Captain Albert Jacka’s Victoria Cross Awarding:
For most conspicuous bravery on the night of the 19-20th May, 1915, at Courtney’s Post, Gallipoli Peninsula. Lance Corporal Jacka, while holding a portion of our trench with four men, was heavily attacked. When all except himself were killed or wounded, the trench was rushed and occupied by seven Turks. Lance Corporal Jacka at once most gallantly attacked them single-handed and killed the whole party, five by rifle fire and two with the bayonet.The London Gazette 23rd July 1915
Albert Jacka was born on 10 January 1893 at Layard in Victoria. He was the fourth child of Nathaniel Jacka and his British wife Elizabeth nee Kettle. At the age of 5, the family moved to Wedderburn and it was in this rural Victorian town where he finished his elementary schooling and then began working as a haulage contractor with his father and subsequently as a labourer for the Victorian States Forests Department. As a young man, Albert was quite shy, but a silent achiever given that he excelled in sports and cycling.
When WWI began in 1914, Jacka immediately enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 18 September 1914 at the age of 21. He was a private in the 14th Battalion AIF and completed his training at Broadmeadows camp. On 22 December his Battalion set sail for Cairo for the purpose of protecting the Suez canal from the Ottoman Empire and train for the Gallipoli campaign.
On 25 April 1915 the 14th Battalion was one of the 16 Infantry Battalions composed of a total of 20 000 men which formed the spearhead of the Australian force which made the initial assault on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The fighting was very tense; on the one hand the diggers were fierce in their yearning to establish a viable beachhead in order to progress their advance to Constantinople while the Turks were intensely focused on to defending their country.
On 19 May 1915 the Turks launched a massive counter attack on the vast length of the ANZAC lines. At 4am they had charged Courtney’s post and had taken a 12 yard (11m) section of the trench. One end of the trench was guarded by Jacka who was alone for a period of time, firing warning shots into the trench until reinforcements arrived.
Jacka gave instructions to attack and he and three others leapt out of their cover and all but Jacka were struck down by fire. Jacka was compelled to formulate a plan to remove the Turks in the trench, the same Turks who had killed his mates. A plan was devised, whereby two bombs were lobbed into the Turkish section of the trench while an attack was feinted from another side.
In the confusion and smoke caused by the blasts Albert Jacka had the opportunity to run across no man’s land and leap into the trench among the Turks, thus attacking them from the rear. It was here where he managed to kill five Turks by rifle fire and two with a bayonet. When an officer by the name of Lieutenant Crabbe examined the area Jacka simply stated, “Well, I managed to get the beggars, Sir!” Albert Jacka was recommended for and received the Victoria Cross because of his remarkable feat of courage at Courtney’s Post.
He became an instant national hero. His face plastered recruitment posters in Australia and his story filled newspapers and was talk around the coffee shops and households of Australia, in particular his native Victoria. An Australian business and sporting identity by the name of John Wren had promised to give 500 pounds to the first VC winner of the Great War, thus Jacka also received monetary benefits to go along with his newfound fame.
Jacka was promoted to Corporal on 28 August 1915 and then to company sergeant in mid-November just a few weeks before Gallipoli was evacuated. In Egypt, Jacka completed his Officers training and was commissioned as a second Lieutenant on 29 April 1916. He was then promoted to Lieutenant in August and finally to Captain in March 1917.
Carrying his reputation of a fierce and outspoken warrior to France, Jacka’s acts of bravery did not go unnoticed however some would argue that at times his acts of valor were not rewarded with the proper recognition. Charles Bean official war historian for Australia stated, “Everyone who knows the facts, knows Jacka earned the Victoria Cross three times”. The other two times Bean was referring to was in Pozieres and Bullecourt.
At Pozieres he had emerged from a dugout after surviving a bomb that killed two of his comrades. He came across a team of Germans who were escorting 40 Australian prisoners. Determined to save his imprisoned comrades he gathered the survivors of the previous bomb blast which numbered 7 men and attacked the Germans in a desperate fight often at close quarters. During the battle Jacka was wounded in the head and shoulder and knocked off his feet several times by the explosions of bombs.
The Australian POW’s turned on their captors in order to assist their rescuers. In the fray Jacka is credited for killing up to 20 Germans with his rifle and bayonet. All of his men were injured as a result of the battle which by days end resulted in 50 Germans being taken prisoner while 40 Australians avoided becoming prisoners of war.
He was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for this action. Charles Bean described his actions as “the most dramatic and effective act of individual audacity in the history of the AIF”. At Bullecourt on 8 April 1917 he single-handedly captured a two-man German patrol which won him the bar to his Military Cross.
Life After the War
After the War Albert Jacka married Frances Veronica Carey on 17 January 1921 at St Mary’s Catholic Church. In September 1929 Jacka was elected to the St Kilda council and became mayor the year after. He spent much of his energy during his time in politics trying to solve the unemployment issue in his area.
Jacka also ran his own business during this time which prospered but he eventually had to liquidate on 20 September 1930 as a result of the Scullin governments increase on import tariffs and the advent of the Great Depression. Jacka fell ill from chronic nephritis and entered Caulfield Military Hospital on 18 December 1931. He passed away a month later on 17 January 1932.
The funeral procession was led by 1000 returned servicemen flanked by thousands of onlookers who yearned to pay their respects to an Australian hero. Described at his funeral as “Australia’s greatest front-line soldier”, Bean and the men of the 14th believed that he should have earned three VC’s. A close friend recalled that, “He said what he meant, and meant what he said”. It is argued that his ability to call a spade a spade annoyed his superiors who refused to promote him any further than Captain.
A plaque and sculpture in honour of Jacka for his grave were paid for by the public while 1195 pounds was raised to purchase a house for his widow. Further to these honours a suburb in Canberra and a park in St Kilda were named after Jacka. Albert Jacka’s VC is displayed at the Australian War Memorial.