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Daniel, John Henry (Jack) (1915–1996)

by Aaron Pegram

This article was published online in 2022

John Henry Daniel

John Henry Daniel

Daniel family collection

John Henry ‘Jack’ Daniel (1915–1996), soldier and grazier, was born on 20 December 1915 at Yass, New South Wales, youngest of five surviving children of John Henry Daniel, painter, and his wife Sarah Jane Lavinia, née Nichols, both born at Holbrook (formerly Germanton). Young Jack’s mother died when he was four. The humble and disjointed circumstances of his upbringing were compounded by the hardships of the Depression. He spent most of his formative years at Holbrook in the care of family friends, James and Elizabeth Freer, and attended the local public school. At thirteen he found work as a farm labourer, later he was employed by the Postmaster-General’s Department, and then as a shearer. In August 1937 he enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces, serving part time with the Holbrook troop of the 21st Light Horse Regiment.

Eager to join up following the outbreak of World War II, Daniel travelled to Melbourne and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 6 December 1939. He was posted to the 2/6th Battalion and allocated to the pioneer platoon, initially as a carpenter. The battalion sailed for the Middle East in April 1940. After training in Palestine and Egypt, he was involved in action by Australian ground forces at Bardia, Libya, against the Italians in January 1941. His battalion participated in assaults on Tobruk and in the advance to Derna, before being sent to Greece. On 26 April his rifle company helped defend the Corinth Canal against an attack by German paratroopers. Ultimately forced to withdraw to Kalamáta, they were evacuated to Egypt.

The 2/6th Battalion reformed in Palestine and was brought up to strength with reinforcements. Daniel was promoted to lance corporal in May 1941 and to corporal in September, before the 2/6th was sent to Syria for garrison duties. In 1942 he returned to Australia, via Ceylon (Sri Lanka), following Japan’s entry into the war. After training in jungle warfare, he sailed with the 2/6th to Milne Bay, Papua, in October. He was promoted to sergeant in December and that month was evacuated to Australia suffering dengue fever, rejoining his unit at Bulolo, New Guinea, in March 1943. At Mubo he led a patrol into Japanese-occupied territory to help protect a signalling party preparing for amphibious landings at Nassau Bay on 29 and 30 June. During one engagement he killed two Japanese soldiers with a grenade and stalked and killed a third; he then rescued a wounded American while under heavy fire. For ‘magnificent personal courage’ (AWM 192/305), he was awarded the Military medal.

In Australia from September, Daniel spent most of the next year training in northern Queensland, returning with his battalion to New Guinea in December 1944. He displayed bravery, initiative, and leadership in the fighting around Maprik, west of Wewak. For commanding patrols that gathered valuable information about enemy dispositions in early 1945, inspiring a section that captured vital ground, and for advancing under fire on 2 June, inflicting heavy casualties, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct medal. Repatriated at war’s end, he was discharged in October 1945. In April the following year he joined the 250-strong Australian contingent for the Victory March in London.

Back at Holbrook, Daniel married Elsa Lillian Freer, an accounting machine operator and niece of his foster parents, on 28 August 1947 at St Paul’s Anglican Church. In 1950, after initially working as a share-farmer producing prize-winning wheat, he took up a soldier settler block in the district. He reportedly used investments from gold he had panned during his time in New Guinea to turn the 900-acre (364 ha) property from a bare block plagued by rabbits into a profitable grazing property that he called Nassau. Determined and strongly built, he worked the land through bushfire and drought until a lingering back injury forced him to sell in April 1973. He would battle with the Repatriation Department to have his injury recognised as being due to war service.

Daniel kept active through share-farming, cropping, and harvesting. All the while he was involved in Holbrook’s Legacy and Lions clubs and the Returned Services League of Australia sub-branch. He was recognised as the town’s Citizen of the Year in 1996. Survived by his wife and two sons, he died in Holbrook District Hospital on 8 July that year and was buried in the local cemetery.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Australian War Memorial. 192/305, Box 4: Honours and Awards, Second World War: Commens H J—Dexter W R
  • Border Mail. ‘Town Loses Daring Soldier, Fine Citizen.’ 11 July 1996, 12
  • Clark, R. ‘Sergeant J. H. Daniel DCM MM.’ Sabretache: The Journal of the Military Collectors Society of Australia 19, no. 2 (1978): 105–9
  • Daniel, James. Personal communication, 15 April 2021
  • Gullett, Henry. Not as a Duty Only: An Infantryman’s War. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1976
  • Hay, David. Nothing Over Us: The Story of the 2/6th Australian Infantry Battalion. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1984
  • Johnston, Mark. The Proud 6th: An Illustrated History of the 6th Australian Division, 1939–1945. Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2008
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, VX501799

Additional Resources

Citation details

Aaron Pegram, 'Daniel, John Henry (Jack) (1915–1996)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/daniel-john-henry-jack-32462/text40264, published online 2022, accessed online 1 February 2023.

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