Perhaps Australia’s finest fighting soldier, Albert Jacka has the honour of being the first Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross during World War One, the highest decoration for gallantry in the face of the enemy.
Albert Jacka is also one of twenty employees displayed on the Forests Department’s Roll of Honour.
Albert was working at Heathcote when the War broke out and his career over the preceding three years had been along the southern side of the Murray River at Wedderburn, Cohuna, Koondrook, and Lake Charm. His work included fencing, fire break clearing and tree planting.
Jacka landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and received his Victoria Cross less than a month later amid frenzied fighting when the Turks launched a counter-assault against a section of an Australian trench at Courtney’s Post.
He was holding a trench with four others, all of whom were killed or wounded, when it was attacked by seven Turkish soldiers. Jacka defended the trench and killed all the Turks.
Following his outstanding act of bravery at Gallipoli, Jacka instantly became a national hero and recruitment poster boy for the Sportsmen’s 1000.
He later served on the Western Front where he was promoted, seriously wounded and decorated again with a Military Cross and Bar. Many prominent historians claim he should have received three Victoria Crosses.
On returning home, Jacka turned down the offer to return to the Forests Department and established an electrical business that was largely underwritten by the infamous Melbourne underworld figure John Wren.
He was later elected Mayor of St Kilda and fought hard for the unemployed during the Great Depression. He died in 1932 and has been honoured at a special council service ever since.
The 14th Battalion regimental colours are laid up in St Kilda Town Hall while his Victoria Cross is displayed at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
The Honour Roll hangs at the Beechworth Forestry museum.
Photo: Portrait of Captain Albert Jacka, VC, MC and Bar, 14 Battalion AIF -1921. Source: AWM.