Journal Volume 5 2006

John Francis O'Reilly and John Kenny: Irishmen sent by the Germans to spy in Ireland during World War 2 (continued/5)

John Kenny

John Kenny was born in Dublin on 27 March 1916. His father died while he was very young and the man his mother subsequently re-married showed very little interest in him and he was raised by his uncle John Sullivan in Kilcummin, Killarney, Co. Kerry. John Kenny claimed that he was nominal member of the I.R.A. but immigrated to England in 1937 where he held down a series of menial jobs.

Following the outbreak of World War 2 in September 1939, he was aware that he would be liable for conscription to the British armed services and in early 1940 moved to Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, obtaining employment as a seasonal agricultural worker. However it is believed that he was about to be deported from Britain under the Prevention of Violence Act as the authorities considered him ‘a threat to the realm’ arising from his membership of the Irish Republican Defence Association in Ilford between 1937 and 1940. It is further believed that his travel to Jersey was assisted by the Peace Pledge Union, an anti-war group which helped able bodied men to avoid / evade conscription.

When the Germans occupied Jersey, Kenny, like O'Reilly, found employment with the new occupiers, first as a hotel waiter, then as a vehicle mileage checker in the German motor pool, and finally as a driver for a naval officer, replacing the previous post holder, also an Irishman. This individual had knocked down and killed a local boy while driving under the influence of alcohol and had been sentenced to two years imprisonment by the Germans. Kenny took up this position in 1942 and held it until 1943 when he received a visit in Jersey from O'Reilly and another individual described as 'a Gestapo officer'. Following this meeting Kenny volunteered his services on the basis of a number of promises given to him by O'Reilly which included travel to Germany, that he would not have to do factory work and that he would be sent home to Ireland. Unlike the previous promises which O'Reilly made to the Irishmen still working in Watenstedt, those given to Kenny were honoured and he was sent to Berlin where he stayed in the Hotel Roxy for 3 weeks, doing nothing while drawing a monthly salary of 450 Marks.

In due course Kenny was summoned to a meeting with Oberleutant Gesser at Berlin S.D. headquarters after which he was assigned to Lehnitz to undergo an S.D. course covering the repair and maintenance of radio transmitter sets. At the conclusion of this course, he received a crash course in elementary sending and receiving of messages using these sets and in Morse code after which he was brought with his handler to Brittany. O'Reilly was not impressed with Kenny's skills and prior to their departure attempted to convince the Germans to no avail that Kenny was a liability to his mission. On 17th December 1943, an attempt was made to parachute Kenny into Ireland but foggy conditions obscured the drop zone and the aircraft had to return to France with him still board. On this leg of their journey, Allied aircraft attacked this German aircraft forcing Kenny and the crew to bailout over Rennes airfield while the pilot made a successful emergency landing.

Following repairs to the aircraft, Kenny was dropped into Ireland around 2.30 a.m. on 19th December 1943 but on landing overlooked or forgot the basic rule instilled into all parachutists during training of immediately collapsing their parachute upon landing. Before his did this, a gust of wind inflated his parachute in the manner of a giant sail and he was dragged through several fields and over some low walls before his progress was stopped by a more substantial stone wall. During this process, Kenny sustained a head wound, injuries to his back and was badly bruised. Making his way to a neighbouring house, he sought aid but the occupants contacted the Garda Siochana as they sensed something was not right about him and he was taken into custody. His only possessions were a camouflage parachute and £94. Kenny was brought to Kilrush Hospital for treatment of his injuries and then to the country hospital in Ennis for a period of recovery after which he was brought to Arbour Hill Prison in Dublin where he was later diagnosed with the condition of 'traumatic neurasthenia' due to his back injury and detention in an unheated cell.


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