A mother grieves for death of VC winner
Name: John Edmondson
Unit: 2/17th Battalion
Corporal John Hurst Edmondson, who was born in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in the Siege of Tobruk. He was the first Australian to be awarded a VC in World War II.
He enlisted in the 2/17th Battalion on 20 May 1940. As he'd already had militia service with the 4th Battalion (the Australian Rifles) he was quickly promoted to corporal and embarked for the Middle East on 19 October 1940.
He was part of the 9th Division which relieved the 6th Division at Marsa Brega. General Rommel, the new German commander attacked on 31 March and pushed the British forces, including the 20th Brigade back. The 9th Division made a stand at Tobruk where the famous siege began on Good Friday, 11 March 1941.
The citation in the London Gazette of 1 July, 1941, gave the following details:
"On the night of 13th-14th April, 1941, a party of German infantry broke through the wire defences of Tobruk, and established themselves with numerous machine guns, mortars and field pieces. Led by an officer, Corporal Edmondson and five privates carried out a bayonet charge upon them under heavy fire. Although wounded in the neck and stomach Corporal Edmondson not only killed one of the enemy, but went to the assistance of his officer, who was attacked by a German from behind while bayoneting another who had seized him about the legs. Despite his wounds, from which he later died, Corporal Edmondson succeeded in killing these two Germans also, thus undoubtedly saving his officer's life. Throughout the operation he showed outstanding resolution and leadership, and conspicuous bravery."
Edmondson died the next day from his wounds.
His death brought immediate reaction from his fellow soldiers, former associates and top military brass. Among those who wrote was Don Gibson. He had been a teacher at Wagga Wagga before World War I [He was the first teacher at Flowerdale, a one-teacher school near Wagga which opened in 1910, and had served at Gallipoli and in France before being severely wounded and blinded in 1918] and had boarded with the Hurst family of which Jack's mother Maude Elizabeth, was a member. He wrote to Maude and Joseph William Edmondson to express his condolences.
Despite her grief, Mrs Edmondson replied to his letter thanking him for his kind words.
Forest HomeDear Mr Gibson,
4 Aug 1941
I am writing on behalf of Will and myself. Thank you very very much for your expressions of sympathy and for writing to us. Indeed we have not forgotten you, nor shall we ever. You have done far too much to be forgotten. We have often talked of you, calling you Don Gibson. The years certainly have flown but we have our memories, nothing can take that from us. Am afraid we many of us live in our past memories.
I don't know if you knew that Jack was our only son - only child I mean - a good deal like Walter Hurst, his hair was darker, a reddish auburn, his build very much bigger, always over 13 stone. Absolutely impossible to get him disturbed or ruffled in any way. I had never seen him in a temper in his whole but short life, a stickler for duty at all costs. Jack and I had a wonderfully happy life together, from his tiny days to the day of his going away. He and I had one afternoon a week just together, usually walking in the paddocks & talking of all the serious problems of life. If we could not go outside we spent it in the house. We both enjoyed it very much & the heart to heart talk done us both good. He was totally unspoiled and unselfish.
I am glad to say the wonderful distinction has bucked Will up wonderfully but I am afraid I can't even think of it. The loss seems far too great to think of. Jack & I were very dear pals. We have had very wonderful letters from the boys, Major Balfe ended his letter by saying "I'd sooner see him with us. All of the Coy are basking in the reflected glory of a man who was so great that he willingly sacrificed his life in such a way that those of us who are still here just would not have it in us to do it. All of us speak well of the dead but I have said of him whilst still living that he was really a decent, clean chap, a white man through and through. If ever there was a medal earned, he earned his."
Letters also from Col Crawford - Brig Blamey. Also from whom Col Crawford called the proudest regiment in the British Army - The 1st Royal Horse Artillery, "M" Battery Royal Horse Artillery and the Australian Anti-tank Coy.
Wonderful letters from a man's point of view, (Will asked me to mention them), but only a heart-break to me. It all seems so futile.
Thank you Mr Gibson for saying you were proud of Jack and his accomplishment. I did not ask him to stay at home - nor could I wish him to stay here and shirk his duty.
Perhaps we may when the weather gets warmer arrange a meeting. We both should love meeting you again, also your dear wife.
Again thanking you & extending our good wishes,
(Mrs J W) Maud Edmondson.
John Edmondson's VC was presented to his mother by the Governor-General on 27 September 1941. In 1969, she presented her son's medals and some of his personal belongings to the Australian War Memorial.
John Edmondson VC is buried in the Tobruk War Cemetery in plot 3 J 8. Mr and Mrs Gibson did visit the Edmondsons after receiving the above letter.