Private Thomas Kenny received the Victoria Cross for his ‘conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty’ when carrying an injured officer through No Man’s Land while under enemy fire.
A commemorative stone honouring his courage is now set to be unveiled at Wheatley Hill Cemetery on Wednesday, 4 November – exactly 100 years after his act of heroism.
More than 50 members of Pte Kenny’s family are expected to attend the event alongside Cllr Jan Blakey, the Chairman of Durham County Council, and Sue Snowdon, Lord Lieutenant of County Durham.
The stone is the first of seven that will be laid across County Durham over the next three years as part of a national initiative to provide a lasting legacy for those who received the VC for their actions during the conflict.
Each stone bears the soldier’s name, rank and regiment along with the date of the action for which they were awarded the medal.
The unveiling ceremony has been jointly funded by East Durham AAP, the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Then and Now Programme and Wheatley Hill Parish Council.
Cllr Jan Blakey, Chairman of Durham County Council, said: “Thomas Kenny was an extremely brave man and a deserved recipient of the Victoria Cross. It is only right and fitting that he should be honoured in the community he returned to after the First World War.
“The unveiling of the commemorative paving stone is set to be a very moving occasion, not least because so many members of Pte Kenny’s family are set to attend.”
Ivor Crowther, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund North East, said: “The First World War shaped the world we live in and affected millions of lives across the globe. Money raised by National Lottery players is ensuring these stories and their legacies are shared and is enabling incredible figures such as Thomas Kenny to be honoured.”
Pte Kenny was born in 1882 in South Wingate and was working as a miner when he enlisted in 1914. Leaving behind his wife Isobel and six children, he joined the 13th (Service) Battalion DLI, arriving in Boulogne in August 1915.
It was while out on patrol in No Man’s Land, that Lieutenant Philip Brown was shot through both thighs. Pte Kenny carried him for more than an hour through thick fog and under enemy fire. Eventually, Kenny came across an area he recognised. After making Lt Brown as comfortable as possible, he headed for his battalion’s frontline to fetch help.
Pte Kenny returned with stretcher bearers and they carried Lt Brown back to the battalion’s trenches. With terrible wounds and weak from blood loss, Lt Brown died while being carried to the dressing station.
Pte Kenny received his VC from King George V on 4 March 1916 at Buckingham Palace. He was met in London by Lt Brown’s mother, who noted his ‘devotion to Philip’ and commented that ‘the eloquence with which he spoke of him was most striking’.
Pte Kenny survived the war and returned to life as a miner at Wingate Colliery and then Wheatley Hill.
On returning home, he was greeted by villagers who presented him with £50 in war bonds.
Children from his old school, Wingate Catholic School, also recited a poem written especially for Pte Kenny.
Present day pupils from the school, now known as St Mary’s RCVA School, will read the same poem at the unveiling of the commemorative paving stone.
There will also be readings by Father Kenneth Crawford, Chaplain to the Durham Light Infantry Association and local parish priest Father Ian Jackson.
The ceremony starts at 11am but members of the public wishing to attend are asked to arrive by 10.30am. Wheatley Hill Heritage Centre, inside the cemetery gates, will be open from 10am.
Read more about Thomas Kenny’s story on the Durham at War website – visit www.durhamatwar.org.uk/story/11173/