|John Alexander French|
John A. French
|Born||15 July 1914
Crow's Nest, Queensland
|Died||4 September 1942 (aged 28)
Milne Bay, New Guinea
|Service/branch||Second Australian Imperial Force|
|Years of service||1939–1942|
|Unit||2/9 Australian Infantry Battalion|
John Alexander "Jack" French VC (15 July 1914 – 4 September 1942) was an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
French was born on 15 July 1914 in Crows Nest, north of Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia. His father, Albert French, was a barber originally from Tenterfield and his mother, Lucy, settled in Crows Nest with her family after moving from Charleville.
He attended the Crows Nest State Primary School from 1920 to 1928. In May 1928, he sat for and successfully passed a demanding State scholarship examination. As a boy, Jack excelled at sports, and in rugby league he was known as "The Flying Winger".
He was renowned for his sense of fair play and protected those who were weaker. One childhood friend, Alf Blinco, remembers a time when he was accused of stealing and unjustly punished, John found the real culprits and brought them to justice thus exonerating his friend.
French enrolled as a State scholarship holder at the Toowoomba State High School and Technical College for his secondary schooling. He was popular and well regarded by his peers and the teachers. After completing his studies in 1929, he returned to Crow's Nest and commenced an apprenticeship with his father.
World War II
When World War II broke out, French was the first in Crow's Nest to enlist. He was posted to the 2/9th Battalion and left home on 23 October 1939. This was the first battalion raised in Queensland in World War II.
On 5 May 1940, after a period of intense training, the battalion embarked on the Mauritania which carried them to the United Kingdom where the battalion formed part of an Australian contingent that were to help defend against a possible invasion following the Fall of France. While in the UK, French was chosen as one of the bodyguards for King George VI, and also to the then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. On 1 January 1941 the battalion sailed to Alexandria and successfully captured the Italian fort of Giarabub. The battalion went on to battle at Tobruk before engaging in further training in Syria.
In early 1942, in response to the growing threat posed by Japan's entry into the war following the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Malaya, the 2/9th Battalion, along with the rest of the 7th Division, was brought back to Australia. At this time they were eventually granted seven days' leave, and French returned to Australia and Crow's Nest. This leave was the final time his family saw him alive. This was followed by a new round of re-training using new methods to prepare them for jungle warfare, before the 2/9th were committed to the fighting in New Guinea.
The citation from his VC reads as follows:
At Milne Bay New Guinea, on the afternoon of 4 September 1942, a company of Australian Infantry battalion attacked a Japanese position where it encountered terrific rifle and machine-gun fire. The advance of the section, of which Corporal French was in command, was held up by fire from three enemy machine-gun posts, whereupon Corporal French, ordering his section to take cover, advanced and silenced one of the posts with grenades. He returned to his section for more grenades and again advanced and silenced the second post. Armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, he then attacked the third post, firing from the hip as he went forward.
He was seen to be badly wounded by fire from this post, but he continued to advance. Enemy guns then ceased fire and his section pushed on to find that all the members of the three enemy gun crews had been killed, and that Corporal French had died in front of the third gun pit.
By his cool courage and disregard of his own personal safety, this non-commissioned officer saved members of his section from heavy casualties and was responsible for the successful conclusion of the attack.
Although French's Victoria Cross was gazetted first, his award was actually the second for actions on Australian territory (due to Papua New Guinea being under Australian Government jurisdiction), as Bruce Kingsbury received his VC for actions near Isurava on the Kokoda Track on 29 August 1942.
- Crow's Nest and District Tourist and Progress Assn. - "From Tall Timbers" 1988 p. 364
- Dickens, Gordon (2005). Never Late: The 2/9th Australian Infantry Battalion 1939–1945. Loftus, NSW: Australian Military History Publications. ISBN 1-876439-47-5.
- French, M. & Waterson, D. – "Darling Downs : a pictorial history 1850-1950" p. 219. 1982.
- Spencer, Bill (1999). In the Footsteps of Ghosts: With the 2/9th Battalion in the African Desert and the Jungles of the Pacific. St Leonards: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86508-145-0.
- Staunton, Anthony 'French, John Alexander (1914 - 1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, Melbourne University Press, 1996, p. 226.
- Toowoomba State High School. Corporal J.A. French, V.C. Research Committee – "Corporal John Alexander French, V.C." 1983.