Joseph Kearney and the Hunt for Rommel

The life of WWII soldier and POW Joseph Kearney is honoured in a new and painstakingly researched work. 


For authors Frank Galgay and Donna Adams, their latest project has been a long time coming.

A culmination of years of research, Joseph Kearney and the Hunt for Rommel is now available through Flanker Press, officially released this past September.

Detailing the life of World War II soldier and prisoner of war Joseph Kearney, the book draws from handwritten letters, family history, and archival information to tell the story of an interesting life well lived. “Joseph Kearney caught my attention over the years after I read a series of short articles in the local newspapers and Newfoundland books,” Galgay told The Herald.

A Father’s Story

“These were of a general nature mostly relating to his action in Syria and the famous raid on General Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox. I also read his letters home to his parents and others relating to his military career and his years in prisoner of war camps in North Africa, Italy and Austria. I was convinced that his life story had to be told for present and future generations of Newfoundlanders.”

For Adams, her interest stems from a different place – Kearney is her father.

“The idea to write a book germinated from being entrusted with the more than 160 letters that my father wrote while he was a soldier during the Second World War,” she said.

“Most of them were written to his parents, though there were a few to co-workers, other family members, and those that had sent him parcels or letters.”

She collected these letters from her grandmother on her deathbed. Adams had only heard about the letters in her youth, never laying eyes on them.

“They had always been a bit of a mystery to me, so to finally see them and be able to read them was thrilling,” she recalled.

“It gave me a unique view of my father as a very young man. I immersed myself in those letters and got a clear picture of a remarkable man. His character was evident in the way he tried to keep the tone of his correspondence lighthearted and upbeat – most of the time. This was to try to keep his mother from worrying too much. Yet behind the scenes, he set in those letters there were many terrifying and devastating experiences,” she continued.

Necessary Research

Wanting to do something meaningful with her letters, and feeling a responsibility to share them with her family, Adams toyed with the idea of writing a book for family only, the idea of writing a “full-fledged” book being overwhelming.

“I still wanted it to be accurate so I began doing the necessary research, trying to piece together what was actually going on on the war front and comparing that with the dates on the letters,” she said.

Adams and Galgay were soon introduced through a happenstance – Galgay’s sister-in-law Anne Marie Smyth is a close friend of Adams. “She told me of his interest in Dad’s letters. He’d read them in the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at MUN,” Adams explained.

“Frank has written many books and has an avid interest in NL history. He kept saying that a book should be written about my father,” she said, noting that she had been working on the book sporadically over the course of five years.

Eventually, Galgay approached Adams with the idea of co-authoring the book.

“With his experience and his keen interest in history, he could add a different dimension to the book. So our partnership began,” Adams shared.

Working together with family genealogy, relatives, friends of the subject, newspapers, magazines, books, and school, employment, military and medical records, as well as libraries, websites, interviews, Kearney’s own files and documents, and Adams personal remembrances, the pair slogged through information for two years.

The end result is a well-researched and well-rounded portrait of a man who was an enlistee in the First Four Hundred, Royal Artillery, the 57th (Newfoundland) Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery and a member of the 11th (Scottish) Commando, who showed immense bravery at the 

Not Only the War Hero

The Battle of Litani Bridge in Syria and the attack on Rommel’s headquarters, and throughout his time as a prisoner of war, and subsequent escape – and previous attempts.

“As the daughter of the man the book is about, I hope that readers can see not only the war hero, but the extraordinary man that my father was as he continued to live his life after the war,” Adams said.

“I especially hope that today’s youth, if they should read this book, would be inspired to be strong and persevering when they go through difficult times, to be motivated and realize that they too can be heroes by living life to the best of their individual abilities, to understand that they truly have the power to do this.”

Joseph Kearney and the Hunt for Rommel is available through Flanker Press, or wherever local books are sold.

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