Hard Jacka

Sad remembrance of a war hero, 91 years on
By John Masanauskas
Herald Sun Thursday 25 September, 2008

Tom Wanliss never knew his cousin Harold, a World War I hero, but tales of his deeds were family legend.

And he believes his brave relative’s life and sacrifice deserve wider recognition. Capt Wanliss was only 26 when he fell on a Belgian field, 91 years ago this week.

Serving with him at the battle of Polygon Wood was legendary Australian Victoria Cross winner, Albert Jacka.

Tom Wanliss, 82, said that from all reports his cousin was a striking man of fierce intellect destined for greatness.

“Everyone who spoke of him said he could have been prime minister”, he said.

Born in Victoria, Capt Wanliss was dux of Ballarat College. His grandfather Thomas Drummond Wanliss had been an MLA and a member of Peter Lalor’s committee at the Eureka Stokade.

Capt Wanliss was commanding the right flank of the 14th Battalion AIF when felled by two bullets during an assault on German lines near Ypres on September 26, 1917.

‘He died on the field of honour, at the head of his men, in a victorious attack... devoted wholly to his country’s cause,” said an official account of his death.

Capt Wanliss’s distraught father, Newton, placed a memorial notice in Melbourne newspapers on each anniversary of his son’s death until his own demise in 1951.

Author Michael Lawriwsky, who wrote about Capt Wanliss in a book on Jacka, will put a similar notice in the Herald Sun for the 91st anniversary tomorrow.

Dr Lawriwsky said that while a waterfall at Lorne was named after Capt Wanlliss, few people today knew of him. “A future Australia was lost, and Harold had the potential to be a leading architect of that future”, he said.

Notice that Newton Wanliss placed in the Melbourne ‘Argus’, 26 September, 1945:

"WANLISS - In proud memory of my heroic son, Captain Harold Boyd Wanliss DSO killed in action September 26, 1917. None perhaps fell that day with more glory; yet many fell and there was much glory"

Remembering the legend
Herald Sun, 14 January 2008, page 20

HOW often have you driven down St Kilda's foreshore admiring Port Phillip Bay or more recently, thinking of the proposed $300 million development of the Triangle adjoining the Palais Theatre? You're on Jacka Boulevard, but it's amazing how many younger Victorians don't know the man behind the name. In the 1920s and 1930s every Australian schoolboy knew Albert Jacka as the equal of Hector and Achilles. Captain Albert Jacka, Victoria Cross, Military Cross and Bar was a legend of the Anzacs.

Later as a councillor and mayor of St Kilda, he proposed development of public baths, the foreshore and the Elwood Park Kiosk to help the unemployed of the Depression.

In December 1914 the 14th Battalion's colours were blessed on the lawns opposite the Triangle site, prior to its leaving for World War I. Jacka, 21, was among the troops on those lawns. The coming years would mark his strength of character, leadership, audacious courage and his humility. At Gallipoli, he jumped alone into a trench full of Turks and after bayoneting two and shooting five others, came out alive at the other end. His fierce will emerged with other incredible acts in France and Belgium. Wounded many times, he came back to Australia a living legend.

Jacka settled in St Kilda and ran a successful electrical appliances business in the city. He married, bought a house and adopted a baby daughter. All was well while the 1920s boom continued - then calamity struck. Jacka lost his home and business, yet was made mayor of St Kilda in September 1930, at the height of the Great Depression crisis. Jacka's new mission was alleviating the condition of the poor and unemployed in the district, which included many of his fellow war veterans. He rallied the citizens of St Kilda to collect boots and clothing for them. The mayor raised funds for them through dances, film nights and communal singing on the pier. And he urged the government to fund public works to create employment. Jacka allocated the Old Court House to the unemployed. "Just as necessary to the unemployed as food" he said, as he paid for the repairs from his own pocket. Like many of his mates, Jacka never fully recovered his health from war service. Suddenly, tragically, Albert Jacka died on January 17, 1932, of kidney failure, leaving his family in financial hardship. He was only 39. About 30,000 mourners lined the streets of Melbourne in 42C heat for his funeral.

