Veterans' fury at poppy-seller who claimed he was a war hero
DO you know more about the background of Hull poppy-seller John McKenery, who has caused anger among war veterans for claiming he was awarded a gallantry medal?
Veterans have spoken of their fury after he said he was awarded the medal in the Falklands conflict.
John McKenery selling poppies at St Stephen's in Ferensway.
The Mail photographed Mr McKenery at St Stephen's Shopping Centre in Ferensway, where he had volunteered to sell poppies with other veterans.
Mr McKenery, who wore a maroon beret and had medals pinned to his blazer, told the Royal British Legion he was a sergeant with 2nd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (2 PARA) in the 1982 conflict.
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And the 65-year-old claimed he was awarded the Military Cross for bravery at Goose Green – the same battle in which Lieutenant-Colonel "H" Jones, 2 PARA's commanding officer, was shot dead.
But former paratroopers from across the UK, who served in the 500-strong unit during the conflict, are adamant they did not serve with Hull-born Mr McKenery.
After we spoke to the Hull branch of the Royal British Legion, a spokesman admitted it parted company with Mr McKenery after the truth emerged.
Frank Fry, 81, who helped organise the appeal at St Stephen's, said: "John was very plausible. He never put a foot wrong. He did eight hours a day for nine days before we realised he was not who he said he was.
"He turned up wearing medals, including one issued to aircrew – the Aircrew Europe Star. I thought it was a bit strange, so I looked them up in a book. They were all Second World War medals."
In fact, Mr McKenery – born in 1944 – would have been just a year old when the Second World War ended.
Mr Fry said: "It went pear-shaped for him when we were all asked to write down our full name, rank and number on a piece of paper.
"John only put four numbers down. Everyone in the Army is taught to know their service number. You never forget it. I told him, 'You have done a good job, but you have been impersonating the Paras. Go home'.
"I didn't want the Paras coming down and causing a fuss. He left without saying a word."
During an interview with the Mail, Mr McKenery claimed he was friends with, and served alongside, Lance-Corporal Gary "Gaz" Bingley, of Beverley, who was awarded a posthumous Military Medal for heroism at Goose Green.
Danny Barrett, 35, of east Hull, whose father Ted was awarded the Military Medal for bravery at the same battle, hit out at McKenery, described in military circles as a "Walter Mitty" character.
Mr Barrett's father, a sergeant who served 18 years with 2 PARA, died in 2000, aged 50, after a battle with cancer.
He said: "I feel really sorry for him. He must feel really empty inside. The Paras mean the world to me. You earn the right to wear that beret."
Dave Brown, spokesman for the South Atlantic Medal Association (SAMA), said: "I am very annoyed and upset, as are other Paras who fought at Goose Green."
Mr McKenery told the Mail he served with 2 PARA from 1964 to 1984.
But Mr Brown, himself a Goose Green veteran, said: "John McKenery did not serve with the Parachute Regiment in the Falklands. We are 100 per cent sure of that.
"Every man who fought in the Falklands was awarded a South Atlantic Medal.
"We searched our records using his name, as well as similar-sounding names. We even checked dates of births and all the Johns who fought in the Falklands with the Parachute Regiment.
"We want people to know these people will be named and shamed when we catch them."
A spokesman for 16 Air Assault Brigade – which 2 PARA forms part of – was unable to confirm if Mr McKenery had ever served with 2 PARA.
He said: "We are aware of this matter and are currently looking into it."
Do you know more about John McKenery, whether he served in the Falklands or can put him in touch with the Mail? If so, call Kevin Shoesmith on (01482) 315257.