Heritage Guide to The Geelong College

Search the Guide

To find information in this Guide please select one of the green coloured options.

To Select a Page Group when displayed, right click and select 'Open'.

Copyright Conditions Apply.

PURNELL, Kenneth Claud MC (1893-1967)

PURNELL, Dr Kenneth Claud MC (1893-1967)

Kenneth Purnell (GC Football 1911).

Kenneth Purnell (GC Football 1911).

Kenneth Claud Purnell was notable as the founding President of Geelong Legacy, aservice club to which he devoted much of his life. Dr Purnell was born on 13 January 1893, the son of Alexander Purnell and Elizabeth nee Anderson. He was enrolled as a day student at Geelong College in 1904 and left in 1911 His address at the time of enrolment was Talbot St, Newtown. At College, he was a member of the 1st Football XVIII and 1st Cricket XI in 1911.

He left College to study at The University of Melbourne, where he studied Medicine graduating MB BS. While at University, he continued to play football in the !st Football XVIII.

During World War I, he enlisted in the AIF on 11 December 1916, as a Captain in the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC) and embarked from Adelaide on 10 February 1917 on HMAT A48 Seang-Bee. He was in England from May to June 1917, and at 2 AGH in France on 4 July.

His next posting was to 12th Field Ambulance on 15 August; then he went as Regimental Medical Officer to 4th Division Engineers on 29 August, and to 11th FAB on 15 January 1918.

He was awarded the Military Cross on 29 September 1918, for which the citation read:
‘For conspicuous gallantry and marked devotion to duty during the attack on the Hindenburg Line south of Vendhuile on 29 September 1918. Early in the action the Brigade sustained heavy casualties. After dressing the wounded under very heavy shell fire, Captain Purnell organised stretcher parties and conducted them to the Battery position through heavy Artillery and machine gun fire and by his personal and untiring efforts assisted in getting them to the nearest Dressing Station, a distance of about 1000 yards and still under heavy fire. Regardless of his own safety, this Officer worked untiringly throughout the day under most trying conditions and set a splendid example to all ranks.’

In France, Captain Purnell met Yvonne, a French Red Cross nurse and, after a long distance relationship by correspondence, he returned to Paris in 1921, where they married. After his subsequent return to Geelong he established a medical practice in Ryrie St. The Purnells had five children. During this period he performed voluntary work at Geelong Hospital, the Geelong Port Authority and the Geelong Gaol and during the 'Depression' provided free medical care to many families in need.

The AWM Collection holds a group portrait of the 11th Battery of the Australian Field Artillery, in the rest area at Epagne, France on 14 June 1918, which includes Captain K C Purnell (MO). He was demobilised on 13 March 1920.

Dr Purnell served in the 2nd AIF during World War II, becoming a Lieutenant-Colonel at 7 Australian General Hospital. He served in the Middle East and Greece and, after returning to Ausralia, he was then posted to New Guinea and served at the Battle of Milne Bay. He became ill in New Guinea and was repatriated to Australia where he was discharged on 15 September 1945. After a long convalescence he returned to medicine as medical officer at the Repatriation Department in King St, Melbourne where he examined returning servicemen and women.

He was the inaugural President of Geelong Legacy Club when it was formed in 1925. The Geelong Legacy Club created the K C Purnell Medal in 2018 in his honour and also to mark the end of World War I. The medal was first presented to the best on field player in the ANZAC Day match between the Bellarine Football League Clubs, Drysdale and Portarlington at Drysdale on 25 April 2018.

Kenneth Purnell died on 30 September 1967.

His brothers, Herbert Alexander Purnell (1881-1962), William Vernon Purnell (1885-1966), Francis Ormond Purnell (1888-1916), and Harold Purnell (1890-1982), were also educated at Geelong College.

Sources: Geelong Collegians at the Great War compiled by James Affleck. p 287 (citing The University of Melbourne, Record of Active Service of Teachers, Graduates, Undergraduates, Officers and Servants (1926); AWM E02510; The Pegasus; National Archives; Australian War Memorial); Correspondence Geelong Legacy 22 March 2018.
© The Geelong College. Unless otherwise attributed, The Geelong College asserts its creative and commercial rights over all images and text used in this publication. No images or text material may be copied, reproduced or published without the written authorisation of The College.