Descendants of the 14th Battalion Association gather for an annual service at the Jacka memorial in the cemetery. Attendance has been growing. Albert Jacka will be remembered again at the 2008 service this Sunday.

Michael Lawriwsky is the author of Hard Jacka, a historical novel about Jacka's war. www.hardjacka.com

Country stops to remember the fallen
By Anthony Radford
Local News Remember the Fallen,
Bendigo Weekly, Issue 531 Friday 9 November, 2007

ON Sunday local residents will join thousands of others across the country in one minute’s silence for Remembrance Day. People are also encouraged to buy a poppy to raise funds to assist with the care and well being of veterans and their families.

Many of Bendigo’s volunteers have been selling poppies for 60 years and shop owners look after their “regulars” ensuring they have cups of tea and biscuits throughout the day. Returned servicemen and women requested the Remembrance Day Service be simple and without fuss.

The day is to remember the loss of loved ones and mates during times of war and conflict. Bendigo RSL president Cliff Richards said buglers would be stationed across the city to play the Last Post on Sunday as a way of reaching the public. “What we’re trying to focus on is the 11th of the 11th at 11am and there’s 11 buglers,” he said.

“In my time in the RSL, I think if there’s anything, the older veterans’ aim is to stop the traffic for a minute on Remembrance Day. “The management of Strath Village will put chairs out, and one of the old diggers will get up and recite the ode, so they’re having their mini service and Strath Village is a good location because there’s a lot of care facilities and nursing homes in the area and it saves our veterans from coming all the way into Bendigo.”

Author Michael Lawriwsky will be at Bendigo District RSL at 12.15pm to talk about his book Hard Jacka. It’s a novel about the exploits of Albert Jacka VC, Australia’s first Victoria Cross winner, and the men of the 14th Battalion First AIF during the Great War. The book delves into the account of Jacka and his mates and a few soldiers from Bendigo. “He was from Wedderburn ... in the action where Jacka won his Victoria Cross, were at the time three other Bendigo men and there’s a story about those three other men. They didn’t get recognised as heroes, but the families of the three other men are still alive. “There’s the daughters of Bill Howard, sons of Steve DeAraugo and the son of Dick Poliness, who lives in Shepparton.”

The Howard and DeAraugo descendents will attend on the day. “They’ve got special stories that probably aren’t told like [Albert Jacka’s].”

A cartoon was printed in an English publication, Victor which sold for three-pence, on September 9, 1972, about the Boy from Bendigo. The cartoon includes some great quotes such as: “It’s so hot here it would shrivel the wool off a Bendigo sheep.” Albert Jacka’s tale of survival has become legend.

“He stood up on the western front and was shot about seven times before he decided to lay down. And someone asks are you crook, and he says yeah I’ve got seven bullet holes in me,” Mr Richards said.

“Bill Howard was severely wounded in this action, he went back and was repatriated to Australia and God knows why but he got up out of his hospital bed and joined up and ended up on the western front where he was again gassed and injured and captured by the Germans and spent time in a prisoner of war camp.

“Now Bill Howard’s been able to tell his story to his daughters, and his daughters [who are still alive] are the closest link that we can possibly get to those sorts of stories of action in the Great War. His daughters proudly talk about their father and the stories he related to them.”

Michael will talk about his research his book and the Bendigo connection, Mr Richards said.

An uncommon hero
Natasha Robinson, September 26, 2007
The Australian.

BRAVE but insubordinate, our greatest soldier was robbed of recognition by the superiors he shamed, reports Natasha Robinson.

ALBERT Jacka was robbed of recognition by the superiors he shamed. ALBERT Jacka was famous for sticking it up the establishment. But this time he had pushed his impertinence to the limit.

