The Daily Telegraph, 28 September 2000

Sergeant John Kenneally VC, 1st Bn, Irish Guards, has died at his home in Rochford, Worcestershire, aged 79. Kenneally earned his Victoria Cross whilst fighting in North Africa in 1943.

In order that the city of Tunis be taken it was vital that The Bou, a feature which dominated the ground between Medjez el Bab and Tetourba, was captured. A Guards brigade seized a portion of it on 27th April and while a further attack was being prepared, the Irish Guards occupied the western end. They were subjected to frequent German counter-attacks, but it was of the greatest importance that the Irish hold on.

Kenneally's deeds proved a turning point in a desperate battle between veteran Afrika Korps troops and the Irish Guards, an action in which the latter took nearly 90 per cent causalties. His citation recorded that he had "influenced the whole course of the battle" and his courage in breaking up two attacks "was an achievement that can seldom have been equalled"

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 17 August 1943 ], The Bou, Dj Arada, Tunisia, 28 April 1943, Lance Corporal John Patrick Kenneally, 1st Bn, Irish Guards.

The Bou feature dominates all ground East and West between Medjez El Bab and Tebourba. It was essential to the final assault on Tunis that this feature should be captured and held.

A Guards Brigade assaulted and captured a portion of the Bou on the 27th April 1943. The Irish Guards held on to points 212 and 214 on the Western end of the feature, at which points the Germans frequently counter-attacked. While a further attack to capture the complete feature was being prepared, it was essential for the Irish Guards to hold on. They did so. On the 28th April, 1943, the positions held by one Company of the Irish Guards on the ridge between points 212 and 214 were about to be subjected to an attack by the enemy.

Approximately one Company of the enemy were seen forming up preparatory to attack and Lance-Corporal Kenneally decided that this was the right moment to attack them himself. Single-handed he charged down the bare forward slope straight at the main enemy body firing his Bren gun from the hip as he did so. This outstanding act of gallantry and the dash with which it was executed completely unbalanced the enemy Company which broke up in disorder. Lance-Corporal Kenneally then returned to the crest further to harass their retreat.

Lance-Corporal Kenneally repeated this remarkable exploit on the morning of the 30th April 1943, when, accompanied by a Sergeant of the Reconnaissance Corps, he again charged the enemy forming up for an assault. This time he so harassed the enemy, inflicting many casualties, that this projected attack was frustrated: the enemy's strength was again about one Company. It was only when he was noticed hopping from one fire position to another further to the left, in order to support another Company, carrying his gun in one hand and supporting himself on a Guardsman with the other, that it was discovered he had been wounded. He refused to give up his Bren gun, claiming that he was the only one who understood that gun, and continued to fight all through that day with great courage, devotion to duty and disregard for his own safety.

The magnificent gallantry of this N.C.O. on these two occasions, under heavy, fire, his unfailing vigilance, and remarkable accuracy were responsible for saving, many valuable lives during the days and nights in the forward positions. His actions also played a considerable part in holding these positions and this influenced the whole course of the battle. His rapid appreciation of the situation, his initiative and his extraordinary gallantry in attacking single-handed a massed body of the enemy and breaking up an attack on two occasions, was an achievement that can seldom have been equalled. His courage in fighting all day when wounded was an inspiration to all ranks.

John Kenneally was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the 24th May 1944.

After the engagement, various awards were published but there was no mention of a medal for Kenneally, although he was promoted to sergeant. He had hoped that he might have been awarded a Military Medal, but was philosophical when this was not forthcoming. The announcement of his VC in mid-August came as a tremendous shock to him. Many in the regiment had been interviewed and had known what was about, but it was a very well kept secret which he was the last to learn.

John Kenneally was born, he claimed, Leslie Robinson on 15th March 1921, and grew up on a farm in the north of England and was sent to the King Edward Grammer School in Birmingham for his education. There he excelled at games and was a patrol leader in the Scouts. On his 18th birthday he joined the Royal Artillery TA, and at the start of the Second World War was mobilised. He was posted to an anti-aircraft battery in Dollis Hill, north London, but this he found insufficiently exciting. Early in 1941 he fell in with some Irish labourers who persuaded him to desert and accompany them to Glasgow. They gave him an identity card bearing the name of John Patrick Kenneally, a labourer who had returned to Ireland.

The new Kenneally, having fabricated a childhood in Tipperary, then enlisted with the Irish Guards at Manchester, he had already been favourably impressed by the regiment when he had spent a week at their detention centre in Wellington Barracks after over staying a leave. The Guards, although rigorous, proved all he had hoped for. The regiment landed at Bone, North Africa, in March 1943 and almost immediately proceeded to the front at Medjez el Bab. Later they fought at Anzio, where Kenneally was again wounded. Subsequently he was stationed in Germany and, after joining the Guards Parachute Battalion, served in Palestine and Trans-Jordan before leaving the Army in the rank of Company Sergeant-Major.

After the award of his Victoria Cross Kenneally received thousands of letters from all over the world, and in 1945 was praised by Winston Churchill himself. Kenneally's VC resides with the Irish Guards RHQ, Wellington Barracks, London, and his final resting place is in his home village of Rochford, Worcestershire.

Medal entitlement of Company Sergeant Major John Kenneally - 1st Bn, Irish Guards

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1939 - 45 Star
  • Africa Star
  • Italy Star
  • Defence Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1977 )

VC Deaths

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Iain Stewart, 30 September 2000