Robert Macklin. Jacka VC: Australian Hero.
Most with an interest in military history would instantly pick Albert Jacka as Australia's greatest war hero. He was thrice decorated for gallantry at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Sadly his name has been forgotten by the general public who if asked to name a veteran of World War I would probably nominate John Simpson if they named anybody. Ironically Simpson was killed in the same Turkish offensive for which Jacka was awarded the Victoria Cross. Both Jacka and Simpson served in the same brigade commanded by then Brigadier General John Monash. Both Simpson and Jacka became famous but it was Jacka's name that was talked about on Gallipoli while many veterans only heard of Simpson after they arrived back in Australia.
Unlike Simpson, Jacka was recommended for the Victoria Cross which he richly deserved having saved his post at the critical moment. The Victoria Cross was the first to an Australian in World War 1. He was quickly promoted and by the end of the Gallipoli campaign was a Company Sergeant Major. Jacka was keen to be commissioned but while he had great leadership qualities and rapport with his men he was seldom able to develop rapport with his superior officers. His lack of education and his inability to work well with a number of senior officers certainly hindered his promotion opportunities. However, Jacka was probably the finest junior officer Australian produced in World War 1.
No less an authority than the official historian Charles Beans writing in the January 1932 memorial issue of Reveille, the Victoria RSL journal, suggested that Jacka should have been awarded three Victoria Crosses instead of the Victoria Cross and two Military Crosses he received. I think that is an exaggeration but certainly if he had not already been awarded the Victoria Cross I am sure he would have received the award for Pozieres Heights. In the official history Bean describes Jacka's counter attack at Pozieres Heights as the "most dramatic and effective act of individual audacity in the history of the A.I.F."
While a second VC to Jacka would have been a most worthy award for Pozieres Heights, the first and only double award to an infantry officer had to wait until World War 2. New Zealander Charles Upham was awarded the VC on Crete in May 1941 and a bar for Egypt in July 1942. While the recommendation was written up shortly after the second action it was not seriously considered until after the end of the war when Upham was released from a German POW camp. The King sought the advice of the senior New Zealand officer then in the United Kingdom, Major General Sir Howard Kippenberger who had closely followed Upham's career and who strongly pressed for the award. A recommendation, strong support and the good timing meant a second award for Upham. None of these circumstances were in Jacka's favour in 1916.
Jacka was a remarkable Australian in both war and peace. In 1919 he returned to a triumphant welcome as thousands lined the streets to cheer the first Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross. The book fully covers his service at Gallipoli, Belgium and France. There is also plenty of material on his life after the war; his marriage, his business which was a victim of the Great Depression and his involvement in local government with St Kilda City Council. This is a fine work on an extraordinary Australian.
Author Robert Macklin is a journalist for The Diplomat and has co-authored three books with Peter Thompson: The man who died twice, The Battle of Brisbane and Kill the tiger. He has scripted a series of eight TV documentaries, and is the author of Fire in the blood.
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2006|
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