September 15, 1916: Private Thomas “Tommy” Kenna

Kenna Thomas

Date of Birth: May 23, 1897 at Halifax, NS

Parents: James and Christina (MacDonald) Kenna (adopted)

Siblings: Sister Martha (Kenna) Watson

Marital Status: Single

Occupation: Labourer

Enlistment:  August 23, 1915 at Sussex, NB

Unit: 64th Battalion; 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles)

Service #: 469247

Rank:  Private

Previous Military Service: None

Next of Kin: Christina Kenna, Court St., Antigonish, NS (adopted mother)

Date of Death: September 15, 1915 at Courcelette, France

Memorial: Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France

Thomas “Tommy” Kenna was the adopted son of James and Christina (MacDonald) Kenna of Antigonish. Born at Halifax, Tommy was raised on Court Street.  James Kenna, his adopted father, was a local coal dealer, the son of Patrick and Catherine (Gallivan) Kenna, Irish settlers with connections to Merland, Antigonish County. James, who was involved in the establishment of St. Martha’s Hospital, passed away in 1911. His widow, Christine, was the daughter of Alexander and Elizabeth (MacInnis) MacDonald and a niece of Judge Hugh MacDonald, South River.

Tommy was working in Halifax when he travelled to Sussex, NB and enlisted with the 64th Battalion on August 23, 1915. The unit headed overseas on SS Adriatic from Halifax on March 31, 1916 and arrived in England on April 9, moving on to Camp Bramshott, Hampshire, England the following day.

The 64th Battalion was dissolved in June 1916, its personnel distributed among battalions in the field. On July 21, 1916, Tommy was transferred to the 25th Battalion (Nova Scotia Rifles) a Nova Scotian unit assigned to the 2nd Canadian Division’s 5th Brigade.

Authorized on November 7, 1914, the 25th Battalion established its headquarters at the Halifax Armouries, with recruitment offices in Sydney, Amherst, New Glasgow, Truro, and Yarmouth. The unit sailed for Great Britain aboard SS Saxonia on May 20, 1915, and landed in France with the 2nd Division in September 1915. For the next 12 months, the 25th served in Belgium’s Ypres Salient alongside its Brigade mates, the 22th (Quebec’s Van Doos), 24th (Victoria Rifles, Montreal) and the 26th (New Brunswick) Battalions.

In late August 1916, the Canadian Corps received instructions to relocate to the Somme region of France and continue the summer-long British offensive, whose purpose was to relieve pressure on French armies at Verdun. In early September, 2nd Division units assumed positions in front of Courcelette and commenced preparations to continue the attack the village.

The battle of Courcelette took place on September 15, 1916 and is noted for the historic debut of tanks and the “creeping artillery barrage.” In early morning, battalions attached to the 2nd Division’s 4th and 6th Brigades attacked Sugar Trench and Candy Trench, German positions located in front of the village. At 6:00 p.m., the 5th Brigade’s soldiers leapfrogged through the 4th and 6th Brigade’s lines and advanced toward the village.

The 25th battalion attacked the left side of Courcelette, the 22th (Van Doos) on their right. The two units pushed through the village, advancing beyond its outskirts before halting. Tommy Kenna was killed during the attack on the town and officially reported as “missing” on September 16th. His body was never recovered.

Tommy’s name is engraved on the Canadian War Memorial, Vimy Ridge, France, erected in memory of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who died on the battlefields of northern France and who have no known grave.

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