Skip to comments.Ted Kenna understood life in a way that we canít (Australian Victoria Cross - great read)
Posted on 07/10/2009 5:28:37 PM PDT by naturalman1975
Its hard for anyone under the age of at least 50 to say they truly understood Ted Kenna, except for his family and perhaps anyone whos almost died in combat.
And Ted was probably easier to understand than others famed or prominent among his World War II generation, a laconic, uncomplicated country guy who happened to have been given a medal called the Victoria Cross.
Ted Kenna and his wife Marjorie
For valour. Its the highest honour you can get.
But judging by the muted reaction to Teds death, at 90, a lot of people didnt really get what he was about.
The story broke in the local Geelong news media on Thursday, which covers where he lived his final few years in a nursing home, in an understated manner befitting Ted, (Nedda to his mates).
By 4 pm, ABC radio in Melbourne hadnt picked it up or, if maybe they did they didnt think the news worthy to include in their bulletin.
In one way you cant blame them, for not getting it because 20 or 30 years ago many people of my baby boomer generation may not have only been indifferent, but possibly hostile to men of Ted Kennas background.
How could you expect much younger people, in their 20s, to rate the significance of a VC holder?
Their parents, possibly slightly older than myself, were marching in anti- Vietnam war protests in the 60s, but we younger boomers who grew up in the 70s inherited the deep suspicion and antipathy from older siblings towards the military and their decorations for making war.
A lot of people may even still very quietly - agree with Mark Lathams description of the army (particularly the grunts) as meatheads.
To this day, Ted Kennas generation grew up in a distant past called the Great Depression, were religious, mostly poor or of a wealthy class and danced to horn music called swing and admired soft-voiced crooners.
For us, it might well have been King Arthurs kingdom or ancient Rome, as these people were even older than our seemingly tin-eared parents we blasted with Led Zeppelin.
Now it is sobering to reflect that these vigorous, energetic men in their 50s who firmly held the reigns of power in business and politics, men like Dick Hamer, Roden Cutler, Maurice Nathan or those who led communities as footy club presidents or mayors, or CFA chiefs, are nearly all gone.
After the war there were nearly a million, a decade ago it was 300,000 and now its just over 100,000 barely enough to fill the MCG. In a decade?
Theyre dying at the rate they watched their own fathers of World War I die.
Incredibly, we boomers are now the ages, or nearly so, of those men who decided our lives.
We physically will become them in what may seem faster time than has elapsed since our youth.
Sure, we listen to a lot of the same music as our kids, possibly because weve imposed our tastes on them.
But perhaps age does bring some instinctive insight on what drove men like Kenna, even if true understanding is impossible without having lived through their times.
Ted was not one of those powerbrokers I mentioned, far, far from it.
The kid who survived the Depression as a dead-eye dick shooting rabbits, was of a generation which had responsibility thrust upon them at an age when most of us (and our kids) were living at home, studying, partying, raving and chasing a root.
They had no choice, many robbed of youth.
Perhaps thats why some couldnt understand our generation, who had it all, and to them wanted to piss it up against a wall through the freedom of ill-discipline, mind-bending explorations, a soft life.
Before war intervened, Kenna was an apprentice plumber destined to lead a solid but probably anonymous life in the wider world.
Private Kenna had greatness thrust upon him for an act of courage, maybe an adrenalin surge, which saw him haul up an 11-kilo pound Bren machine gun like a pistol at his side, rattle off rounds and expose himself to enemy fire so he was destined to die.
I met Ted Kenna on five or six and seriously interviewed him a couple of times.
His watery eyes focussed on yours when he spoke and he had the inbuilt Aussie bullshit detector of so many of his generation.
He wasnt an openly judgemental man, but one way to get a courteous, quick interview lacking any insight was to start off asking about Wewak.
Teds own choice as action highlight of his life was kicking the winning point for Hamilton in the 1947 football Grand Final. Get him on to footy and you were right.
He didnt say he roved and dived into packs with a jaw still fragile, after 18 months in hospital and numerous operations to rebuild his face after it was hit by an exploding bullet.
Even in old age, it still slightly impeded his speech.
When he did come around to war talk, hed tell you that many other blokes did similar things up there in Wewak, - or in Libya, Malaya or Rabaul - and you knew those eyes had seen such heroism.
Its just that the vast majority of acts of inexplicable courage or brave madness or whatever in war are not seen or not noticed by the right officer or dont fit the medal quota.
Medals are a political minefield.
Ted didnt know why his act of valour had been singled out where others hadnt.
But he did know it meant his national service would only end with his death.
He felt he was wearing that medal for everyone of those others who had missed out, his 2/4th infantry mates, and particularly those killed in those unforgiving, unimaginable, steamy Pacific hellholes of violence.
Ted only had a basic education, common for his time.
His generation were Spartan because they had to be and used to authoritarian discipline, perhaps often inflexible and stupid. Many rebelled.
Kenna once told an officer to stick a promotion to Lance Corporal because it would mean leaving his unit mates.
