Last Monday, April 25, was ANZAC Day – a day we here in the United States all know and love and celebrate by running around in the streets and drinking beer brewed to look like the Union Jack. And, as we here in the U.S. all learn dating back to elementary school, ANZAC stands for the Australian/New Zealand Annual Conference, a magical happy time when delegates and badasses and other qualified people from the British Commonwealth nations of Oceana all get together to talk about terribly important things of mutual relevance, world-changing ideas like crippling rugby injuries and the proper care and maintenance of indigenous dingo populations. So, in honor of my good friends on the opposite side of the world, I've chosen to observe ANZAC Day (a full four days after everybody else has already forgotten about it) by dedicating this week's article to the most widely-revered war hero in the prestigious badass history of Dark Continent – World War I Victoria Cross recipient Albert Jacka, the first Australian to ever be awarded the United Kingdom's highest award for military asskicking in a live-fire situation.
Being known as the biggest badass from a place that has trees that can kill you is no small accolade, and you can bet your Bloomin' Onion that Bert Jacka lives up to the hype in the sort of head-crushing, scrotum-eviscerating way you'd imagine a ferocious Aussie war hero to represent himself. This guy was a hardcore woodsman-turned-infantryman so bare-knuckled tough he was known simply as "Hard Jacka," which I personally find ridiculously awesome not only because it's a badass nickname, but also because it kind of sounds obscene, like if you said it out loud in public you'd accidentally be saying something offensive. A tough, scrappy guy who never took bullshit from anyone (especially numbnuts superior officers he had no respect for), Jacka started out his career as a laborer in the Forests Department of Victoria, a job where he basically ran around lopping Eucalyptus down with a chainsaw and then using the mangled carcass of the tree to pick homemade crocodile jerky out from between his teeth. In 1914, when word came his way that every country in the world had basically lost its fucking mind and declared war on every other country in the world, the 21-year old Australian lumberjack decided he wasn't going to miss out on the opportunity to skewer the Queen's enemies on the point of his bayonet – he sprinted down to the recruiting office and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. A couple days after signing up to be part of the Great War, Jacka learned that they'd lost his paperwork and he hadn't really signed his life away to the service of the Commonwealth, so he of course ran BACK down there, enlisted again, and then presumably threatened severe bodily harm on the recruiting officer if that dude didn't get his shit together and let Jacka start shooting people in the face immediately.
After going through boot camp, linking up with his Battalion, and participating two months of intense amphibious combat training in Egypt, the British High Command figured, "Eh, that's probably enough training for these blokes", and in April 1915 they shipped Jacka and the rest of the Australian Imperial Force out to a fun little Turkish peninsula called Gallipoli.
Now, any time you read about World War I battlefields, one phrase consistently comes up time after time, and that phrase is "meat grinder". I'm not even kidding... it's basically impossible to read a book about the Great War without somebody making the analogy in some capacity, like they were coming up with some brilliant new simile that was going to completely blow everyone's minds with the sheer concussive force of its brilliance. The reason that these guys have such a hard-on for largely-antiquated kitchenware, and the reason as to why this "meat grinder" expression has become the historians' version of football coaches at press conferences constantly babbling about "we need to execute our game plan" is basically because back in the 1910s there honestly wasn't much difference between sending a company of infantry across no-man's land at a bunch of machine guns and artillery and actually taking a hunk of beef, throwing it into a stainless steel meat grinder, and then hand-cranking it until you're left with a nice-sized pile of delicious taco-grade ground round. The Gallipoli Campaign was no exception – through obscenely brutal fighting the Aussies and New Zealanders (and probably some other people) hit the beaches of the Dardanelles hard, carved out a foothold for their landing craft, and then slogged it out for months against a heavily-armed, dug-in force of battle-hardened Turks who weren't fucking around when it came do dishing out the pain. The entire campaign claimed a half a million lives (on both sides), meaning that if you were present in the battle you had a 60% chance of being killed, crippled, or wounded. These guys were slugging the shit out of each other, brute force against brute force, and Hard Jacka was on the front lines of it all.
Jacka's finest hour in Gallipoli came in the ass-crack-o'clock hours of 19 May 1915, when the Turks launched a massive attack on the ANZAC trench line. At roughly two in the morning (the party was still jumping), the trench in front of Jacka was infiltrated and overrun by a wave of gunslinging Turkish troops, who killed or drove off all the Aussie troops stationed there. Bert Jacka's lieutenant was killed attempting to re-take it, shot in the head the second he stepped out of his own trench – dude didn't even get a chance to shout, "Follow me!" (which nobody would have done anyway once they saw how his attempt at re-taking the trench turned out for him). With the enemy close enough that they could lob a bunch hand grenades right tJacka's dugout, the Australian Private knew that he needed to do something quickly or the entire position would be lost in a blaze of fire, smoke, shrapnel, and flying Aussie parts. First, he tried to take a section of men out on a direct assault, but it didn't work out too well – Jacka popped up, ready to rock, but when the two men with him leapt up to follow him they both took bullets to soft parts of their bodies. Jacka grabbed both of them, dragged them back to safety (both ended up surviving the war thanks to his actions), and quickly realized that he needed to work out another plan of action.
The one he came up with was pretty fucking awesome.
Jacka had his buddies go to one side of the trench and start hurling a shitload of grenades and laying down covering fire. While the Turks were distracted with this sudden onslaught of explosive destruction, Jacka pulled himself up into no-man's land (you know, that place where he'd just seen three different dudes get gunned down the second they stepped out there?), sprinted across the fucking field in a balls-out rush, and then made a flying leap feet-first into the enemy trench.
