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Lieut. Gerald Patrick McKenna

11th Battalion AIF

 

   Left Australia:  2 November 1914

   Returned to Australia:  3 July 1919

   Discharged:  26 October 1919

 

 

 

Gerry was born 13 December 1892 in Geraldton, Western Australia. He was the fifth son of John McKenna & Ellen Windsor nee Smith. He enlisted on 9 September 1914, the day before his older brother Derby, at Perth at the age of 21 years and nine months. Prior to enlisting, he was a law student and articled to D.G. Gawler, Solicitor. He listed his father John, Chief Inspector of Police, as his next of kin.
Following a period of training at Blackboy Hill Camp, Northam, Private McKenna was appointed to the 11th Battalion, 3rd Brigade, and embarked at Fremantle on H.M.A.T. Ascanius on 2 November, 1914. The Ascanius formed part of the convoy of 38 troopships carrying approximately 35,000 Australian and New Zealand troops destined to join the Imperial Expeditionary Force, and reached the Port of Alexandria, Egypt on 2 December 1914.
The 11th Battalion was camped at Mena, ten miles from Cairo, at the foot of the Great Pyramid until 28 February 1915 when the Battalion embarked per the S.S. Suffolk, its destination unknown to the troops. On March 5, 1915 the Suffolk  arrived in Mudros Harbour, Lemnos Island, about 60 miles from the Gallipoli Peninsula.  The Battalion's preparation for and participation in the landing at Gallipoli is well documented in Captain Walter C. Belford's history "Legs Eleven".

Gerry McKenna developed pneumonia while in Lemnos and was admitted to hospital at Helouan on 8 April 1915.  He was transferred to the No. 1 Australian General Hospital at Heliopolis where he was admitted on 17 April 1915 and discharged to duty on 2 May.  He subsequently developed pleurisy and was again admitted to hospital on an unrecorded date, eventually being discharged to duty again on 28 December 1915, rejoining his Unit from the 1st Reinforcements on 10 March 1916.
Gerry embarked aboard H.M.T. Corinthian  to join the British Expeditionary Force on 29 March 1916. He disembarked at Marseilles, France on 5 April 1916.
On 8 July 1916, he was admitted to the Military Hospital at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, England with a gun shot wound to the left thigh, inflicted on 3 July while in action in France. He was transferred to the Australian Hospital on 28 August 1916 and discharged fit within one month at Salisbury on 30 August 1916.
In early October 1916 he returned to France and was briefly transferred to the 51st Battalion in Etaples. In December of that year he returned to the 11th Battalion. He was admitted to hospital on several more occasions in November 1916 and January 1917 at Rouens, suffering from tonsillitis, inflamed glands and severe adenitis. In April of 1917 he was appointed Acting Sergeant (without the equivalent pay) and was then stationed at Etaples.
In May of 1917 Gerry rejoined the 11th Battalion and in early July 1917 he was selected to attend No. 6 Officers' Cadet Battalion of the AIF in Oxford England (List No. 210).  On 31 October he was appointed 2nd Lieutenant, posted to General Infantry Reinforcements of the AIF and eventually promoted to Lieutenant on 1 February 1918.
Apart from a period of leave in England in August/September 1918, Gerry spent the final stages of the war in action in France with the 11th Battalion. His brother Derby, 12th Field Ambulance, mentions being in contact with him during this time, and the brothers were known to have been on leave together in London during the latter stages of the war.
On November 2 1918, just prior to the signing of the Armistice, a Requiem Mass was organised at the village of Long in France, by the Roman Catholic Chaplains of the 1st Australian Division to commemorate those who had died in the war.  Lt Gerry McKenna was in charge of the Guard of Honour. The Bishop of Amiens was present and gave the following sermon.

[Copy of address delivered on 4th November, 1918 by Monsignor, The Bishop of Amiens in the Church of Long (Somme) in memory of Officers, N.C.O.'s and men of the Australian Army fallen on the battlefield.]

'My General, Officers, Non-commissioned Officers and Men.

