Military History

The Highest Honour #17 | Jack French | Alfred Gaby

By The Cove May 10, 2021


Corporal John Alexander 'Jack' French VC (1914 - 1942, 28yo)

John Alexander French was born on 15 July 1914 at Crows Nest, near Toowoomba, Queensland. On 22 October 1939 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted to the 2nd/9th Battalion, then being formed at Redbank.

Sailing from Sydney in May 1940, he spent five months in Britain before reaching the Middle East in December. In March 1941 the 2nd/9th Battalion  assaulted the Italian stronghold at Giarabub, Libya. From April to August the battalion took part in the defence of Tobruk before moving to Syria where it performed garrison duties. French became an excellent soldier. He was promoted to acting Corporal in December and his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel C. J. Cummings, saw him as a future officer. The 2nd/9th returned to Australia in early 1942 and left again in August, bound for Papua. By mid-month the unit was established at Milne Bay.

On 26 August 1942 a Japanese invasion force landed on the north shore of Milne Bay, east of K.B. Mission. The 2nd/9th moved into the K.B. area on 02 September 1942 and on the following day continued east along the coast towards the Goroni River. French was in 'B' Company which crossed the river on 04 September 1942 to attack Japanese positions from the rear. A fierce engagement ensued. Three enemy machine-gun posts delayed the section's advance. Ordering his men to take cover, French made his way forward and destroyed one of the posts with grenades; he returned for more grenades and used them to demolish the second strong-point. Armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, he attacked the third gun-pit, firing from the hip as he went. Although he was badly wounded, he kept going, silenced the post and died in front of it. His action saved casualties among his comrades and assured the success of the attack. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

French was buried in Port Moresby (Bomana) war cemetery.

 

Lieutenant Alfred Gaby VC (1914 - 1942, 26yo)

Alfred Edward Gaby was born on 25 January 1892 at Springfield, near Ringarooma, Tasmania. While working on his father's farm he had joined the militia and served for three years with the 12th Infantry Battalion (Launceston Regiment). Before the outbreak of World War I, Gaby followed one of his brothers to Western Australia where he worked as a labourer at Katanning. On 6 January 1916, after having been twice rejected for active service, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a Private, and after training at Blackboy Hill camp was posted to the 10th reinforcements of the 28th Battalion. His previous military experience brought him rapid promotion: from Lance Corporal on 13 August 1916 through all the ranks to Sergeant on 30 December 1916. On 07 April 1917 he was commissioned to Second Lieutenant, promoted to Lieutenant on 26 September 1917 and was wounded in action (gassed) on 29 October 1917.

Gaby was acting as commander of 'D' Company when, as part of the 2nd Division, his battalion was engaged in the great allied offensive of 08 August 1918. The 28th Battalion attacked German positions east of Villers-Bretonneux and in the course of this action Gaby showed conspicuous bravery and dash in leading and reorganizing his company when it was held up by barbed wire entanglements. He found a gap in the wire, and single-handed, approached an enemy strong point in the face of machine-gun and rifle fire. 'Running along the parapet, still alone, and at point-blank range, he emptied his revolver into the garrison', driving the crews from their guns and capturing fifty men and four machine-guns. He then reorganized his men and captured his objective. On 11 August 1918 in another attack near Lihons, during which he again showed bravery and coolness in engaging an enemy machine-gun position, he was killed by sniper fire.

In recording his death, the war diary of the 28th Battalion paid special tribute to this gallant officer. He was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously and was buried in Heath cemetery, Harbonnières.

 


Portrait

Biography

The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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