World War II Family Hero, John Bernard Mackey,VC

Our grandchildren had been on a school group visit to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. While there, they had admired some medals for bravery in the form of the Military Medal and the Victoria Cross.

There was a whole section on those who had been awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I and all theatres of war up to the present time.

For the children, one name stood out, “John Bernard Mackey”, because he had the same surname as us.

First of all, they wanted to know if he belonged to our family, and then what he had done to deserve the honour.

I helped them research this soldier on the internet.

First of all, we went to the War Memorial website at  https://www.awm.gov.au/

And was able to find the ‘citation’ that went with the medal when it was awarded.

NX20317 CORPORAL JOHN BERNARD MACKEY VC, 2/3RD PIONEER BATTALION, AIF. CORPORAL MACKEY WAS AWARDED THE VICTORIA CROSS FOR BRAVERY ON 1945-05-12 DURING AN ATTACK ON THREE JAPANESE POSITIONS AT A FEATURE KNOWN AS HELEN, EAST OF TARAKAN, BORNEO. MACKEY MANAGED TO SILENCE THE POSITIONS BUT WAS KILLED WHILST ATTACKING THE THIRD.

https://www.awm.gov.au/index.php/collection/C56109

Jack Mackey VC

However the RSL Virtual Memorial website at

https://rslvirtualwarmemorial.org.au/explore/people/637210  gave us all the information we needed on this soldier, including some photographs.

Biography:-

‘John Bernard ‘Jack’ MACKEY was born on 16 May 1922 at Leichhardt, Sydney, and until his enlistment worked in his father’s bakery. He embarked with the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion in November 1941, serving in Syria and in the later operations at El Alamein. He also took part in the New Guinea campaign. The landing on Tarakan Island, Borneo, was the battalion’s final campaign.

Mackey had already been recognized as an outstanding and brave junior leader. On 12 May 1945, he displayed those qualities again on Tarakan Island, Netherlands East Indies. Together with his lance corporal, Mackey approached a well-defended position along a steep and narrow spur. Reaching a Japanese light machine-gun post, the two men killed four enemy soldiers, but Mackey’s companion was wounded. Mackey killed the remaining Japanese, then dealt with a heavy machine-gun crew in an adjacent bunker. Taking up an Owen gun, he moved towards another heavy machine-gun nest and managed to silence it before he was mortally wounded. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. The recommendation for the award reads:

‘For most conspicuous bravery in the face of strong enemy resistance in the attack on the HELEN feature at TARAKAN on 12 May 1945.

Cpl MACKEY was in charge of 3 section 16 Platoon D Coy 2/3 Aust Pnr Bn in the company attack on the feature known as HELEN East of TARAKAN town.

This section was in the van and led by Cpl MACKEY moved along a narrow spur with scarcely width for more than one man when it came under fire from 3 well-sited positions near the top of a very steep razor-backed ridge. The ground fell away almost sheer on each side of the track making it almost impossible to move to a flank so Cpl MACKEY led his men forward.

He charged the first LMG [Light Machine Gun] position but slipped and after wrestling with one enemy bayoneted him and charged straight on to the HMG [Heavy Machine Gun] which was firing from a bunker position six yards to his right. He rushed this post and killed the crew with grenades.

He then jumped back and changing his rifle for his comrades [sic] submachine gun he attacked further up the steep slope to another LMG position which was firing on his platoon. Whilst charging he fired his gun and reached within a few feet of the enemy position when he was killed by LMG fire but not before accounting for two more enemy.

By his exceptional bravery and complete disregard for and the sacrifice of his own life, Cpl MACKEY was largely responsible for the killing of 7 Japanese and the elimination of two machine gun posts which enabled his platoon to gain its objective from which the coy continued to engage the enemy. His fearless action was an inspiration to the whole battalion and although he was killed his name is legendary.’ ‘Commonwealth Gazette’ Page 2459, position 1 Date: 15 November 1945

He was eventually buried in the Labuan War Cemetery.”

Jack Mackey War Medals

Personal Details:-

Service Number: NX20317
Enlisted: 5 June 1940, Paddington, New South Wales
Last Rank: Corporal
Last Unit: 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion
Born: Leichhardt, New South Wales, 16 May 1922
Home Town: Portland, Lithgow, New South Wales
Schooling: St. Columba’s School, Christian Brothers’ High School, St Joseph’s Convent School
Occupation: Baker’s labourer
Died: Killed in Action, Tarakan, Borneo, 12 May 1945, aged 22 years
Cemetery: Labuan War Memorial Cemetery

Plot. 27 Row. C Grave. 9

Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour

His World War 2 service history:-

5 Jun 1940: Enlisted 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN NX20317, Paddington, New South Wales
6 Jun 1940: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN NX20317
15 Aug 1940: Transferred 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, 2 Recruit Depot, Posted to 2 Recruit Reinforcement Battalion
4 Sep 1940: Transferred 2nd AIF WW 2, Private,2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion
1 Nov 1941: Embarked 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN NX20317, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion, Embarked Sydney (for the Middle East)
1 Jul 1942: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN NX20317, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion, El Alamein
25 Jan 1943: Embarked 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN NX20317, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion, Embarked Middle East (for Sydney)
3 Aug 1943: Embarked 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN NX20317, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion, Embarked Cairns (for Milne Bay)
16 Aug 1943: Promoted 2nd AIF WW 2, Lance Corporal, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion
23 Jun 1944: Promoted 2nd AIF WW 2, Corporal, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion
22 Feb 1945: Embarked 2nd AIF WW 2, Corporal, SN NX20317, 2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion, Embarked Morotai (for Tarakan)
12 May 1945: Honoured Victoria Cross, Borneo – Operation Oboe July-August 1945, for “Conspicuous bravery at The Helen, Tarakan, 12 May 1945”
12 May 1945: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Corporal, SN NX20317,2nd/3rd Pioneer Battalion Borneo – Operation Oboe July-August 1945

There were also links to a newspaper article about how his VC was won, at the National Library website TROVE: Lithgow Mercury, Thurs 6 December 1945, Page 6, Late Cpl J B Mackey–How His V C Was Won –Retrieved from https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/219729677

And a link to another article about his sisters donating his medal to the War Memorial.

