Account of legendary digger “rings true”
The Story of a Gallipoli Legend
by Michael Lawriwsky.
Foreword by General Peter Cosgrove
(Sydney: Mira Books)
Paperback: 543 pages
Rec. price: $24.95
There are no Australian World War I veterans left, but on Anzac Day, the banners of WWI units are still carried in the march.
Watchers of the parade in Melbourne might be puzzled and intrigued to see, emblazoned on the banner of the Fourteenth Battalion, the words “Jacka’s Mob”.
For years, author Michael Lawriwsky, too, was one of those many Australians who had never heard of him, but in his day Albert Jacka (1893-1932) was perhaps the most famous person in the country.
Winner of Australia’s first Victoria Cross in WWI, and later the Military Cross and bar, Jacka returned to civilian life to go into business with controversial Melbourne identity John Wren, became involved in local politics, and finished up mayor of St Kilda.
He died in 1932, aged only 39. His many wounds and hardships experienced in the trenches of Gallipoli and the Western Front no doubt contributed to his final illness.
Thousands attended his funeral, and eight Victoria Cross (VC) winners carried his coffin.
Albert Jacka grew up in the Victorian rural township of Wedderburn, 214 km north-west of Melbourne, the son of a haulage contractor.
On the outbreak of war in 1914, he gave up his job with the Victorian State Forests Department and enlisted in the ranks.
He won his VC in 1915 at Gallipoli as a lance-corporal, and was commissioned in 1916.
In 1916 he also won his Military Cross (MC) defending Pozières, which had been captured by the Australian First Division as part of the Somme offensive, at a cost of over 5,000 lives.
The bar to his MC was won for an aggressive reconnaissance near Bullecourt in 1917, and later in that year he was recommended for a Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his actions at Polygon Wood.
His military career ended when he was gassed in 1918 near Villers-Bretonneux.
Jacka was a wonderful comrade, and a fine NCO and officer to those under him, but he could be a very outspoken and obstreperous subordinate.
This was partly just his cantankerous temperament, but sometimes his criticisms were fully justified. He was sceptical, for example, of the plans for, and conduct of, the Bullecourt offensive, the Australian troops’ first experience of cooperation with tanks.
Despite the tank crews’ courage, the battle was a disaster for tactical and technical reasons.
Lawriwsky does not write straight history or biography, and this can be disconcerting until the reader twigs to what he is up to.
At first, I found myself muttering, “How on earth could he know all these details, or reproduce all these conversations?”
It is only at the end of the book that Lawriwsky describes his story as a “novel”, or “faction”, but explains the enormous amount of research into secondary sources, as well as primary material, such as interviews, diaries, letters and military documents, that underlies the narrative.
There is nothing historically or biographically incorrect in the book. Lawriwsky has just imaginatively recreated situations to make them more readable and accessible, and has done it very well.
I recommend readers to pay more attention than I did to the foreword by General Peter Cosgrove, who prepares the alert reader with the words: “Meticulously researched, the rich dialogue of Hard Jacka rests on the firm foundations of a wealth of histories and accounts. It rings true.”
It certainly does.
Web site: www.hardjacka.com