He was already flipping the fuck out before the defenders even knew what hit them. Charging down the trench with a goddamned bolt-action rifle and a bayonet, this guy cleared out the entire trench of defenders, shooting five guys, bayoneting two more, and chasing the rest off with the sheer balls-out insanity of his attack. For the next 15 minutes, the Turks led a massive counter-attack to re-take the position, but Jacka held the trench by himself, fighting off anyone who came close to him in an unbelievable onslaught of gunfire and bayonet-y stabbing-ness. Reinforcements didn't arrive until dawn, because it wasn't until the sun came up that Jacka's buddies realize that he had actually defied the odds, single-handedly re-taken the position and driven off the enemy. When his commanding officer reached the captured trench, he found Jacka sitting there by himself amid a pile of corpses with a cigarette in his mouth. All he said was, "Well, I got the beggars, sir."
Private Albert Jacka became the first Aussie to ever receive the Victoria Cross. The medal was personally pinned on him by the King at Windsor Castle.
World War I.
But Hard Bert Jacka still wasn't done Jacka-ing up the enemies of the King. In 1916 he was transferred to the Somme so that he could participate in yet another of the Great War's bloodiest campaigns – this time, the Aussies would lose 23,000 men dead in the span of 45 days assaulting the mega-fortified German Hindenburg Line, and once again Jacka found himself right in the middle of a fucked-up situation that could only be improved through the use of excessive violence, a little bit of luck, and a whole lot of seriously-not-giving-a-fuck-about-your-own-safety.
One lovely French morning in mid-July 1916, after a long relaxing evening of having his position pasted with constant artillery shelling from three sides non-stop for eight hours straight, Albert Jacka awoke just in time to see some German stormtrooper casually roll a live grenade down the steps into his dugout. Jacka dropped to the dirt, covered his head, and when his ears stopped ringing from the concussive blast Jacka pulled his revolver, raced to the top step and looked out to see what the fuck was going on re: some asshole trying to pop him like an egg in a microwave. What he saw wasn't exactly heart-warming. The Germans had overrun the Australian positions during the night, and Jacka and his men were now a good 250 yards behind enemy lines. As if that wasn't bad enough, there was also a company of 60+ German soldiers leading 42 unarmed Australian infantrymen off as prisoners of war.
Now, a rational person would have looked down into his dugout, saw the 6 battle-weary Australians sitting there, and realized that the only way they were walking out of there alive was if they came out of the dugout with their hands in the air.
But Albert Jacka wasn't a rational person. He was a badass.
These are Turks, but I think you can see where this is going.
Albert Jacka, 250 yards behind enemy lines, surrounded, outnumbered, and exhausted, led seven Australian troops screaming out of the dugout, guns blazing, charging straight-on into a group of 60 well-armed German soldiers. Within seconds of the charge, every man in the squad was shot and wounded, but they kept on rolling. Jacka himself was shot seven times (including twice in the fucking head!) but when the soon-to-be P.O.W.s took one look at this berserker rage, they turned on their guards, overpowering some of them with a barrage of bare-knuckled face punches that would have made those hilarious boxing kangaroos proud. Jacka burned through his revolver rounds, took up a rifle and a bayonet, and kept fighting, and when the smoke finally cleared 12 Germans were dead and the rest had been taken prisoner. Rather than head back home, however, the Aussies kept fighting, re-taking the line in a battle that the Australian official war historian referred to as, "The most dramatic and effective act of individual audacity in the history of the Australian Imperial Force". (Editor's note: "Audacity" is high-brow speak for "Balls-out-ed-ness".)
Jacka received the Military Cross for his actions at the Somme (many historians argue that he would have been nominated for a much higher medal if he wasn't also so insubordinate to his superior officers), and later received a second Military Cross when he went on a solo recon mission deep behind enemy lines and ended up capturing two German officers – they had spotted him laying tape to guide the Australian infantry, so he tried to shoot them with his revolver. When the pistol misfired, he just charged them, took them down with his bare hands, and dragged them back to Allied lines.
In the span of 18 months of constant combat, Albert Jacka was promoted from Private to Captain, hitting pretty much every rank in between. He was constantly insubordinate when he had no respect for his officers, and when his own subordinates were being disrespectful to him, he got them into line by cracking them in the jaw with a right hook... his men, being insane Australians, of course loved him for that shit, and the men of the 14th Battalion all referred to themselves as "Jacka's Mob", which is a friggin' sweet name (plus it's very Starship Troopers).
Jacka would later receive glory again, this time for taking half a mile of land and capturing a German field gun in the process, but he was knocked out of action for good in 1918 when a sniper shot him through the throat. This didn't kill him, mind you, but by the time he got out of the hospital in 1919 the war was already over, so he returned home to a hero's welcome. Jacka got married (probably to a total Aussie babe), became the Mayor of a town called St. Kilda, and died in 1932. He was buried with full military honors, and all 8 of his pallbearers were Victoria Cross recipients.
Australian War Memorial
Hutchinson, Garrie. Remember Them. Hardie Grant, 2009.
Laffin, John. The Australian Army at War. Osprey, 1982.
Lawriwsky, Michael. Hard Jacka. Harlequin, 2010.
Staunton, Anthony. Victoria Cross. Hardie Grant, 2005.
The Complete List
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