The caption with the photograph:

Damian Norris, 8, of Sydney, and his mother, Mrs. Jo Norris, with the Victoria Cross awarded posthumously to Mrs. Norris’s brother, Corporal John Bernard Mackey, during World War II. Mrs. Norris presented the medal to the Australian War Memorial yesterday as a gift from the corporal’s three sisters.

Medal from the past (1980, July 18). The Canberra Times, p. 1. retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article125610819

This confirmed that the medal they had seen at the War Memorial was the actual medal presented. Their reaction to that piece of information was, “How Cool is that”!

Another biography in the publication Australian Dictionary of Biography at

http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mackey-john-bernard-jack-10993 gave us further information to help us find more on his family.

Although I couldn’t find any family links with our Mackey family, and cannot really claim him as our ‘family hero’, it was good to be able to find out so much about our brave namesake- John Bernard Mackey.

Advertisements

World War I Family Hero, James Joseph Stapleton – Postscript

At this time of year with Anzac Day upon us, my thoughts turn to the many family members and ancestors who have been involved in the Defence Services, particularly World War I.

It is now 100 years since all this took place, but those people are still remembered for their great service and sacrifice.

James Joseph Stapleton has always been a part of our family history. He was killed near St Quentin on 1 September 1918, a few weeks before the war ended. More about this soldier here.

In 2014 we took a tour of the World War I Australian Battlefields of the Western Front and visited his grave in the Peronne Communal Extension a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery.  Blogs about our experience can be found here.

DSC02753

J J Stapleton, Peronne,11 July 2014-Copyright

A few weeks ago a family member connected to one of James Joseph Stapleton’s mates who died with him, got in touch and told us about the coincidence of her visiting the cemetery the same day as we had done, although we didn’t meet. She wrote:

Hi Nola, I’m so pleasantly surprised and grateful to have discovered your wonderful post about your visit to the Peronne Communal Extension Cemetery dated 13 Oct 2014 tonight. I’m a niece of Leiton Roy Johnston who died with Corporal James Joseph Stapleton, Sergeant Thomas James Stewart McDonald and Lieutenant John Gardiner on 1 September 2018. Thank you for your kind, respectful tribute to my uncle Leiton Johnston and Thomas McDonald and for including the wonderful photo of yourself holding the Australian Flag behind the three graves (Plot I, Row C, Grave Nos. 59, 60, 61). After receiving advice from the War Office that her son’s remains had been reinterred in the Peronne Communal Extension Cemetery, my late grandmother Ann Johnston wrote to Base Records on 16 January 1921 to ask if her son had been buried alongside Lieutenant Gardiner, Sergeant McDonald, and Corporal Stapleton as she was aware they ‘fell with him’. Lieutenant Gardiner is buried just behind the three graves in Plot 1, Row C Grave No. 31. I’ve visited the Peronne Communal Extension Cemetery twice – on 23 July 2007 and 11 July 2014. During my visit in the afternoon of 11 July 2014 I noted entries in the visitor’s book/folder at the cemetery by relatives of James Stapleton who had visited the cemetery earlier in the day and entries by relatives of Thomas McDonald who visited the cemetery just a couple of days earlier – such a coincidence! I took a photo of the page with my iPad with the intention of contacting the relatives of both men on my return to Australia however, unfortunately, I lost my iPad on a train at the end of my trip and with it the photo of the cemetery visitor’s book page containing the relatives’ contact details. Like you, I too was very grateful to find that our family members ‘were resting in peace with their mates’. [Judy Zappacosta]

Then one of our tour companions recently made a comment about a photograph I mentioned as having seen at the 2nd Division Memorial. She reminded me that I should follow up and try to identify the photograph.

I have visited the Australian War Memorial website this morning, and have located the photograph in their Online Photographic Gallery.

I had taken a photograph of the photograph at the 2nd Division Memorial Site, and can now confirm it is the same photograph, which can be found at https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C55028

WWI Stretcher Bearers

It was taken on 1 September 1918, possibly near St Quentin by an unknown Australian Official War Photographer

Here is the description with the photograph:-

Stretcher bearers of the 6th Australian Infantry Brigade bringing in an injured soldier. This was at a time when the German forces still held the hill and the soldier on the right is holding up the Red Cross flag to minimize the risk of being fired on. While the Germans frequently used the Red Cross flag when collecting wounded, it was rather unusual for our bearers to use it as German snipers generally disregarded it. Note also the use of four stretcher bearers. Earlier in the campaign two stretcher bearers only were allowed for each stretcher and they used to wear slings around their necks to take some of the weight. In the last stages of the war the ‘carries’ were usually longer and consequently, four men were allowed to carry each stretcher.

So although I believe I can now say, the photograph was not James Joseph Stapleton being transferred to the first-aid station by his mates, it certainly is a photograph of the kind of situation on the battlefield that day.