National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

The Wartime Poetry of William John Kennedy

Bill Kennedy's WWII poetry book and letters from Reg Wingate

Bill Kennedy’s WWII poetry book and letters from Reg Wingate

A  remarkable story of two soldiers brought together by a special book of poetry was uncovered with a recent donation of the World War II poetry collection of William John Kennedy.

At the onset of World War II, William John Kennedy (Bill) was a dairy farmer in Pyes Pa Tauranga. Once the war broke out he enlisted in the New Zealand Army and became a soldier with the 18th Battalion. With him he took a small leather bound exercise book. For his first three years of war Bill wrote in the exercise book, poetry about his love of New Zealand, the bush and the sea. As well as a few poems about the deaths of his comrades and experiences he had whilst being overseas at war. When the New Zealanders were evacuated from Crete in 1942 they were ordered to leave their belongings behind, and so Bill abandoned his book of poetry and left with his platoon.

After the Kiwis had been evacuated, the pile of discarded belongings was searched by a group of Prisoners of War (POWs) who had been taken captive by the Germans. Reg Wingate, an English soldier from Hampshire, stumbled upon Bill’s book and hid it on himself out of sight from his captors. Throughout the remaining years of war, Wingate kept Kennedy’s book of poems hidden.

Bill Kennedy's three daughters donate their father's poetry book to the National Army Museum

Bill Kennedy’s three daughters donate their father’s poetry book to the National Army Museum

Once the war was over Wingate returned home to England with Bill’s leather bound book. On the inside cover Bill had written his name and Wingate searched and found an address of a farm near Tauranga. He ultimately wrote a letter to Bill and incredibly it found him.

In the letter Wingate told Bill the story of how he came to be in the possession of his poem book and how special it had became to him over the years he spent as a POW. Because of this Wingate was very reluctant to part with Bill’s book and instead had all of Bill’s poems typed up and sent back to him with the letter.

In 1970, 25 years after the war ended, Bill and his wife Myrtle travelled to England and met Reg Wingate. During that time their story was told over the radio and newspapers all over England.

Ten years later Reg Wingate was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he wrote Bill one final letter along with his now worn and battered book of poems. In his letter, Wingate said he wanted to return the book before he passed to where it should belong. After nearly 40 years Bill was reunited with his wartime book of poetry and he even managed to write a few additional poems before having it published into a small booklet.

In 1994 both Bill and Myrtle Kennedy passed away. Their three daughters Raye, Rabyn and Kaye all travelled to Waiouru in April 2015 to donate Bill’s original book of poetry along with the letters from Wingate and their remarkable story.