After the words that but a few moments ago have fallen from the lips of one of your Chaplains in the Pulpit, it behoves me, knowing little of your beautiful language, to be silent. But if I give no utterance to my thoughts as this impressive ceremony nears its conclusion I would fail in the fulfilment of a triple duty which my conscience dictates to me, the duty of prayer for your numerous fallen resting in my land of Picardy and on the borders of the Somme, the duty of gratefulness for the liberation of my Diocese from the enemy's yoke, and the duty of admiration for your heroes which has placed you in the foremost ranks amongst the bravest in this unique war.

Together we have prayed for your fallen and their immortal souls have appeared before God who has judged them. As our human praise expires on the brinks of their tombs, we are powerless to grant them the glory to which they have a right. For that reason we pray the Lord to grant them a reward worthy of their sacrifice. May He make them perfectly saintly and beautiful that they may, one and all, without delay, have a right to an eternal crown and a glorious Immortality. As Bishop of Amiens I owe your illustrious Dead my heartfelt thanks because the land of my diocese has been your field of battle and you have delivered it by the sacrifice of your bloods. During the painful days of the invasion, you made ramparts of your breasts, behind which you shielded and saved the last shreds of my territory. Later when victory at last began to smile upon your arms, the Australian Army distinguished itself by the audacity of its attacks, by its utter disregard of Death, by its doggedness and by the rapidity of its advance. In the name of clergy and of my people. I offer you my heartfelt gratitude and admiration.

Gentlemen, your Dead were great men and amongst the most illustrious because they obeyed the highest inspiration.  Why did you leave your far away Australia?  Because of your sentiments of loyalty to the British Empire, and the development of your country, its existence, its economic future and its civilisation, for these were in jeopardy as well as the destinies of France. It was necessary to save from German Military violence the hegemony of the world, for that reason you left your shores and crossed oceans for the honour of your country and for its future.

It takes blood to cement the foundation of a country and you could not refuse it in the world war, the cause of Christianity. You have indeed lavished it with a saintly generosity and in so doing have written a glorious page in the history of Australia.

On the fields of battle, far away from your homes, the love of country became stronger in your hearts, and the children who, during the coming centuries will grow up in your homes and schools, will learn through your great deeds the lesson of patriotism. They will not be able to pronounce your names without speaking of the Towns, Villages, Tablelands, Ridges and Valleys of the Somme, where you have gathered the laurels of Immortality.

Indissoluble links unite our two nations, a link of prayer because we will piously keep the tombs of your heroes, a link of Friendship because the freedom of my Diocese has cost you so much blood, a link of mutual admiration because the hearts of our soldiers, Australian and French, beat with the same love and with the same enthusiasm for the saintly cause whose final triumph will assure the future and development of our two countries under the eyes of God who has Blessed our Arms.'

Gerry returned to Australia in August of 1919.  He brought with him his bride, Edith Lillian Rose "Billie" HINGLEY.   He had left the war behind him - unaware that his battle had just begun.

 

 

The Aftermath

 

Gerry's Demobilisation Form indicates that he had promise of employment, on return to Australia, under Articles of Clerkship with Messrs Gawler, Hardwick & Foreman, Solicitors of Perth & Fremantle. It was clearly his intention to resume his law studies, since he stated that, if it were possible, he would prefer to remain in and attend a University in England. No doubt this request was as a result of his marriage to Billie.

Gerry returned to Australia in 1919, as previously stated, and took up the position promised him with Messrs Gawler, Hardwick & Foreman. In late 1920, he applied for a Military Pension as a result of the onset of illness caused by injuries suffered while on active service. His application reads in part:

"I beg to make application for examination for the purpose of receiving consideration from your Department. I returned to Australia in August 1919, and although feeling ill previously, the voyage to Australia temporarily set me right. For some time now I have not been well and have consulted Dr. O'Meara of Beaufort Street, Perth, who advises me that I must leave all work alone for at least three months and go away from Perth. I think that my complaint is war caused and am therefore entitled for medical examination.

