A GOOD SHEPHERD – the story of Fr James William Kenny.
Compiled by Mr Tony Parrini of St Augustine’s Carlisle April 2019
Fr Kenny at his Ordination.
Fr Kenny in uniform.
As the Nation marks the 75th Anniversary of D Day on 6th June and then various anniversaries that led to the end of World War II, it is important to remember the sacrifice made by many of our clergy who spent time as Chaplains to Armed Forces and particularly those who lost their lives in action.
Tucked away in the archives of the Carlisle Council 60 of the Knights of St Columba was a cutting from the Lancaster Catholic Voice of June 1995 with a letter from Bishop John Brewer concerning Fr James Kenny who in turn had been a Member of Honour of the KSC back in the late 1930’s. Nothing special about that I thought until I started to research Fr James William Kenny a little further to discover a war hero involved in the D Day Landings 75 years ago in 1944 and the Rhine crossing in March 1945.
James William Kenny was one of 3 sons, the others being Bernard and Thomas, of James and Matilda Kenny of St Helier’s Road, Blackpool. Mrs Kenny will have brought up her children on her own as her husband had been killed in action in Egypt during World War I. James attended St Joseph’s College in Blackpool and went on to the seminary at Ushaw College in County Durham. He was ordained on 29th July 1939 at English Martyrs in Preston and appointed assistant priest to Mgr R L Smith at Our Lady and St Joseph’s Church in Carlisle and was an honorary Chaplain to the troops at Carlisle Castle.
Mrs Jo Widdowson recounts her childhood days when Fr Kenny organised the Youth Club in Waterton Hall and outings for the children. Another elderly parishioner remembers him leading the May processions round the grounds at Warwick Square. But Europe was at war and before long priests were being called up to serve as Chaplains in the Armed Forces. Fr Kenny was one of 2 priests called up from Carlisle, the other being Fr Peter Firth from an adjacent Parish. Fr Kenny joined the 6th Airborne Division in August 1943 and trained alongside the “Paras” over the next few months. As D Day approached, Fr Kenny was deployed with the Airborne Brigade and a few days after D Day parachuted into France. At the Battle of Caen he was in the thick of the action, administering the Sacraments to the dying and wounded. It is recorded that at the Battle of Caen he carried a wounded soldier on his back to safety after they had been cut off. Bishop John Brewer thought of him on VE Day 1995 linked this to St John’s Gospel 10.27 'Not one of them would be lost'.
What was left of the 6th Airborne Brigade after D Day recovered to England and was re-equipped and prepared for further action. On Palm Sunday 1945, carrying the Blessed Sacrament, Fr Kenny dropped into the hands of the enemy opposition at the Rhine crossing and was killed, 'Laying down his life for his sheep'. All three Kenny brothers served in World War II and it is believed that the other two survived.
Mrs Anne Liddell records “Father Kenny was well known to her mother and her sister Wynne Horseman during his time at Our Lady & St Joseph's. Wynne went to stay with Fr Kenny's mother for a while after his death and later Mrs Liddell’s parents took the family for a holiday in Blackpool and stayed with Mrs Kenny. In 2001 Wynne Horseman was 90, she was treated to a holiday to Cologne to fulfil 3 ambitions including a wish to visit Fr Kenny’s grave at the Reichswald Forest Cemetery in Germany. A photograph of the grave is shown.
On Blackpool’s War Memorial are recorded two men called James William Kenny. Fr Kenny’s father is on the Roll of Honour for World War I and Fr James William Kenny’s name appears in the World War II listings. He is also amongst all those remembered at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Blackpool which was built by the Diocese to commemorate VE and VJ Day.
The Blackpool War Memorial
The St Joseph’s Memorial
Fr Kenny's grave at Reichswald Forest Cemetery
Back to the Obituaries Page.