Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Edmondson, John Hurst (1914–1941)

by Ian Grant

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

John Hurst Edmondson (1914-1941), by unknown photographer, 1940-41

John Hurst Edmondson (1914-1941), by unknown photographer, 1940-41

Australian War Memorial, P00426.003

John Hurst Edmondson (1914-1941), soldier, was born on 8 October 1914 at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, only child of native-born parents Joseph William Edmondson, farmer, and his wife Maude Elizabeth, née Hurst. The family moved to a farm near Liverpool when Jack was a child. Educated at Hurlstone Agricultural High School, he worked with his father and became a champion rifle-shooter. He was a council-member of the Liverpool Agricultural Society and acted as a steward at its shows. Having served (from March 1939) in the 4th Battalion, Militia, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 20 May 1940 and was posted to the 2nd/17th Battalion. Later that month he was promoted acting corporal (substantive in November). Well built and about 5 ft 9 ins (175 cm) tall, Edmondson settled easily into army life and was known as a quiet but efficient soldier.

His battalion embarked for the Middle East in October and trained in Palestine. In March 1941 the 2nd/17th moved with other components of the 9th Division to Libya and reached Marsa Brega before an Axis counter-attack forced them to retreat to Tobruk. The siege of the fortress began on 11 April. Two days later the Germans probed the perimeter, targeting a section of the line west of the El Adem Road near Post R33. This strong-point was garrisoned by the 2nd/17th's No.16 Platoon in which Edmondson was a section leader. The enemy intended to clear the post as a bridgehead for an armoured assault on Tobruk.

Under cover of darkness thirty Germans infiltrated the barbed wire defences, bringing machine-guns, mortars and two light field-guns. Lieutenant Austin Mackell, commanding No.16 Platoon, led Edmondson's five-man section in an attempt to repel the intruders. Armed with rifles, fixed bayonets and grenades, the party of seven tried to outflank the Germans, but were spotted by the enemy who turned their machine-guns on them. Unknown to his mates, Edmondson was severely wounded in the neck and stomach. Covering fire from R33 ceased at the pre-arranged time of 11.45 p.m. and Mackell ordered his men to charge. Despite his wounds, Edmondson accounted for several enemy soldiers and saved Mackell's life. When the remaining Germans fled, the Australians returned to their lines. Although Edmondson was treated for his wounds, he died before dawn on 14 April 1941. The Germans' armoured attack that morning was thwarted, partly due to the earlier disruption of their plans. Edmondson was buried in Tobruk war cemetery. He had not married.

His Victoria Cross, gazetted on 4 July, was the first awarded to a member of Australia's armed forces in World War II. In April 1960 Mrs Edmondson gave her son's medals to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, where they are displayed alongside his portrait (1958) by Joshua Smith. At Liverpool a public clock commemorates Edmondson, as do the clubrooms used by the sub-branch of the Returned Services League of Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • W. L. Havard (compiler), Souvenir . . . to Commemorate the Opening of the . . . John Edmondson, V.C., Memorial Club Rooms (Syd, 1961)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (Canb, 1966)
  • 'What We Have—We Hold!' (Syd, 1990?)
  • Australian War Memorial records.

Citation details

Ian Grant, 'Edmondson, John Hurst (1914–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/edmondson-john-hurst-10099/text17825, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 3 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

John Hurst Edmondson (1914-1941), by unknown photographer, 1940-41

John Hurst Edmondson (1914-1941), by unknown photographer, 1940-41

Australian War Memorial, P00426.003