John Alphonsus Stuart McKenna 1909

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World War II Service of 43295 Private JOHN ALPHONSUS STUART McKENNA

John (Johnny) Alphonsus Stuart McKenna was born in Patea, Taranaki, New Zealand on 25 October 1909 to Irish-born mother Bridget Reynolds from Kilmacshalgan, Dromore West, Co Sligo, and Irish-born father Edward McKenna from Ogonnelloe, Co Clare.

John was educated and worked in the small country town until he volunteered for war service in the 2nd NZ Expeditionary Force (2NZEF).

Johnny embarked from Wellington for Egypt on 7 April 1941 as a member of the 5th Reinforcements and sailed for the Middle East via Sydney, Perth, Singapore and Colombo, Ceylon. The ship arrived in Egypt on 16 May 1941 and after training he was taken on the strength of Taranaki Company, the 19th Battalion, 4th NZ Brigade Group, 2nd NZ Division, on 26 June 1941. Johnny fought in the 1941 battles around Tobruk (Ed Duda and Sidi Rezegh), followed by the 1942 Break-Out at Minqar Qaim, where he was in the leading company.

After the NZ Division returned from a stint of building defence lines in Lebanon and Syria, the 4th Brigade clashed with the enemy in the first battle of El Alamein at Ruweisat Ridge, small promontory about 16 kilometres south of El Alamein. There had been a strong counter-offensive from the Axis forces and capture of the ridge would have aided the Allies. In this battle the 4th NZ Brigade, particularly the 19th Battalion was decimated. The New Zealanders took part of the ridge early on 15 July, but British armour and artillery were unable to assist them, and some 350 soldiers had no choice but to surrender. On 15 July 1942 Johnny was posted missing. On the same day in the same battle two members of the NZ 4th Infantry Brigade won the Victoria Cross - Sergeant Keuth Elliot and Captain Charles Upham (this was Upham's second VC.)

On 24 October 1942 a cable from the Vatican in Rome was received stating he was incarcerated at Campo PG 57 at Gruppignan, Italy and he was posted as a Prisoner of War (POW) on 25 October 1942. After the Italian surrender POW from Campo PG 57 were transferred to Germany by train. According to a questionnaire completed by Johnny in the UK on 25 April 1945, he arrived at Stalag VIIA at Moosberg on 15 September 1943. On 3 November 1943 he was moved to Stalag XIA, Altengrabow, near Magdeburg. On 24 December 1943 He was moved to Stalag XIB at Fallingbostel. A camp leader communication received by the NZ Army on 23 January 1944 advised Johnny was in Stalag XIB as POW number 138645. During his time at Stalag XIB Johnny worked on building air raid shelters at Ufingln, and in a steel works at Halendorf. Both work camps were attached to Stalag XIB.

On 13 April 1945, the German commandant at Stalag XIB announced that the British forces were very close and that he proposed to move his guard company, leaving a token guard on the camp to avoid possible interference by SS troops in the area. Senior prisoner NCOs then took over the complete administration of the camp, even to issuing leave passes to the German guards. On the morning of 16 April British tanks of units of the 7th Armoured Div arrived at the camp gates and the POW were released from Stalag XIB at 0837 hours 16th April 1945. Johnny was reported as being safe in the UK on 23 April 1945. He embarked from England on 18 June 1945 and arrived back in NZ on 19 July 1945.

Additional Information
Date of Birth 25th Oct 1909  
Date of Death 12th May 1968  
Mother (First Name/s and Maiden) Bridget Reynolds from Kilmacshalgan, Dromore West, Co Sligo  
Father (First Name/s and Surname) Edward McKenna from Ogonnelloe, Co Clare  

Timeline Events Associated with this Ancestor