Mumbai: 75-Year-Old Grandson Of British Veteran Explores Family Legacy At WR's Churchgate Headquarters

Mumbai: 75-Year-Old Grandson Of British Veteran Explores Family Legacy At WR's Churchgate Headquarters

The visit held special significance for John Edward Kennedy and his wife, Janice Kennedy, as they embarked on a quest to unearth details about their family's connection to India.

Kamal MishraUpdated: Sunday, February 04, 2024, 06:46 PM IST
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In a poignant journey to trace his family's roots, John Edward Kennedy, the 75-year-old grandson of George Herbert Kennedy, recently visited the iconic Churchgate, the headquarters of Western Railway in Mumbai. George Herbert Kennedy, a dedicated servant of the BB&CI Railways, had served as Secretary to the Agent (currently known as secretary to General Maneger) for an impressive 32 years. Currently reside in Manchester. He was Director Operations in a beer company, now retired.

The visit

The visit, which took place on February 1, held special significance for John Edward Kennedy and his wife, Janice Kennedy, as they embarked on a quest to unearth details about their family's connection to India. George Herbert Kennedy's association with the Indian Railways dates back to circa 1870 when his father John George Kennedy, as a soldier in the British Army, was stationed in India along with his wife and children and then he joined railways and retired as Station Master, Phulera in 1923.

The highlight of John's visit was a tour of the 125-year-old heritage building that stands as a testament to the rich history of Western Railway. The couple explored the heritage gallery, immersing themselves in the architectural and historical marvels that the building encapsulates.

John's visit to the office that once housed his grandfather

However, the emotional core of John's journey was his visit to the office that once housed his grandfather, the Secretary to the Agent of BB&CI Railway. Today, this office is known as the Secretary to the General Manager of Western Railway. John and Janice were able to witness first hand the place where George Herbert Kennedy dedicated his professional life.

During their visit, John and Janice had the opportunity to meet with Ashok Kumar Misra, the General Manager of Western Railway, and Sachin Sharma, the Secretary to the General Manager and Sumit Thakur Chief public relations officer of WR . They engaged in insightful conversations to understand the significance and functioning of the position that held such importance in their family history.

John Edward Kennedy expressed his gratitude for the warm reception and the chance to delve into the history of his family's connection to India. The visit not only allowed him to relish the architectural splendor of the heritage building but also provided a deeper connection to his grandfather's legacy within the railway system.

"To revisit our family roots in Bombay now Mumbai we came here with a hope to get a few details. Through Chandramohan from Green Life Foundation we traced where our Grand Father G H Kennedy worked with the then BB & CI Railway now Western Railway from 1905-42.

Sumit Thakur CPRO Western Railway supported us and managed us to revisit our Grand Fathers offices. Ashok Kumar Misra, General Manager, Western Railway was very kind to give us time to meet out of his busy schedule and we shared some interesting stories of our Grand Father's days of working with Railways. 

We were so glad to know our family’s history with the Railways and were overwhelmed that  Western Railway has so well preserved it's heritage. We were very touched with the feeling of being in the Headquarters building, which completed 125 years of its construction in January 2024. The Head Quarters building has been maintained too well by railways and the Heritage gallery on ground floor gave glimpses of past.

We will always remain thankful to all the officers from the Public Relations office and GM office to welcome us with such warmth" said John Edward Kennedy , Grand Son of G H Kennedy, who worked as Secretary to Agent , BB&CI Railway)

The Indian connection for the Kennedy family began in circa 1870, when George Kennedy, a soldier in the British Army, was transferred from England to India, taking with him his wife and children. 

John George Kennedy – John’s Great Grandfather

John George (1865 – 1939) does not seem to have been in the Army, choosing instead to join the railways.

John George’s railway career saw him working in a number of locations in Rajasthan. Both Abu Road, where his son George Herbert was born, and Phulera, where Edmund was born, and Ajmer are main line stations. John George retired at Phulera, Rajasthan in 1923. 

George Herbert Kennedy – John’s Grandfather

The story of the Kennedy family as it is now probably starts with George Herbert Kennedy (1887-1942). He built what colleagues described as a ‘brilliant’ career within as key element of the Civil Service in India, the giant Indian Railways organisation.

He was born more than 500 miles away, in the small town of Abu Road, In Rajasthan in North-West India on the main railway line between Jaipur and Bombay. George Herbert’s first job was in Ajmer, at the age of 19 in around 1906 in a relatively low, probably administrative, position in the local engineering department. He left Ajmer to work in Bombay, sometime between 1906 and 1912.

George's Career in India

By then he was a clerk in the Construction Supervising Engineer’s Office in Bombay, working for the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway (BB&CI) company, one of the biggest and most significant in India. He became Chief Clerk in 1914, based at Mahalaxmi. His department was responsible for rebuilding bridges, station yards and other construction projects. He was promoted to Chief Clerk in the Agent’s Office in 1918. 

His merit was becoming increasingly recognised and he was promoted to Second Assistant Secretary on 1 July 1919, becoming First Assistant Secretary in May 1921. He spent time as Chief Engineer in Parel from 1925.

He first appears in Thacker, the directory of significant European employees working in India, in 1925. He rose up the organisation in 1932 he is recorded as Assistant Secretary to the Agent at Churchgate in Bombay, ultimately becoming Secretary in the Agents and General Manager’s office of the BB & CI. (The term ‘Secretary’ was then, as it was until the 1960s, used to define people holding significant roles in administrative and financial areas: it was the equivalent of today’s Financial Director).

George was also a significant presence in his local community

He most likely would have risen even further, but it seems that he was dogged by bad health. In his obituary in the BB&CI company railway magazine, which he himself had founded in 1922, his career is described as ‘brilliant’, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of railway matters.

George Herbert was also a significant presence in his local community, serving as a Justice of the Peace. There was a military dimension to George Herbert’s life. On a specialist medals website, two medals that he had been awarded, both of which related to military activities were found. From research carried out by the collector who originally acquired the medals from the family, George Herbert was a teenage cadet volunteer rifleman (Number 4094), having joined the First Battalion of the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway Volunteer Rifles. He stayed long enough to win a Long Service medal in 1915. 

He was also selected to represent the Battalion and the railways at the celebrated Delhi Durbar in 1911, when the new King Emperor, George V and his Queen, visited India for the first time, and were feted everywhere they went. The Delhi Durbar was the most significant occasion of all, where some 12,000 people, most specially invited, were reviewed on parade. Two sorts of medals were awarded to participants, Gold and Silver. George Herbert’s is silver, one of 43 awarded to his unit.

He died at only 55 on 30 September 1942, in the Tata Memorial Hospital in Parel, Bombay. He was buried at the Pro Cathedral of the Holy Name. Two separate official documents record his burial as taking place on the same day he died. When he died, George, Blanche and Ann were living at Firdaus in  Bombay.

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