On the eve of the battle of Polygon Wood, the first stage of an offensive to drive the Germans north to the Belgian coast in World War I, the Australian Imperial Force's 14th Battalion was locked in an extraordinary showdown with force command, which wanted to send the famed soldiers back into the field despite recent back-to-back battles during the misery of the Somme.

It was not a mutiny but a display of independence, a microcosm of Australia's burgeoning nationhood. The men of the 14th Battalion had enlisted to fight for the mother country but bucked against the rigid class structure that infected Britain's military order.

Jacka was their champion. His demand was simple, says author Michael Lawriwsky in his historical novel Hard Jacka: The Story of a Gallipoli Legend. His boys needed a rest.

Today, on the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Polygon Wood, a member of Jacka's family maintains that the army captain was punished for speaking out. Had he been awarded the three, or perhaps even four, Victoria Cross medals he deserved instead of one, he would be considered Australia's greatest war hero.

In September 1917, as preparations for the battle of Polygon Wood intensified, Jacka's power struggle with the head of the AIF's 4thBrigade, Charles Brand, deepened. Brand, a brigadier-general and Queensland-born Boer War veteran, had called the 14th Battalion a bunch of dopes, triggering half the unit to resign. Brand apologised to the troops but Jacka refused to back down.

Private Ted Rule listened at the door as Jacka ripped into his superior officer, who had passed Jacka up for promotion in favour of Walter John Smith. In less than two weeks, Smith was to lead the 14th Battalion into battle at Polygon Wood.

Jacka had suggested his unit was being run on the whim of a bunch of heads who had never been anywhere near a trench and wouldn't know one if they'd fallen into it.

Jacka was well qualified to dish out such criticism. Three weeks after his arrival at Courtney's Post, Gallipoli, the former labourer in Victoria's Forestry Department had amazed his commanders by jumping into an enemy-held trench and single-handedly battling a group of armed Turks, killing two with his bayonet and shooting five. It was a stunning act of bravery for which he was awarded Australia's first Victoria Cross of World War I.

The distinction was greeted in his home town, Wedderburn, near Bendigo, with ecstatic celebration.

Fifteen months later, at Pozieres on the Western Front, Jacka led a team of seven men who took on an 80-strong German unit that had captured 40 Australians. Emboldened by their fearless commander, Jacka's team charged at the Germans. Jacka took three bullets, one in the chest. It was a counter-attack that "stands as the most dramatic and effective act of audacity in the history of the AIF", said official war historian Charles Bean.

But instead of the Distinguished Service Order he craved -- an accolade awarded within the military to those destined to rise through the ranks -- the increasingly outspoken Jacka was awarded a Military Cross.

At Bullecourt, in his role as battalion intelligence officer, Jacka ventured alone into no man's land to spy on enemy trenches. His one-man patrols and skill in guiding British tanks into position displayed a brilliant tactical mind and boundless courage.

As Jacka and Brand faced off, Jacka demanded, with characteristic bluntness, to know why promises made to his men had been broken. Jacka's Mob, as the 14th Battalion was known, eavesdropped at the door as Brand said he would have Jacka's hide if he kept it up. Jacka could have been court-martialled for insubordination.

Two weeks later, on September 26, 1917, he led his troops to battle. The plan was for the infantry to advance behind a creeping barrage of artillery shells and pounce on German pillboxes, fortified concrete machinegun posts that had halted the allies' advance north into Belgium.

But as shells rained down, whipping up a storm of mud and debris, disoriented troops, mistaking their own shell attack for a German artillery counter-offensive, began to retreat. Hearing cries to fall back, Jacka seized the initiative and ordered them to follow him.

"The whole brigade were astonished at the bearing of the man," Rule wrote in 1935, reflecting on Jacka's calm command under pressure at Polygon Wood. "He seemed to be here, there and everywhere, with no trace of anxiety or fear. In fact, some men wondered if he possessed a nervous system."

