John Patrick Kenneally (né Leslie Jackson) VC (15 March 1921 – 27 September 2000)
John Patrick Kenneally was born as Leslie Jackson at 104 Alexandra Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham. His mother was Gertrude Nowell Robinson, the 18-year-old daughter of a Blackpool pharmacist who had been sent to live with relatives in order to conceal her son's illegitimate birth. She changed her surname to Jackson, and had her son christened Leslie. His father was a wealthy Mancunian Jewish textile manufacturer, Neville Blond, who would later become chairman of the English Stage Company and marry Elaine Marks, the Marks & Spencer heiress.
Maintenance from Blond enabled Jackson to be initially educated at the privately run Calthorpe College. He later attended Tindal Street Junior Council School and then King Edward VI Five Ways.
Jackson joined the Honourable Artillery Company on his 18th birthday. He was assigned to an anti-aircraft battery and overstayed a period of leave. He was sentenced to a period of detention at Wellington Barracks, run by the Irish Guards. He was impressed by their high standards and applied for a transfer but was rejected. Jackson deserted and joined a group of itinerant Irish labourers, eventually making his way to Glasgow. When one of them returned to Ireland he obtained his identity card and used it to enlist in the Irish Guards.
He was a 22 year old lance-corporal in the Irish Guards when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.
On 28 April 1943 at Djebel Bou Azoukaz, Tunisia, Lance-Corporal Kenneally charged alone down the bare forward slope straight into the main body of the enemy about to make an attack, firing his Bren gun from the hip; the enemy were so surprised that they broke up in disorder. The lance-corporal repeated his exploit on 30 April when, accompanied by a sergeant, he charged the enemy forming up for assault, inflicting many casualties. Even when wounded he refused to give up, but hopped from one fire position to another, carrying his gun in one hand and supporting himself on a comrade with the other.
He was remembered in Winston Churchill's famous broadcast speech on 13 May 1945 "Five years of War", as having defended Ireland's honour:
"When I think of these days I think also of other episodes and personalities. I do not forget Lieutenant-Commander Esmonde V.C., D.S.O., Lance-Corporal Kenneally, V.C., Captain Fegen V.C., and other Irish heroes that I could easily recite, and all bitterness by Britain for the Irish race dies in my heart. I can only pray that in years which I shall not see, the shame will be forgotten and the glories will endure, and that the peoples of the British Isles and of the British Commonwealth of Nations will walk together in mutual comprehension and forgiveness."
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.
Kenneally finished his military career in the newly formed 1st Guards Parachute Battalion and later bought himself out of the army in July 1948 to be with his wife and children.
Kenneally went in to the motor trade after the army and remained in it for the rest of his working life. He briefly appeared in the news again in 2000 when he published his autobiography and wrote to the Daily Telegraph rebuking Peter Mandelson for calling the Irish Guards “chinless wonders”.
His Victoria Cross is displayed at The Guards Regimental Headquarters (Irish Guards RHQ) in Wellington Barracks, London, England.
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