On 13 September, the Jean and Denise Letaille – Bullecourt 1917 Museum received the donation of the identification tag of Australian soldier, Private Allan Edward Kennedy.
A few months ago, a little metal object was found in a field near Bullecourt. It was the identity disc of a soldier of the 26th Battalion AIF. The soldier’s name is partially unreadable, but his service number identified him. The disc belonged to Allan Edward Kennedy.
The Bullecourt Association, to whom the object had been entrusted, decided to contact the Australian Government through the Sir John Monash Centre. They wanted to find Private Kennedy’s family and return the identification tag to them.
The research work began with historians from the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs searching the archives available in Australia.
Allan Edward Kennedy was born on 29 January 1883 in Benhar, Scotland. He came to Australia in 1905, and was residing in Mackay, Queensland, where he worked in the sugar industry. He joined the Australian Army in April 1915 at the age of 32.
His enlistment papers indicate that he was single and notes his next-of-kin as a brother, James Kennedy, who was living in Canada. We also learn that this was not his first time in the army. He previously served for over four years with the 79th Cameron Highlanders, a Scottish infantry regiment of the British Army.
Shortly after arriving in Brisbane, he joined ‘A’ Company of the newly created 26th Infantry Battalion – the disc indeed reads A COY. He embarked for Egypt and the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, aboard the HMAT A11 Ascanius. The 5 June 1915 pictorial issue of The Queenslander published photos of several members of the 26th Battalion. On page 6 is a portrait of Private Kennedy wearing the traditional slouch hat, and a chevron moustache.
He was involved in the final stage of the Gallipoli campaign from September to December 1915 and was sent to the Western Front in 1916. With the 26th Battalion, he took part in significant combat operations. His military record shows that he was wounded in action on three occasions: on 5 August 1916 at Pozières, on 14 November 1916 during the attack on Maze Trenches, east of Flers, and on 5 May 1917 during the Second Battle of Bullecourt.
Although the location where his disc was found does not closely match known positions for the 26th Battalion in their advance to and on the frontline at Bullecourt through late April and early May 1917, it is conceivable that it was lost or removed around the time he sustained his third wound, or sometime during his medical evacuation between 5 and 7 May 1917. The site of the discovery could be the route taken by the AIF to transport the large number of casualties sustained during the Second Battle of Bullecourt.
Kennedy was repatriated to Australia in September 1919. Shortly after arriving in Brisbane, he was discharged by the Australian Imperial Force as medically unfit – he had suffered a gunshot in the left leg.
His post-was years were difficult. Australia was not spared by the Great Depression of the 1930s and Kennedy struggled to find work. His health declined.
In 1936, he was admitted to Rosemount Hospital for medical assessment. On his admission papers, a sister is mentioned: Mrs. E. Hayward, living in Queens, Long Island, New York, USA.
In 1937, his long-term battle to receive a war service pension was successful. Just as his situation seemed to be improving, tragedy struck, and he was involved in a car accident in the streets of Brisbane in June 1939. He died of his injuries on 28 June 1939 at Brisbane General Hospital and was buried the next day in Toowong Cemetery, Brisbane.
The date of the burial was announced in the obituaries of the local newspapers. The insert noted that Allan Edward Kennedy was a member of the 26th Battalion but did not mention any family members.
Unfortunately, research into his brother, James Kennedy, and his sister, E. Hayward, did not lead to any conclusive results in the search for a living relative.
Having been unable to find any family members, Mr. Mehez, who found the identity disc, decided to donate the object to the Jean and Denise Letaille – Bullecourt 1917 Museum, so that Kennedy’s name would never be forgotten.
On 13 September 2022, Private Kennedy’s dog tag joined the museum’s collection. It can now be seen by the visitors of the museum.
The battles of the First World War left traces that sometimes resurface today on the location of former battlefield sites. Australian military records, unlike many of the French or British ones, were not destroyed during the Second World War and are now a valuable resource for tracing the lives of those who fought on the Western Front during the First World War.