Killed in action
John Hurst Edmondson was the first Australian recipient of a Victoria Cross (VC) in World War II. His medal was awarded posthumously after the Wagga-born soldier was wounded in fighting at Tobruk.
John was the only son of Joseph and Maude Edmondson. He was known as 'Jack' by his friends and family. The Edmondson family moved to a farm near Liverpool outside Sydney when John was young. He grew up working with his dad on the farm, enjoying shooting and helping to organise the local agricultural show.
In a letter written after his death, Edmondson's mother recalled how it was:
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
[Maude Edmondson, 'Letter to Don Gibson', 4 August 1941]
Edmondson joined the 4th Battalion Militia in 1939. He enlisted in the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on 20 May 1940 and was soon promoted to corporal. Edmondson embarked from Sydney for the Middle East on 19 October 1940, arriving 5 weeks later.
After military training in Palestine, he was posted with the 2/17th Infantry Battalion to Tobruk and was there with the 9th Division during the Siege of Tobruk.
The Siege of Tobruk took place over 8 months in 1941. Some 14,000 Australians and other Allied troops experienced some of the toughest conditions possible. Dust storms, extreme heat and cold were common and added to the stress of regular air, infantry and tank attacks by German and Italian forces.
It was a bit tough. You had one water bottle a day for all purposes, and it would be 48 degrees, so we were euchred physically as much as anything else, and it’s very wearing on the mental factor ... Sometimes you’d get three raids a day [and] 20 or 30 planes would come up, and they’d shoot you up, and you couldn’t move. You couldn’t up sticks and go somewhere else. You just had to take it. And the fleas and flies – the fleas were even worse than the flies, I think.
[Former Rat of Tobruk, Bob Semple, 2018, Australian War Memorial]
On the night of 13 April 1941, German soldiers broke through the Australian defences, armed with heavy machine guns and mortars. Under heavy fire, Edmondson joined 5 privates and his commanding officer, Lieutenant Austin Mackell. They charged the Germans with bayonets, attempting to force the enemy back. Edmondson was seriously wounded in the neck and stomach, but continued to fight. When a German soldier attacked Mackell from behind, Edmondson came to the aid of his commanding officer, saving Mackell's life.
Edmondson died of his wounds shortly after returning to the Australian lines.
A Victoria Cross was posthumously awarded to Edmondson in July 1941. It was the first VC to be awarded to an Australian in World War II.
Edmondson's citation records:
His actions throughout the operations were outstanding for resolution, leadership and conspicuous bravery.
[The London Gazette, 1 July 1941, Supplement 35207, Page 3807]
Commemorating John Edmondson
John Edmondson is remembered in his hometown of Liverpool, New South Wales, with a club, a memorial, a park and a school named in his honour:
- John Edmondson VC Memorial RSL Club
- John Edmondson High School
- John Edmondson VC Memorial Clock
- John Edmondson VC Memorial Park
A portrait, John Hurst Edmondson VC, was painted by Australian artist Eric Wilson in 1941. Eric's wife, artist Jean Appleton, donated it to the Liverpool City Council in 1948 and it's now part of the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre collection.
Another portrait, Corporal John Edmondson, by artist Joshua Smith is held by the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.
Edmondson's birthplace, Wagga Wagga, also commemorates its VC hero. He is remembered with a plaque on the city's Walk of Honour and at Kapooka Army Recruit Training Base near Wagga.
A street in Campbell, Australian Capital Territory, is named after him.
Edmondson is also remembered at a site on the Remembrance Driveway between Canberra and Sydney.
- Corporal John Hurst Edmonson, Casualty Details, Commonwealth War Graves Commission https://www.cwgc.org/find-records/find-war-dead/casualty-details/2225183/JOHN%20HURST%20EDMONDSON/ Accessed 30 July 2020.
- DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), A mother grieves for death of VC winner, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 31 July 2020, https://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/mother-grieves-death-vc-winner
- Ian Grant, 'Edmondson, John Hurst (1914–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edmondson-john-hurst-10099/text17825, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 3 August 2020.