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Jacka, Albert (1893–1932)

Captain Albert Jacka, the first Australian soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in the Great War, and the winner also of the Military Cross and Bar, died at the Caulfield Military Hospital yesterday morning. He was aged 39 years. Death was due to kidney disorder. Captain Jacka was severely gassed in the war. He was also wounded on several occasions.

Captain Jacki was born at Winchelsea, and before his enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force he was an employee of the Victorian Forests Commission. It was as a country-bred man, aged 21 years, that he left Australia with the 14th Battalion. He saw his first fighting as a private on the heights of Gallipoli. From the outset he displayed a disregard of danger and a capacity for overcoming difficulties that earned him the respect and trust of his comrades in the ranks as well as of his officers. Many stories are told of his heroism, but it was his deed at Courtney's Post on May 19, 1915, that first earned him enduring flame. Then a lance-corporal, he was holding a section of Australian trench with four other men. The position was heavily attacked by Turks. All Jackas comrades were killed or rendered helpless by wounds, and seven Turks entered the trench. Jacka attacked the raiders single-handed, and after a desperate struggle killed every Turk in the trench – five by rifle fire and two with the bayonet. He beat off further attacks upon the trench, and held the position until he was relieved. For this achievement he was awarded the Victoria Cross, and his name became better known to his fellow countrymen than that of many generals.

Many times afterwards Jacka's heroism was mentioned in reports from the front. He gained promotion rapidly. When Gallipoli was evacuated and the Australian troops went to France he was a lieutenant. In that capacity he led a counter-attack after a strong enemy offensive at Pozieres on August 7, 1916, and he was awarded the Military Cross for what has been described as ''the most dramatic and effective act of individual audacity in the history of the Australian Imperial Forces." The action is well described by Dr C. E. Bean in the "Official History of Australia in the War."

Bravery at Pozieres
"Inside the Australian lines an unusual situation had developed," writes Dr Bean. "For some minutes the Australians on the northern flank of the attack had maintained a constant fire on the right flank of the German advance. As the Germans penetrated beyond the old German lines they became visible to the whole semi-circle of Australian supports in Centre Way, Tom's Cut, and Tramway Trench, some of whom ...... at first joined in the fusillade. There followed, within the sight of many of the onlooking troops, an incident of which there remain numerous descriptions. The easy attitude of the Germans on the hill gave the impression that they had overcome the local opposition and were about to settle down or reorganise. Suddenly a party of no more than eight Australians led by an officer, was seen to spring from a fold in the ground and charge them from their rear. An immediate change came over the battlefield; other Australians apparently resumed the attack, and the slope in rear of the old German line became the centre of an extraordinary aggregation of separate hand-to-hand conflicts. Germans and Australians being intermingled 'like players in rival football teams.' What happened was this. It has been mentioned that Lieutenant Jacka of the 14th, commanding the southern platoon of the 14th, had gone up at dawn to the trench and found the bombardment still falling heavily. He had not long returned to the underground chamber, which was still intensely dark, when his men, some of whom were sleeping after the heavy strain, were roused by a deafening explosion at the foot of the stairs. The attacking Germans had reached the dugout entrance and had rolled a bomb down the shaft. Two revolver shots were immediately heard. Jacka had fired at the German bomber up the stairway. At once he rushed up, followed by his men, who had to scramble over two of their groaning mates, maimed by the bomb. The enemy had swept past, and could be seen in large numbers between this dugout and the village of Pozieres. Jacka instantly decided to line up all the sound men he could find, seven or eight in number, and to dash through the enemy back to Pozieres. His men had hardly been drawn up when he saw the column of the 48th Battalion's prisoners and their escort returning towards him. He let them come to within 30 yards and then jumped out of the back of the trench and charged. About half the German guards threw down their rifles, but the rest opened fire, and every man of Jacka's small party was hit with rifle bullets.

"Seeing Jacka's movement a sergeant of the 48th, Beck, instantly charged forward to his assistance with a small party from the trench of the battalion. The captured men of the 48th also broke away, some of them seizing the rifles of their guard, while the remainder of the guard began to shoot them down. The fight immediately became a melee, into the thick of which Jacka and the survivors of his small party plunged. At this stage parties of Australians from most of the unattached portions in the surrounding area almost automatically began to make towards the struggle ....... A German machine gun crew had established itself in a shell-hole 200 yards down the slope towards Tramway Trench, and the advancing Australians had subsequently to observe some caution; but the forward movement was continuous, determined looking men silently making forward on all sides from shell-hole to shell-hole.... Some were shooting point blank at others face to face with them. Others were flighting with bayonets, this being one of the few occasions when bayonets were really crossed. Others were on their knees in front of standing figures, praying for their lives. The Germans included a number of bombers, and some were fighting from shell-holes. Jacka dived in among them, killing and capturing a number, but receiving a wound which nearly killed him. The gallant Beck was killed; but the appearance of Lieutenant Appleton's platoon approaching, together with some of Lieutenant Dobbie's, appears to have settled the issue for the Germans surrendered.

At the disastrous battle of Bullecourt on April 11, 1917, Jacka, who was then a captain, acted as intelligence officer and tanks officer, and won a military bar to his Military Cross for a daring nocturnal investigation of the enemy position inside the Germans' wire entanglements, and for the subsequent capture of a German officer and his orderly.

Chosen as Mayor of St Kilda
After his repatriation Captain Jacka became associated with an importing business, which ceased operations about a year ago, after having suffered heavily in the depression. About two years ago he decided to enter municipal life, and he was elected to the St. Kilda Council as a representative of the Central Ward in 1929. He displayed a characteristically keen interest in municipal duties, and acquired a forceful debating capacity. After an association of only about a year with the council he was elected mayor for the municipal year 1930-1931. He relinquished the position in August last.

The mayor of St Kilda (Councillor Herbert Moroney) last night paid a warm tribute to Captain Jacka's work as a councillor.

Captain Jacka leaves a widow and a daughter.

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'Jacka, Albert (1893–1932)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/jacka-albert-6808/text35089, accessed 24 May 2019.

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