polly” nee McGuire, and both his parents came from Irish backgrounds. They had married in Easington, County Durham in 1880. Thomas had six siblings, four brothers and two sisters. His youngest brother, Hugh, was killed in action on 25th August 1918.
Thomas was educated at St Mary’s Roman Catholic School in Wingate and was then employed as a brickyard labourer and later as a miner at Wheatley Hill Colliery. He married Isabella Applegarth at Easington in 1903 and they would have twelve children, plus two more who died in infancy. Thomas enlisted in August 1914 and on 16th September, the Battalion moved by train from Newcastle to Bullswater Camp, Surrey to join 68th Brigade, 23rd Division. It was also based in Aldershot, Ashford and Bramshott before crossing to France on 25th August 1915.
On 4th November 1915, near La Houssoie, France, in thick mist, an officer in charge of a patrol (Lieutenant Philip Brown) was shot through both thighs. Private Kenny, although repeatedly fired on by the enemy, crawled about for more than an hour with his wounded officer on his back, trying to find his way through the fog to the British trenches. He refused to leave the officer although told several times to do so, and at last, utterly exhausted, left him in a comparatively safe ditch and went for help. He found a rescue party and guided them to the wounded officer who was then brought to safety.
Thomas received his VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 4th March 1916. When he came out of the Palace, he was met by Lieutenant Brown’s mother, who took him to her home in Beckenham, Kent. From then on until her death in 1945, she corresponded regularly with Thomas and his wife. One of his daughters went into domestic service with Lieutenant Brown’s brother. Every year, on the anniversary of his VC action, Thomas received a gift of money from Mrs Brown and her daughter continued this after her death. While on leave for his investiture, he visited his old school and was presented with a clock by the staff and pupils.
During the Battle of the Somme, on 17th July 1916, Thomas saved Private Frank Moody’s life by carrying him to safety after he had received a serious gun shot wound to his leg; it was subsequently amputated and he was discharged in May 1917. Thomas was wounded in October 1916, but returned to the front and was eventually promoted to Company Sergeant Major. The Division moved to Italy in November 1917 and remained there for the rest of the war. Thomas was demobilised in 1919.
Post-war, he worked at Wingate Colliery until 1927 and then returned to Wheatley Hill Colliery as a stoneman and drifter. During the Second World War he served in the Home Guard. After an underground accident in 1944, he became a surface worker.
Thomas died at South Wingate, County Durham on 29th November 1948. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Wheatley Hill Cemetery, until an appeal was launched by members of “The Faithful Inkerman Dinner Club” and a headstone was added in August 1994, unveiled by Captain Richard Annand VC. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 and George VI Coronation Medal 1937. His VC is held privately.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: PRIVATELY HELD.
BURIAL PLACE: WHEATLEY HILL CEMETERY, COUNTY DURHAM.
Durham Light Infantry Museum Memorial
War Illustrated, 22nd January 1916
Philip Brown (the man Thomas Kenny VC tried to save)
At his investiture with Mrs Brown (Lt Brown's mother) courtesy of David Beresford