The Victoria Cross is eligible for any British or Commonwealth serviceman. Or even, for that matter, anyone serving with or attached to British of Commonwealth forces. And throughout the medal’s illustrious history many of our colonies have punched far above their size in terms of the heroism that their citizens have shown.
Perhaps the most famous Austrialian recipient of the Victoria Cross is Albert Jacka. Born in 1893, in 1914 he joined the Australian Army. After Turkey allied herself with Germany Jacka’s Division was sent to guard the Suez Canal in Egypt. From there, he and his comrades took part in the fateful Galipolli campaign in 1915. In a campaign blighted by incompetent planning, Jacka’s part in it would be one of the few bright spots.
Landing at ANZAC Cove on 26 April 1915, Jacka and his comrades were immediately pitched into battle against Turkish defenders. Despite British predictions that the Turks would collapse, they fought bitterly in defence of their homeland. On 15 May, they launched an offensive against the ANZAC positions. In the resulting conflict, Jacka shot five and bayoneted two Turkish soldiers, forcing the remainder to flee the trench; he then held the trench alone for the remainder of the night. This was a ferocious and tenacious action, far beyond what could have been expected of any man. But somehow Jacka showed that when ordinary people are put in dire straits, some of them are capapble of extraordinary feats.
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned Officers… Lance-Corporal Albert Jacka, 14th Battalion, Australian Imperial Forces. For most conspicuous bravery on the night of the 19th-20th May, 1915 at “Courtney’s Post”, Gallipoli Peninsula. Lance-Corporal Jacka, while holding a portion of our trench with four other men, was heavily attacked. When all except himself were killed or wounded, the trench was rushed and occupied by seven Turks. Lance-Corporal Jacka at once most gallantly attacked them single-handed, and killed the whole party, five by rifle fire and two with the bayonet.
As the First Australian to win a VC in the First World War, Jack became a national celebrity. In 1916 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. In 1916 he went to France, fighting in the battle of the Somme. He went on to win two Military Crosses. Although it has been suggested that Jacka deserved a bar to his VC, for an action at Pozieres in 1916, research has shown that his superior officers never reccomended him for a second Victoria Cross in the first place. As such, accusations of British snobbery are unfounded. By the end of the war Jacka had been wounded several times, and also gassed before he ended the war as a Captain.
Upon the conclusion of the war, Jacka returned to a heroes welcome in Australia and entered business; establishing an electrical goods importing and exporting company. He was later elected to the local council, where he became the mayor of St Kilda, Victoria. Jacka never fully recovered from the multiple wounds he sustained during his war service, and died at the age of 39.
Albert Jacka’s Victoria Cross is on public display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, Australia.