Second World War VC For Sale

The medal group of a Bren gunner who single-handedly captured a Japanese machine-gun post is expected to bring Au$900,000 at auction, reports Martin Mace.

After serving with the Citizen Military Forces in Australia, Private Edward Kenna volunteered for the Australian Infantry Force in June 1942. The following year his unit, the 23/21st Battalion, was disbanded, its men being distributed amongst other battalions. Edward Kenna was assigned to the 2/4th Battalion and embarked for New Guinea in October 1944.

As part of the 19th Brigade in the Australian 6th Division, Kenna’s battalion was involved in what was considered to be a “mopping up” operation against Japanese forces in the Aitape region of Northern New Guinea. The operation began in November 1944 against approximately 30,000 to 35,000 men from the Japanese 18th Army.

The advance against the Japanese positions proceeded along two axes – the 19th Brigade moved along the coast towards the Japanese base at Wewak, while the 2/6th Cavalry Commando Regiment advanced into the Torricelli Mountains. On 15 May 1945, the 2/4th Battalion, whilst moving upon Wewak, was ordered to attack a Japanese strongpoint which had been established at what was known as the Wirui Mission.

The action which led to Private Kenna being awarded the Victoria Cross was described in an entry in the London Gazette of 4 September 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 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 Kenn’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.”

Private Kenna’s medals, along with many associated artefacts, documents and photographs, are to be auctioned by Noble on 26–28 July at the Dallas Brooks Centre, Melbourne. The guide price is Au$900,000.

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