William Harold Kenny (20 August 1887 – 15 May 1949)

Kenny AWM H05515William (Bill) Harold Kenny was born on 20 August 1887 in Guyra, New South Wales to parents Mary Kenny (neé Moore from Wollombi) and Michael Kenny, a farmer from Kilkenny, Ireland.

William’s parents got married in Inverell on 30 May 1872. They were both in their 40’s when William was born.

Bill had two sisters, Rachel and Elizabeth, as well as an older brother Henry Butler, who also served with the Queensland Police Force.


Prior to joining the Queensland Police Fore, Kenny served with the Citizen Forces. On 28 April 1914, supernumerary Bill Kenny was sworn in into the Queensland Police Force (Reg No 1852, QSA 4720), aged 26 years and 8 months. The Register, describes William as 6’1 ¼ inches tall, with brown eyes and hair, and of dark complexion. His religion is listed as ‘Roman Catholic’ and previous calling as a ‘Farmer’. (Register of Members of the Queensland Police, 1895-1917 and 1879-1924)


Prior to enlisting in the AIF, Constable WH Kenny received only one transfer, to Roma street.


On 21 August 1914, the day after his 27th birthday, Private Kenny was appointed to ‘A’ Squadron at Enoggera, Regimental Number 171 (NAA AIF B2455, Item No 11563912). On 24 September 1914, he boarded the HMAT Star of England from Brisbane, as a member of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment.

Star of england 4265180
HMAT Star of England. HMAT Star of England (A15), at Pinkenbar, Queensland, with the 2nd Australian Light Horse Regiment aboard. This vessel was part of a convoy carrying the first contingent to Egypt. AWM C02483

Pte Kenny landed in Gallipoli with the 1st Division’s Mounted Military Police, ‘many of whom had been recruited from men who were civil policemen and good horsemen.’ (Police Bulletin, May 2016, p. 15) According to the Royal Australian Corps of Military Police centenary publication, the Military Police was raised from the corps alone with a formal approval for creation of the ANZAC Provost Corps granted by General Birdwood on 9 March 1916. The order was promulgated a month later, on 3 April. In March 1915, Kenny arrived in Heliopolis and soon after was transferred to the Army Police Headquarters, where he was assigned to General Birdwood as a bodyguard.

Kenny’s military record shows he was court-martialled in February 1916. RACMP historian Geoff Barr recounts the circumstances that led to the trial:

Early 1916, back in Egypt, Kenny was still only holding the rank of lance corporal. Towards the end of January, Lance Corporal Kenny and Trooper Patrick Delaney were involved in an incident with a group of drunken soldiers from the 14t Battalion, one of the group, a Private Thomas, swore at Kenny. Kenny dismounted and struck the soldier, who hit his head hard he fell to the ground.
Kenny and Delaney then rode off, the 14th Battalion soldiers took Thomas to hospital, where he died shortly afterwards…Court-martialled on the charge of Manslaughter, Kenny must surely have been lucky to have remained a MMP [Mounted Military Police] and to avoid being punished as a result of Thomas’ death. Kenny’s commendations for bravery must have assisted in his case.

Lance Corporal William Kenny, Military Discipline: Policing the 1st Australian Imperial Force 1914-1920
NAA_ItemNumber11563912 (dragged)
Kenny was found not guilty. (NAA B2455, p. 28)

On 18 May 1916, Pte Kenny was awarded “Medaille Militaire” by the President of the 3rd French Republic, Raymond Poincaré, in recognition for his distinguished service during the campaign. (Com of Aus Gazette, No 60, 18 May 1916).


In June of the same year, Pte Kenny of 2nd ANZAC HQ, was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal ‘for conspicuous good work throughout this campaign frequently under shell fire.’

Mid-June, Kenny was taken ill and admitted to 24th Stationary Hospital. (NAA B2455p. 24)

NAA_ItemNumber11563912 (dragged) 5

In July 1916, he embarked overseas with the 2nd ANZAC Police Force from Alexandria. Kenny continued to serve as a military policeman, Royal Australian Corps of Military Police (RACMP) on the Western Front until the end of the war.

His record shows he spend the rest of his service in France with three-weeks’ leave in 1917. Having been gradually rising through the ranks, in January 1918, Kenny was awarded a rank of Senior Sergeant. In March he had another fortnight’s leave to the UK.

