War hero saved 2,500 soldiers

By Ian Elliot, The Whig-Standard, Kingston ON

Thursday, 10 June 2010

A Queen's University engineering professor who played a key role in the Battle of Arnhem has died.

Flags at the university will be flying at half staff until Monday in memory of Russ Kennedy, who won a Military Cross for bravery under fire and whose daring night rescue of stranded paratroopers was featured in the book and movie A Bridge Too Far.

He died Friday of pneumonia at Kingston General Hospital. He was 92.

"He sure had a good life," said his daughter, Nancy Dorrance, a communications officer at Queen's who is helping plan a memorial service that will be held Saturday afternoon at the Ban Right Fireside Room.

"Dad was in great shape right to the end and it was only the second time in his life he had been in a hospital."

In 1944, Kennedy and his fellow sappers played a key role in saving more than 2,000 of the 10,000 members of the British 1st Airborne Division.

The paratroops had been dropped to capture and hold the bridge at Arnhem but wound up surrounded and outgunned by the Germans.

Under machine-gun and mortar fire, the Canadian engineers oversaw a night rescue of the stranded soldiers on Sept. 25 and 26, 1944.

It was part of Operation Market Garden, the largest airborne operation in history and one that was intended to capture several key German bridges, including the one at Arnhem.

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery planned to punch through the German lines in Belgium and drive 103 km northeast across Holland to link up with paratroopers who'd been dropped ahead to seize four crucial bridges along the way.

But the attack was hampered by bad weather that prevented Allied air support, supply problems and stiffer-than-expected German resistance. It was a military disaster and the only major setback the Allies faced as they marched east after D-Day.

Arnhem could have been a slaughter had not Kennedy and his fellow Canadian engineers evacuated the trapped paratroopers.

Kennedy, who was a lieutenant and the reconnaissance officer for the 23rd Field Company of the Royal Canadian Engineers, was ordered to scout ahead to where tens of thousands of paratroops were on the north side of the Lower Rhine River under heavy attack and find out how to get them back to safety.

A boatlift was organized under cover of darkness, and in a self-published book 50 years later, Kennedy remembers hauling 500-pound wooden stormboats into the river in the darkness and having them come back overloaded with troops rowing with rifle butts and paddles when the temperamental outboards broke down.

Many boats didn't come back at all as the Germans raked the area with heavy fire.

"The machine-guns were still firing, the bullets making interesting patterns on the water around us, but they never actually got onto us," he recalled of one of the treacherous crossings, years later.

"A single projectile hit the man who was jammed under my right elbow, with a sound like the blow of a club. He jerked once and never moved again."

The after-action report credits Kennedy with pulling off the difficult operation that saved 2,500 men and he was the last person to come off the river as the sun rose in the morning.

Kennedy was decorated for bravery and returned to Queen's in 1946 where he helped establish the school's coastal engineering laboratory.

He also serve with the school's officer corps, which he commanded from 1951 to 1958, retiring as a lieutenant-colonel.

"He was a war hero of some significance, but he never talked about it," said city lawyer Dave Bonham, who knew Kennedy for more than 30 years.

"He was a very soft-spoken man, but he knew how to get attention when the situation required it."

Bonham was a vice-principal of finance at Queen's at the time Kennedy served in several challenging positions, including associate dean of graduate studies and vice-principal of administration.

"Those were very demanding jobs, but he handled them well," Bonham recalled.

"He was a hard worker in everything he did and a very capable leader. Everyone liked him and I have nothing but fond memories of Russ."

Kennedy and his wife, Marjorie, had four children, and Dorrance remembers summers on the Rideau Canal in a houseboat her father and brothers built themselves.

"They built it in the evenings and it wasn't much too look at, just a big wooden box on pontoons, really, but it was well-built and we'd take it to Ottawa and all over."

Kennedy, born in Dunrobin, northwest of Ottawa, studied civil engineering at Queen's and joined the part-time Canadian Officers Training Corps before enlisting in the regular force in 1941, a short time after he earned his degree.

Last year, he donated a 58-hectare tree farm northwest of Kingston for use by engineering students as a field station where they can practise the theoretical principles they learn in the classroom.

Kennedy, who retired in 1983, is honoured with a plaque mounted on the second floor of Ellis Hall recognizing his achievements and 40 years of service to the school.

Flags at half mast in memory of Professor Emeritus Russ Kennedy

Queen’s University, 2010-06-07 

Flags at Queen’s are lowered and will remain lowered until Monday, June 14 in honour of Professor Emeritus Russ Kennedy, who passed away on June 4 at Kingston General Hospital.

Born and raised in the farming community of Dunrobin, Ontario, Russ studied engineering at Queen’s, graduating in 1941 with a BSc. Soon after, he enlisted in the Canadian Army and in 1943 was posted to England with the 23rd Field Company RCE. Throughout the northwest Europe campaign of World War 2, he served as the company Reconnaissance Officer, returning home in 1946 with a Military Cross for exceptional bravery in action.

After the war, Dr. Kennedy became a lecturer and later a Professor in Civil Engineering at Queen’s. Over the span of 40 years, he served the university in many capacities, including Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research, Vice-Principal (Administration), and Executive Director of the Alumni Association. He was one of the first post-war faculty members to become deeply involved in industrial research, in hydraulics, and his outstanding work led directly to the establishment of a Coastal Engineering Laboratory at Queen’s.

Last year, Dr. Kennedy donated his 146-acre property northwest of Kingston – including a tree farm, wetland and river with a weir – for use by engineering students as a field station where they can practice the theoretical principles they learn in the classroom.

A memorial service in celebration of Dr. Kennedy’s life will be held Saturday, June 12 at 2pm in the Ban Righ Fireside Room. In lieu of flowers, In Memoriam donations to the charity of your choice would be appreciated.

Extra Information can be found as follows:

The Canadian Military Journal, Winter 2005, an article on A Bridge Too Far, which mentions Mr Kennedy. At the end of the article, there is a fair size Reference list for all us Engineer history buffs. http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/vo6/no4/history-histoire-01-eng.asp

Elsewhere on Echo 2 an item from 1999. http://mypage.uniserve.ca/~echo2/Articles2.htm#Kennedy

LCol Kennedy is mentioned several times in the excellent book "The Storm Boat Kings: The 23rd RCE at Arnhem 1944" by John Sliz. More information about Mr Sliz's books about Arnhem can be found here. http://stormboatkings.ca/aboutus.aspx

Of course there is always Vol. II of the History of the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers to check out.

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