Hard Jacka


Website of the Australian Naval Officers Club (www.navalofficer.com.au)

Book review by Kevin Rickard

Lawriwsky, M. Hard Jacka: The story of a Gallipoli legend. Mira Books: Chatswood, 2007. 421 pp. 16 pp of plates, illustrations, maps.

General Peter Cosgrove, in his introduction to Michael Lawriwsky's book, Hard Jacka, mentions that in the Australian Army's pantheon of men there is none more inspirational, none more courageous than Captain Albert Jacka, VC, MC and Bar. In this sensitively crafted story of Jacka and his mates as well as the "heads", we learn much, not only about the incredible bravery of Jacka and his many battle skills, but also of his clashes with authority.

The latter was at first with Lt Col Dare, the battalion commander who would not recommend Sgt Major Jacka for officer training, and later, clashes of Captain Jacka with Brigadier Charles Brand about tactical matters during fighting on the Somme. There is no doubt about the bravery of Jacka, but the details of these disputes provide insight into the character, fortitude and ambition of the man.

The fictionalised words attributed to Jacka and his contemporaries by Lawriwsky come from much meticulous research by the author, whilst their context and reality bring Jacka and his friends to life in the mind of the reader.

L/Cpl Jacka won his Victoria Cross at Courtney's Post, Gallipoli, on 19 May 1915, in the darkness of those fatal trench systems in hand-to-hand fighting with the Turks. Jacka was assisted in his extraordinary exploits by Privates Poliness and De Araugo and Lt Crabbe. This VC was presented to Jacka by the then Prince of Wales during a luncheon at Buckingham Palace in 1916 with five other Australian recipients.


Many thought Lt Jacka's extraordinary heroism on the ridge at Poziers in the Somme deserved a bar to his VC. His deeds there appear to have been understated by Dare and an MC was the result. At Poziers Jacka, leading the fifth platoon of the fourteenth battalion, withstood a ferocious German bombardment and, although seriously wounded, led a bayonet charge to capture the position. His brother, Bill Jacka thought he would not survive his wounds but he did so, at the Third London General Hospital, once more to return to the battles at the Somme.

At Bullecourt he won a bar to his MC, which was presented to him in the field by Sir William Birdwood in May 1917. At Polygon Wood in 1917 Capt. Jacka took effective command of the fourteenth battalion in the field, perhaps deserving another VC, but his role in that victory was unrewarded.

In between reading about the legendary and heroic deeds of Albert Jacka and also of his special attribute for the assessment of the enemy in conflict, we read also about the feelings, fears and reactions of many of Jacka's friends, some of whom were to be tragically and heroically killed in the mindless slaughter. We read about such men as Capt. Ted Rule, Capt. 'Lofty' Williamson, Sgt 'Curly' Croft, Padre Andrew Gillison, Maj. Percy Black and Capt. Harry Murray. The story of his proven friend, Lt Harold Wanliss, of whom much was expected politically, carries much pathos. He fell in love and was betrothed to Jean Campbell while on leave in Scotland. Wanliss was later killed in action before he could wed Jean.

Mayor of St Kilda

Jacka survived the war, returned to Victoria, entered local politics and became the Mayor of St Kilda. He died in January 1932 at the Caulfield Military Hospital at the early age of 39 from complications of his many war wounds. "They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old; we will remember them."

Hard Jacka is an extraordinary account of a great Australian hero, well written and a great, but sad, pleasure to read.


Journal of the Military Historical Society of Australia

Vol. XLVIII, No. 4 – December 2007, page 59

Review of ‘Hard Jacka: the story of a Gallipoli Legend, by Michael Lawriwsky

Hard Jacka is a novelised account of Captain Albert Jacka VC MC at war on Gallipoli and the Western Front. There have been two good Jacka biographies, the 1989 work, Jacka, VC: Australia’s finest fighting soldier by Ian Grant and last year Jacka VC: Australian hero by Robert Macklin. I thought both biographies were great although I did have some minor quibbles. Again, I have some minor quibbles but this novel works for me. I found it an easy read with plausible characters and since Michael Lawriwsky’s intention was to preserve the memory of an extraordinary Australian I was willing to give him a fair chance to get my attention which he succeeded quite quickly in capturing.

I agree with Ian Grant who names Jacka as Australia’s finest fighting soldier. I also agree that Jacka would have been a worthy recipient of a second VC. However, only one person, Noel Chavasse, a medical doctor was awarded successive Victoria Crosses in World War 1. The other recipient of a second award in World War 1, another medical officer, Arthur Martin-Leake, received his first Victoria Cross with the South African Constabulary in 1902. No infantry soldier or officer was awarded two Victoria Crosses in World War 1.Albert Jacka with three gallantry medals including the Victoria Cross was one of a select number awarded multiple decorations in World War 1.

The work is based on well-known and well respected sources including the official history of C E W Bean, Jacka’s Mob by Edgar Rule and the 14th Battalion history by Newton Wanliss, the father of Harold Wanliss who was killed at Polygon Wood. Harold is one of the main characters of the novel as well as 14th Battalion Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Charles Dare and 4th Brigade Commander Brigadier General Charles Brand. Jacka had little rapport with Dare and Brand and was constantly at loggerheads with both but I had more sympathy with these commanders than I think Lawriwsky was trying to convey. Sadly, Jacka did not have a Kippenberger as a mentor unlike New Zealander Charles Upham who was awarded two Victoria Crosses in World War 2.

Michael Lawriwsky is to be commended for the additional 50 pages of biographical sketches and historical commentaries. This is a great read about a great Australian hero whose name deserves to be remembered.

I recommend you treat yourself to a good read.

Dr Anthony Staunton

Account of legendary digger “rings true”

“Hard Jacka”, News Weekly, December 20, 2008, p.28.

Reviewed by Bill James

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 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 Pozieres, 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-Bretonnex.

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 party just his cantankerous temperament, but sometimes his criticisms were fully justified. He was skeptical, 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 readale 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.

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