STATED DISABILITY: At Hollebecke in March 1918 I received sufficient gas to lose my voice for 8 weeks, but did not leave the Battn. In Sept. 1918 at Villerette I was partially buried, but did not leave the Battalion. From Nov. 1917 until Dec. 1918 I did not leave the Battn. except for 14 days leave in England"

The disease Gerry was suffering from was neurasthenia. His Doctor, O'Meara, declared that it was the result of his war service. Gerry further stated that owing to his health he had been unable to sit for his law examinations in May and October of 1920.

In February of 1921 Gerry was granted a part Military pension of 33 and a third percent, from the date of claim, at the medical examiner's recommendation. Gerry appealed. His appeal was disallowed in May of 1921 and he was declared as being "fit for land". 

In September of 1921 he submitted a further appeal which stated that he understood that as a result of his receiving assistance under the "Vocational Training System" that the department contended that he was ineligible for assistance under the Soldier Settlement Scheme. At that time Gerry further submitted that he had been unable to sit for the necessary examination entitling him to be admitted as a legal practitioner in the Supreme Court of WA and that on medical advice he had left Perth and settled in the country.

He had subsequently given up hopes of pursuing a professional career and had taken up a life more compatible with his state of health. He had purchased, from A.A. Rosenow of Merredin, a farm which was under the Scheme, and considered that he was entitled to the same consideration as Mr Rosenow.

In January of 1922 the Department granted Gerry clearance under the Soldier's Settlement Scheme. It is interesting to note that on various occasions during these appeals Gerry was examined by a medical officer and it is clear that his health was gradually declining.  Despite that fact, and that he was endeavouring to make a living on the land, his pension was reduced to 25 per cent in December of 1923. There is a brief note in the appeal papers concerning Gerry being incapacitated as a result of the hard work required by harvesting in late 1925. There was no amendment to his pension status.

Gerry's health continued to decline over the next few years, he suffered weight loss and several other maladies, he was examined by the Department's medical officers on a continuing basis and while his health continued to degenerate, his pension remained at the previous 25 per cent. By 1935 he was working as a Timekeeper for the WA Government Railways. He had been in that position, intermittently, since 1928.

In July of 1938, he was examined by Dr. H.G. Caulfield of Morawa who certified that he was suffering from heart disease and was totally unfit for his work. He was then admitted as a Department Out-Patient. An examination during this time by Dr Bruce Hunt concluded that Gerry's Coronary Sclerosis "if present" was not due to War Service. He was stated as being fit only for clerical duties.

In December of 1937, another of Gerry's appeals resulted in his pension being increased to 35 per cent.  In March of 1938 a Tribunal heard yet another appeal by Gerry against the then current status of his pension, at the time he was working as a Timekeeper for the WAGR in Northam. All the previously mentioned medical information had been submitted. His appeal was disallowed.

During WWII, at his own request, Gerry was removed from the pension list and served in the ammunitions department in Perth for the duration of the War.

As if to add insult to injury, in 1957 the Department disallowed Gerry's application for Recreation Transport Allowance. Once again he appealed in the following terms:

"Last year my wife and I went to Perth together by ordinary transport six times & on three occasions I had to get a taxis in Perth & return home, as a heart attack had commenced; on the other three occasions I suffered attacks after returning home.

The easiest means of transport for me is a bus which travels along Eighth Avenue, Bassendean, but I find that the hill between Eighth Avenue and Seventh Avenue (where I live) too much for me."

The application was disallowed.  There is a note on his file indicating that the Department's medical officer, despite the reports submitted by Gerry's Doctor, maintained that the situation required "more an understanding of the mind of the Department" than an understanding of the disease from which Gerry was suffering.

Perhaps the most enlightening of the documents in Gerry's file is a letter written by him to the Deputy Commissioner of the Repatriation Department on 21 January of 1960. It outlines the gradual deterioration in his health and the effects on his family. His frustration is evident.

Gerry died in January of 1964 and is buried in Karrakatta Cemetery. His pension was unchanged. The Department contributed the equivalent of 33 per cent towards his funeral costs.

"A valiant heart at rest"

LEST WE FORGET?