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He had no regard for his personal safety

His photo shows a cheeky grin and a handsome face looking into the camera.


It was a face that made women smile and men want to buy him a beer. At 28 years old, Jack French, would be one of only 20 Australians to receive the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the British and Commonwealth forces.


Jack French. Courtesy Wikipedia.


Born John Alexander French in 1914 to Albert and Lucy (nee Donaldson), at Crows Nest, just north of Toowoomba in Queensland, Jack came into the world at the beginning of the Great War and he was to make his mark in the second biggest world conflict of the twentieth century.


As a young lad he was quite the sportsman, especially when he played rugby league. After his schooling at Toowoomba he joined his father, who was a hairdresser and barber, in his business as an apprentice.


Life may have been quite normal for Jack if it weren't for the outbreak of World War Two. Jack enlisted in 1939, the first in Crows Nest to do so, as part of the Second Australian Imperial Force, joining the 2/9th Battalion. He kept the news of his enlistment a secret from his mum for two months. Lucy only found out when her son was notified of his basic training start date.


After training in Redbank, Queensland, Jack's battalion was shipped off to England where they became part of the 6th Division. They were transferred to the Middle East, reaching Alexandria in December, 1940. It took a few months before the battalion saw action and the first time was in March, 1941 capturing the Italian fort of Giarabub.


By December of the same year, Jack was promoted to Corporal. By now they were part of the 7th Division and moved back to Australia in response to Japan's entry into the war after the attacks on Pearl Harbour and Malaya. At this time, Jack was given seven days leave, so he headed back to Crows Nest and his family. It would be the last time they saw him alive.


With some more training, this time in jungle warfare, the 2/9th Battalion headed to New Guinea to fight the Japanese. It was here that Jack would earn his Victoria Cross.


It was late August, 1942 and the 2/9th Battalion had been deployed to Milne Bay to combat the Japanese who were advancing south along the Kokoda track. They were determined to take the Allied airports, but the Australians were equally determined to fight them off.


It was late in the afternoon on 4th September, 1942 and as corporal, Jack was in charge of an infantry battalion that attacked a Japanese position. They were attacked by fire from three separate enemy machine-gun posts.


Jack ordered his men to take cover while he advanced in silence and threw a grenade at the first post, effectively muting them. He went back to his men for more grenades, then repeated the same on the second post, also taking them out. With the third post he took his Thompson machine gun, and firing from the hip, he went forward.


Jack French's grave at Bomana War Cemetery, Port Moresby.


Witnesses saw him wounded from an attack by the third post but he continued to advance. When shooting ceased, his battalion moved forward to find that all members of the enemy gun posts had been killed. But they also found Jack lying in front of the third enemy gun pit.


According to his citation, 'By his cool courage and disregard of his own personal safety, this non-commissioned officer saved members of his section from heavy casualties and was responsible for the successful conclusion of the attack.'


Jack was alive when his section advanced, but he died shortly after, knowing what he had done to save his mates. He is buried at the Bomana War Cemetery at Port Moresby and was survived by his fiancee, Dulcie McCahon, who said that she 'knew he would always carry out his duty regardless of his safety'.


The John French, V.C., Memorial Library at Crows Nest was opened on 18 July 1958, by the governor-general, Field Marshal Sir William (Viscount) Slim.


References

  • 'Jack French', Wikipedia, accessed 2nd November, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_French

  • Anthony Staunton, 'French, John Alexander (Jack) (1914–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/french-john-alexander-jack-10250/text18127, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 10 November 2023.

  • 'John (Jack) French', Anzac portal, accessed 10th November, 2023, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories/biographies/john-alexander-french



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