But as part of that militarised generation he knew his duty.
His education was his life.
He married his nurse. Savvy and articulate, Marjorie Rushbury, was the perfect wife, confidante, and manager to support, guide and prepare him.
They became a team for over 60 years.
When you arrived at the Kenna household for an interview, Marjorie always had Ted in a jacket and tie, starched, spotless white shirt.
It was a photographic challenge to get a relaxed, natural shot unless he was visiting a school or a community group.
Ted Kenna was given the Town Hall caretakers job by Hamilton council, seemingly with tacit understanding it allowed the Kenna team to dedicate themselves to the duties of Ted Kenna, VC.
It wasnt any act, it wasnt ego-driven, it was duty and a community obligation.
Sure, Ted from the bush was close to urbane, ex-NSW Governor Sir Rhoden Cutler, because they both shared the burden of wearing the VC. Its an intimate club.
Those who write about VC winners dont understand. They are VC holders they didnt win" the medal like a shot on the roulette wheel at Crown.
Sure, the country boy from Hamilton liked flying as a VIP to meet Queens, princes, celebrities and statesmen, but he had a natural, mischievous cheerfulness that most likely sprung out when he was at a school, scout hall or a sports club afternoon tea.
He knew, perhaps learned from meeting the Queen 13 times, how to behave.
He knew his public role but was at ease quietly merging into the background to let everyone enjoy themselves.
Kenna was looked after by veterans affairs his fragile health certainly needed it - but he never got paid for his thousands of visits and appearances.
Professional sportsmen, take note.
He didnt mind an ale and his pleasure was sitting at the local with mates, the radio on the races or footy, an indulgence.
When he told you war was no good, you knew he lost mates.
The Kenna home was partly funded by a grateful community.
The couple remained for decades in that same basic, post-war weatherboard where they had raised four kids.
Spotless, warm, cosy inside with walls of pictures evoking memories and tales of good times, it was like Ted Kenna himself.
So, while we can never fully understand why young Kenna did what he did that day in May, 1945, maybe we can get some grip on the older mans sense of duty and obligation, with no strings attached.
It is selflessness. Another word for giving love, perhaps.
Its very hard to win a VC, and its a lot harder to wear one for 60 years, Marjorie once said, recalling what Teds old commander Captain Phil Smith wrote.
Thats a depth of selflessness and responsibility that maybe only comes to some with the maturity of raising children, the responsibility of holding down a pressure job, the responsibility giving up time to coach a sports team or lead a community group.
Most people are middle aged by the time they start to wake up to their family tree, their heritage and why we have it is so good here in Australia.
Have those of us who marched for peace, against nukes, listened to Lennon and the like, done any better with our kids than Kennas generation of Australians?
Maybe its not so bad that we baby boomers are now where men like Ted Kenna were for most of our lives, on the mature side of the old generation gap.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:-
No. VX. 102142 Private Edward KENNA, 2/4 Australian Infantry Battalion, Australian Military Forces.
In the South West Pacific at Wewak on 15th May, 1945, during the attack on the Wirui Mission features, Private Kenna's company had the task of capturing certain enemy positions. The only position from which observation for supporting fire could be obtained was continuously swept by enemy heavy machine gun fire and it was not possible to bring Artillery or Mortars into action.
Private Kenna's platoon was ordered forward to deal with the enemy machine gun post, so that the company operation could proceed. His section moved as close as possible to the bunker in order to harass any enemy seen, so that the remainder of the platoon could attack from the flank. When the attacking sections came into view of the enemy they were immediately engaged at very close range by heavy automatic fire from a position not previously disclosed. Casualties were suffered and the attackers could not move further forward.
Private Kenna endeavoured to put his Bren gun into a position where he could engage the bunker, but was unable to do so because of the nature of the ground. On his own initiative and without orders Private Kenna immediately stood up in full view of the enemy less than fifty yards away and engaged the bunker, firing his Bren gun from the hip. The enemy machine gun immediately returned Private Kenna's fire and with such accuracy that bullets actually passed between his arms and his body. Undeterred, he remained completely exposed and continued to fire at the enemy until his magazine was exhausted. Still making a target of himself, Private Kenna discarded his Bren gun and called for a rifle. Despite the intense machine gun fire, he seized the rifle and, with amazing coolness, killed the gunner with his first round.
A second automatic opened fire on Private Kenna from a different position and another of the enemy immediately tried to move into position behind the first machine gun, but Private Kenna remained standing and killed him with his next round.
The result of Private Kenna's magnificent bravery in the face of concentrated fire, was that the bunker was captured without further loss, and the company attack proceeded to a successful conclusion, many enemy being killed and numerous automatic weapons captured.
There is no doubt that the success of the company attack would have been seriously endangered and many casualties sustained but for Private Kenna's magnificent courage and complete disregard for his own safety. His action was an outstanding example of the highest degree of bravery.
RIP Brother. Brave men are few and far between, especially now. USAF salutes to you.