Sr Sgt Kenny was discharged on 4 March 1919. In October 1919, Bill Kenny married Christina Agnes McClellan. Their son William Harold was born two years later in 1921.

Henry Butler Kenny (brother)

In November 1917, while Pte William Harold Kenny was in Europe, his older brother Henry Butler Kenny (dob 27 Jan 1875) also a policeman, was stationed at Warwick and placed in charge of the police contingent during the political rally taking place in the town. On 29 November, Prime Minister Hughes was delivering a speech and got struck with an egg thrown at him from the crowd. Brothers Patrick ‘Paddy’ and Bart Brosnan, ‘the Australian-born sons of Bart Brosnan from Co. Kerry, were identified the as perpetrators. In the fallout, Prime Minister Hughes accused the local premier, and the police, of anti-conscription sentiment and disloyalty.’ (Dukova, Century Ireland)

Henry Butler Kenny. PM2648, Queensland Police Museum

Following an investigation by Chief Inspector Short, Senior Sergeant Kenny was exonerated of all charges.

Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday 5 December 1917, page 12. Accessed via TROVE http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15748220

Elizabeth Kenny (sister)

Elizabeth Kenny (dob 20 Sep 18800, Bill’s older sibling, was a member of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) later became famous for her methods for treating the victims of poliomyelitis. Her contributions were memoralised by Rosalind Russell in a biographical film eponymously titled Sister Kenny (1946).

Rosalind Russell portrayed Sister Kenny on the silver screen. She won a Golden Globe for her performance in 1947.

In reality, nurse Elizabeth’s first encounter of a child with polio was confronting. However, she was able to draw on her knowledge of muscular structure to relieve the suffering child’s painful contractions by applying a heat compresses hastily fashioned out boiled woollen cover strips. (John Robert Wilson, Through Kenny’s Eyes (1995), p. 36)

Sister Elizabeth Kenny

After the First World War

Bill Kenny returned to Brisbane and resumed his police service on 8 March 1919, where he continued performing his duties for another 24 years. Constable Kenny spent 12 years in Gilbert River (1920-1932), and two years each in Tewantin where he was in charge of the station (1932-34), Cloncurry (1934-36) and seven years in Toowoomba (1936-43). Constable Kenny was granted a favourable records on 18 November 1927 for good work, in conjunction with the alleged stealing of calves from Oakland Park Station, near Croydon. (Staff File, 843 CS) Kenny received his only promotion to Sergeant 2/c in September 1834.

In November 1942, he was assaulted by Percy Richards ‘whilst affecting his arrest’ and sustained a fractured ankle, ‘an injury that deemed him medically unfit’ for police duty. (10 Mar 1943, AF 4720) He retired on 5 April 1943, at the rank of Sergeant 2/c, aged 55, and continued to reside in Toowoomba at 99 MacKenzie Street. He continued working as a market gardener (NAA: B884, Q226415 p. 6)

In 1937, Kenny wrote a series of articles for the Queensland Digger, which are available for download as a pdf file here, courtesy of the Queensland Police Museum.

World War II

Aged 55 years, Kenny re-joined the Australian Army as a Sergeant and finished a course with Australian Infantry Leaders Section qualifying as a Section Leader. (NAA: B884, Q226415 p. 5) He received one promotion in 1944, to the rank of Warrant Officer Class 1 and placed on reserve. Kenny was discharged on 21 October 1945.

Bill Kenny died on 15 May 1949 of malignant tumour of abdomen aged 62, and subsequently buried at Toowoomba Cemetery. The Repatriation Board accepted Kenny’s cause of death as ‘being due to his war service’. He was survived by his wife, Christina Agnes, and son, William Harold Kenny, an air-pilot instructor. Christina died on 13 June 1980, in Sunnybank, Brisbane.

The lines at Lavarack Barracks, Townsville, are named after Willian Harold Kenny.

Further Readings: 

A link to a dramatised story of William Harold Kenny’s life

Dukova, A. ‘The Dublin Metropolitan Police & the colonial legacies of Irish policing’, Century Ireland. RTE 

Wilson, John Robert. Through Kenny’s Eyes (1995)

Queensland Digger 

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