April 4 – Leonard Kentish

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.


Leonard Noel Kentish, Christian martyr (1907-1943)

Leonard Noel Kentish BA BD AFIA, was born in Richmond, Victoria, to Cecil and Alice (nee Jackson) Kentish in August 1907. When he was three years old his father led a group of 200 Victorians as pioneer farmers to “The Gums” in southern Queensland to take up pastoral selections. Len’s father, a Methodist local preacher, conducted weekly services in their log house, assisted occasionally by clergy from Dalby or Tara. When the family left “The Gums” for Ipswich, Len had successfully completed his primary schooling and two years at Dalby High School. In the Ipswich Methodist churches, he became a local preacher, leader and Sunday School teacher. While working as a State public servant in Brisbane he began accountancy studies and volunteered for Home Mission service.

After serving as Home Missionary at Mitchell, Len moved to Woodford as a candidate for ordination. There, in 1928, he met Violet Simpson, LTCL, AMusA, a qualified teacher of piano. The couple were engaged within 4 months. During the next four years Len resided in King’s College while studying Arts and Divinity at The University of Queensland. His fourth college year was marked by significant social, sporting and academic achievement and elected President of the college club. He served in Indooroopilly Circuit, assisting Rev Richard Pope in 1932 and 1933. After ordination in 1934, he and Vi married in Maryborough and transferred to the Townsville Circuit. In 1935 he was invited to fill an Overseas Missions ministerial vacancy in Darwin, the most cosmopolitan town in Australia, its population including many indigenous people. In Darwin he oversaw the building of a new parsonage and worked with Presbyterian minister, Chris Goy, to create the Inter-Church Club which, at the outbreak of war became an important recreational canteen for servicemen.

In 1939 his interest in Aboriginal work accelerated with his transfer to the Goulburn Island mission as District Chairman. There he gained rapport with the indigenous people and began translating the New Testament into Maung. He volunteered as a Coastwatcher, in regular radio contact with the long-range transmitter HMAS Coonawarra. Under imminent threat of invasion following the bombing of Darwin, Len planned the evacuation of the wives and children of his staff on five isolated stations in March 1942. In April he led to safety about 100 part-descent children, now numbered among the Stolen Generation.

As Chairman, Len Kentish planned to visit his remaining staff on their stations in 1943. When fuel rationing grounded the mission ketch, the navy maintained the transport of stores and personnel. Len embarked at Goulburn on HMAS Patricia Cam. He visited Milingimbi and Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island) and was on the way to Yirrkala when the ship was bombed by a Japanese floatplane, sinking it almost immediately. After a second bomb was dropped among survivors in the water, they were machine gunned for 30 minutes. The floatplane landed and captured Len at gunpoint. Those who made it to shore and survived were rescued and taken to Darwin.

After the war, it was learned that Len was imprisoned at Dobo in the Aru Islands, where he suffered beatings and starvation in futile enemy attempts to elicit information. When Allied aircraft targeted Dobo heavily for several consecutive days, in an act of frustration and possibly revenge, on 5 February, three Japanese officers took him to the edge of a bomb crater and beheaded him.

After the war, Vi learned of his fate by her persistent appeals through the press. Australian war graves and war crimes teams investigated, located his grave and arraigned three former Japanese officers for war crimes. Len’s body was reinterred at the Ambon Australian War Cemetery. The three Japanese officers were convicted by a war crimes court in Hong Kong. One was sentenced to death and two to life imprisonment. The Australian Government recognised Vi as a War Widow. Len was but one of many civilian victims of the inhumane brutality of war, unique as the only Australian captured by enemy forces in Australia during World War 2.

Kentish Court in Sinnamon Village and King’s College at St Lucia commemorate the name and service of Leonard Kentish, as does the Rabaul Coastwatchers’ Memorial. His name is listed as a missionary martyr in the UCA Centre for Ministry at North Paramatta and in the calendar of commemorations in Uniting in Worship 2. His story is graphically told in Eagle and Lamb (2017), written and published by his son, the Reverend Dr Noel Kentish, a Minister in Association at Indooroopilly Uniting Church, Brisbane. 

 written by Noel Kentish