Having driven the troops forward once more, they ran into more trouble. Rockets that were supposed to be fired by the troops at the head of the army's line, the signal for back-up troops to charge, were soggy and would not fire. Without back-up, the men were sitting ducks for German snipers.

Jacka was the only one who knew the exact location of a stash of back-up rockets. They had been carried by his batman, killed as he advanced on a German pillbox.

In broad daylight, Jacka waded through the boggy fields, dodging sniper bullets, copping one in the hand as he retrieved the rockets. Behind him in the field at Polygon Wood, sheltering in shell-hole trenches, Jacka's Mob waited out the German storm troopers' counter-attack. They were waiting for the sign that would come in an explosion of rocket fire.

A half-hour later, the sky lit up and the Lewis guns of the 14th Battalion cranked into life. Twelve men were lost but the tide had begun to turn for the Allies.

Lawriwsky argues that the legend of Jacka has been lost in the nation's history books, buried by politically driven military figures who resented his fierce egalitarianism.

"The most well-known figure of World War I to Australians is probably Simpson (John Simpson Kirkpatrick) and his donkey," Lawriwsky says. "Jacka should have got four Victoria Cross medals. Through every battle, he just kept going. He had this force, a force of character.

"He was super cool. And his men just idolised him because he gave them strength. They see this person who is not afraid. He will face it, come hell or high water. And it gives them strength. They go into battle because he is there."

Lawriwsky draws the same conclusion as Jacka's biographer Ian Grant that a cover-up by force command robbed Jacka of a bar to his Victoria Cross or, alternatively, the DSO.

Brand, basking in victory and deeply impressed with Jacka's command, had sent a runner to the front line at Polygon Wood, Rule wrote. "Congratulations, Jacka," said Brand's note. "I have recommended you for the DSO."

"At Polygon Wood, Jacka achieves his pinnacle as a leader," Lawriwsky says. "He takes command of the battalion in the trenches. And he does it with his normal tactical genius, his resigned bravery and his leadership. He has always wanted to be the lieutenant-colonel running this battalion, but he has always been overlooked, particularly by Brand, because he won't say 'Yes, sir'.

"At Polygon Wood he was holding the whole battalion together. And for that, if he shouldn't have got a bar to his VC, he certainly should have got the DSO."

Nephew Ken Jacka suspects something more sinister. The lieutenant-colonel who was supposed to be leading the 14th Battalion on the field at Polygon Wood, Smith, was nowhere to be seen, and did not surface for three days during the heat of battle.

Ken Jacka believes the conclusions of Grant, who said "recognition of (Albert Jacka's) brilliance was withheld in order to gain as little publicity for the action as possible", are correct.

"I think because the battalion commanders obviously found a nice, safe dugout somewhere and went to ground there, because they were so horrified and ashamed of themselves doing that, they didn't want to draw any attention to the battle of Polygon Wood. I think that's why there were no awards given," Ken Jacka says.

Bean's final assessment strictly toed company force line. "His methods could not have been adopted generally in the AIF without disaster," the historian said.

But for Lawriwsky, Albert Jacka embodies the spirit of Anzac.

"He was against elitism, but not the kind that was earned," Lawriwsky says. "Australians like heroes who perform. They don't respect titles, they respect performance."

Jacka survived the war despite many bullet and shrapnel wounds and being gassed in 1918. He returned home in 1919, eventually became mayor of St Kilda but died in 1932, aged 39.

Though he was championed as a war hero throughout the 1920s and '30s, Jacka has slowly faded from the national consciousness.

At his state funeral in Melbourne, tens of thousands of people lined St Kilda Boulevard as his coffin was carried by eight Victoria Cross veterans.

"He was really killed by the war," Lawriwsky says. "It just took a while to get him, that's all."

Hard Jacka: The Story of a Gallipoli Legend by Michael Lawriwsky is published by Mira Books ($29.95).

Home | Michael Lawriwsky | News/Events | Hard Jacka-The Book | Places | Links
Copyright © 2007 Michael Lawriwsky