By Benjamin Clun
Two Germans roll a grenade down the stairs into a dugout. Despite the chaos it causes, a man manages to leap forward and charge up the stairs, using his pistol to kill the German he sees, before ducking back into the dugout and grabbing his rifle and bayonet. He then instructs the other survivors to grab their own weapons, fix bayonets, and follow him.
Emerging in the middle of a German attack, with the Australian and German troops on top of one another in a chaotic struggle to simply survive, this small group of men get to work, using their bayonets to great effect. They cut down all the Germans they can get their hands on, fighting in vicious hand to hand combat. And then, amidst the confusion, these men see a group of roughly 40 Australians being taken back to German lines under heavy escort.
These eight men hide in a trench until the Germans are practically on top of them, before charging the stunned Nazis. This group of men, through the use of surprise, and unrestrained aggression, successfully free the prisoners. With the fighting intensifying, this small group of heroic men find themselves being joined by more and more Aussies, who are inspired by the courageous example being given to them by this small band of intrepid soldiers.
The man who is leading the fight against the hun is suddenly shot. And shot again. And again. While the men who shot him stare in disbelief, this man has closed them distance to them in a ferocious charge, and despite their attempts to surrender, he shoots three of them before bayonetting the stunned fourth.
Wounded seven times in the one action, this man, and the small group of men with him, have taken out roughly 20 of the enemy, and provided the men in their area with a supreme example of what it means to be a soldier. Thanks to the actions of these men, the German advanced was routed, and 80 Germans taken prisoner.
However, no victory comes without sacrifice. Having borne the brunt of the attack, this man, and the platoon he was a part of, has gone from a standing strength of 52, down to a total of 4 men able to stand and fight.
For those who survived, the war didn’t end. With more long years ahead of them, they continued on to other conflicts, and fought with the prowess that Aussie soldiers had become known for. But the ramifications of these battles would take a terrible toll for years to come.
Then, as now, PTSD reared its ugly head. Suicide among returned servicemen was the unspoken shame of the war, with men who had given all for their country ignored once the fighting had stopped. The use of chemical weapons did damage that manifested years later, men dying from their actions on the field of battle long after the initial wounds had healed. The man who was wounded so gravely at Pozières, and who helped stem the German advance was none other than Albert Jacka. Awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Gallipoli, and the Military Cross for the actions described above at Pozières, the undoing of the great Albert Jacka was the gassing he received at Villers-Bretonneux, where he also received a bar to go with his MC. It was there at Villers-Bretonneux that the war ended for Albert Jacka, with the action there leaving him a shell of his former self, where even the slamming of a door would leave him shaking for hours. This mental injury was unfortunately left untreated, and the internal organ damage he suffered from the gassing led to his demise some years after the war.
This man fought through horrific engagements, and not only came out on top, he acted in such a manner as to provide an example for over 100 years. The fighting spirit that coursed through this man is exemplified in his dying days. On his death bed in his home town in Australia, Albert Jacka leant over to his father and said “I’m still fighting dad”, before slipping away, one week after his 39th birthday.
Having lived through hell only to die from kidney damage, his last words are a testament to what propelled this man through life. A refusal to give up in the face of adversity is what make Aussie troops so feared on the battle field, and the determination to achieve victory, no matter the cost, has led to greatness that few men can dream of.
After lying in state, where his body was visited by over 6000 people, Albert Jacka had his coffin carried by eight other Victoria Cross winners, the only Australian to ever have that honour.
The last words of Albert Jacka, VC, MC & Bar, along with his combat prowess, should provide encouragement us all. Keep fighting. No matter what you’re fighting, or how difficult that fight may seem, keep fighting!
I drew heavily on the work of Peter Fitzsimons, in particular his book titled “Fromelles & Pozières: In hells trenches”, which is a book I highly recommend for anyone who wants to learn more about the hell of Fromelle and Pozières.
The Victoria Cross is the highest award that can be awarded to any soldier who is a member of the British Commonwealth, and has the same standing as the Presidential Medal of Honour.