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The comeuppance of the errant Private Kenna

Don Hook

Private Ted Kenna arrived at Heidelberg hospital in Melbourne in 1945 as part of a medical convoy. He’d been in Wewak. His face had been shattered by a Japanese bullet through the mouth.

The task of removing Ted Kenna’s bandages was given to Private Marjorie Rushberry, a young member of the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service who, years later, recalled the stench of unwrapping dressings applied in faraway battlefields.

Nurse Rushberry was involved in Kenna’s care from the days immediately after his admission to Heidelberg. At first, his recovery was far from certain as he lay in the one room reserved for the most serious case.

Gaining consciousness at long last, Kenna gazed at the caring face of his AAMWS nurse and said: “I’ll marry you”. And he did. And they stayed married until Kenna VC died this week.

His recovery involved many operations to reconstruct his jaw, and it was a year before he left hospital. During this time the romance with Marjorie blossomed (although they admitted later that canoodling was limited).

For a long time Kenna’s jaw was wired and a plaster frame from which spikes projected encircled his head.

But, as he recovered, Kenna frequently absented himself from his hospital ward, courting Private Rushberry. His fellow patients covered for him at roll call and inspections.

One day there was panic in the ward when a message on the PA system ordered Private Kenna to report immediately to the hospital commandant. Kenna, not unusually, was absent.

People scurried in all directions looking for him. He was found in the AAMWS quarters – an area strictly out of bounds for patients.

A sheepish Kenna, fearing the worst, presented at the commandant’s office. The door opened. The commandant saluted him. The Victoria Cross was pinned to his tunic.

And the celebrations began.

Don Hook adds: “I met Ted a few times and had the opportunity to talk quite a bit to him and Marjorie during the 1995 Australia Remembers pilgrimage to PNG. I also reviewed Gwynedd Hunter-Payne's book On the Duckboards on the history of Heidelberg Hospital - officially the 115th AGH - which opened in March 1941 in a sea of mud at Heidelberg, then on the outskirts of Melbourne.”


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