BOOKS: by Michael Daniel (reviewer)News Weekly
JACKA VC: Australian hero, by Robert Macklin
, February 3, 2007
Decorated war heroJACKA VC: Australian hero
by Robert Macklin,
Sydney: Allen & Unwin
Paperback: 320 pages, Rec. price: $29.95Ask the average person to name someone who won the Victoria Cross during World War I, and they will most likely identify Albert Jacka, the first Australian to receive this decoration, the highest award for bravery, for his actions at Gallipoli on May 19, 1915.
Author Robert Macklin - who recently co-authored The Man Who Died Twice
, the biography of Morrison of Peking - explores the life and legacy of this extraordinary Australian.
Born in country Victoria in 1893, Jacka was raised in Wedderburn. Joining the Army in 1914, after a brief period of training, he embarked with other members of the 14th Battalion in December 1914.
Landing later in the morning of April 25, 1915, at Gallipoli, his bravery and leadership skills became apparent with the action for which he was awarded the VC. Overnight, he was feted as a hero and became a household name.
The military, recognising the utility of the Jacka story for recruiting and morale-building, had his image on recruiting posters of 1915, during the period that witnessed the highest rates of recruiting for the Australian Imperial Forces.
Lance Corporal in May 1915, Jacka quickly rose through the non-commissioned officer (NCO) ranks; however, his superiors had to argue vigorously for him to be commissioned because of his working-class background. Jacka was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant early in 1916, before the 14th Battalion departed Egypt for France.
In France, Jacka was to receive further decorations for bravery, namely the Military Cross, for actions at Pozières, and a bar to the Military Cross for actions at Bullecourt. However, it was widely believed that he should have been awarded Bars to his Victoria Cross for these actions. Indeed, Macklin argues that he was denied the Distinguished Service Order because of his humble background and the Victoria Cross at Bullecourt because the action was a failure.
Although Jacka's reputation, particularly among ordinary soldiers, was enhanced by such acts of bravery, his contempt for the incompetence of the military commanders, who sent thousands of soldiers to their deaths needlessly, also grew, culminating in his writing, on his own initiative, as a company commander (he was by this stage a captain), a report critical of the ineffective use of tanks at the debacle of Bullecourt.
While the majority of the military establishment were incensed, Australia's then Major-General John Monash noted the recommendations carefully and was to implement them effectively in his battle plans, particularly at Hamel in July 1918.
As a consequence, Jacka was denied further decorations - for example for his actions at Messines, despite the recommendation of his commanding officer (CO) - and further promotions. While many believed he should have been promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and appointed the CO of the 14th Battalion, he remained a captain.
Upon return to civilian life, Jacka and other war veterans established an electrical goods importing and sales business, which folded with the onset of the Great Depression.
Displaying an ethic of public service, he also became actively involved in the St Kilda Council and the RSL and, through these organisations, did all he could to relieve the plight of those affected by the Depression.
Unfortunately, the demons of war service were to overwhelm him: his marriage fell apart and he died, aged 39, in 1932.Jacka VC
is an interesting and inspiring account of a great Australian who continues to be venerated by his countrymen, for example through the naming of a Canberra suburb after him.