At age 21, Captain Albert Jacka was the first Australian to win the Victoria Cross in WWI when he helped repel a Turkish assault by single-handedly killing an enemy group of seven Turks with his rifle and bayonet, re-capturing the position.
The year after in France, he earnt the Military Cross (MC) for what the official war historian described as “the most dramatic and effective act of individual audacity in the history of the Australian Imperial Forces AIF”. At Bullecourt in April 1917 he then won a bar to his MC for further brave individual work.
Captain Jacka became famous throughout the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) for his bravery and became a symbol of the Anzac spirit. He returned home to Australia in 1919 to a civic reception and went on to be a successful businessman and eventually the Mayor of St Kilda.
Captain Jacka’s great niece Sheridan is a Defence Health employee and describes Captain Jacka as her ‘hero’.
“Uncle Albert fought for the rights of returned servicemen and their families, finding them jobs, helping to find them homes. His political career was characterised by his strong interest in assisting the unemployed. Meanwhile his business, which had performed well until the late 1920s, was forced into voluntary liquidation in 1930 and his marriage ended. Despite this difficult time he always helped the people of St Kilda before himself. He was aware of everyone’s hardship and he refused to take a wage for his council work – being Mayor.”
Captain Albert Jacka died on 17 January 1932 of chronic nephritis. Nearly 6000 people filed past his coffin when it lay in state in Anzac House. The funeral procession, led by over 1000 returned soldiers flanked by thousands of onlookers, made its way to St Kilda cemetery where he was buried with full military honours. Eight Victoria Cross winners were his pallbearers.
Given her strong connection to Australia’s military history, Sheridan describes Remembrance Day as a special time for her and her family.
“My Dad was extremely passionate about making sure that we had a clear understanding of what our forefathers, like Uncle Albert, had endured so that we could live freely. Remembrance Day was, from an early age, a time for me to reflect on the efforts of those that had fallen during WWI & II, and as I grew older – on more recent conflicts such as the Gulf War and Afghanistan”.
This Remembrance Day we pass on our gratitude to Captain Jacka – and all of our ADF heroes who have made sacrifices for our country.
We will remember them. Lest we forget.