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Ralph Jones (1900–1944)

by Harry Gordon

This article was published:

Ralph Jones (1900-1944), by unknown photographer, 1942-44

Ralph Jones (1900-1944), by unknown photographer, 1942-44

Australian War Memorial, 081386

Ralph Jones (1900-1944), labourer, quarry-hand and soldier, was born on 26 September 1900 at Gorleston, Norfolk, England, youngest of fourteen children of Henry William Jones, journeyman wheelwright, and his wife Eliza, née Chapman. Ralph left school at Church Road, Gorleston, at the age of 14; he was later described by a classmate Victor Wright as having been shy, withdrawn and far from robust. Employed as a motor engineering apprentice by the Great Yarmouth Port and Haven commissioners, Jones entered the British Army towards the end of World War I. He served for one year with the Army of Occupation on the Rhine, Germany, until invalided from the force with tuberculosis in April 1920. After a period of recuperation, he took seasonal jobs, but was unable to secure regular employment in Britain.

Emigrating to Australia about 1926, Jones became a labourer in Sydney. When the Depression rendered him jobless, he moved around the bush, finding casual work where he could. In the 1930s he settled at Tuena, lodging with a farmworker Tom Cook and his wife Madelaine. On 15 January 1942 Jones was mobilized as a private in the Citizen Military Forces; he nominated no next of kin, but later named Madelaine Cook with the designation 'friend'. In February he was posted to the 22nd Garrison Battalion at No.12 Prisoner of War Group, Cowra. Apart from a short spell with a P.O.W. labour detachment and another in hospital, he remained at the camp.

In mid-1944 No.12 P.O.W. camp contained nearly 1100 Japanese privates and non-commissioned officers in one crowded compound, as well as Italians, Japanese officers, Koreans and Formosans in three other compounds. At about 2 a.m. on 5 August 1944 most of the Japanese privates and N.C.O.s, angered at news that they were about to be separated, staged a mass break-out. Wielding knives, baseball bats and other makeshift weapons, they stormed across the barbed-wire perimeter of their enclosure. One group headed for a Vickers machine-gun manned by Jones and Benjamin Hardy who had sprinted to take their positions at the gun as shots signalled an escape bid. They fired into the attacking hordes until overcome and bashed to death.

Jones was buried in the war graves section of Cowra general cemetery and posthumously awarded the George Cross. The citation recorded that he had displayed 'outstanding gallantry and devotion to duty' against Japanese 'who were worked up to a state of frenzy with the objective of either wiping out the garrison or getting wiped out themselves'. Four Australians and 231 Japanese died; 334 prisoners who managed to escape from the camp were either recaptured or suicided. Precise details of the episode were kept secret because the authorities feared that disclosure could lead to reprisals against Australian captives in Japanese camps. Strangely, the secrecy continued for long after the war. The awards to Jones and Hardy were not announced until September 1950. Jones's G.C. was presented to his brother Walter by King George VI. It is now held by Cowra Shire Council.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • H. Gordon, Die Like the Carp! (Syd, 1978)
  • Seikei High School (Tokyo), Cowra-Seikei (Tokyo, 1992)
  • H. Gordon, Voyage from Shame (Brisb, 1994)
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 1 Sept 1950
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1 Sept 1950
  • Eastern Daily Press (Norwich, UK), 6, 7 June 1991
  • Great Yarmouth Mercury (United Kingdom), 14 June 1991
  • family papers (privately held).

Additional Resources

Citation details

Harry Gordon, 'Jones, Ralph (1900–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 19 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Ralph Jones (1900-1944), by unknown photographer, 1942-44

Ralph Jones (1900-1944), by unknown photographer, 1942-44

Australian War Memorial, 081386

Life Summary [details]


26 September, 1900
Gorleston, Norfolk, England


5 August, 1944 (aged 43)
Cowra, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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