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.
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.
‘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.”
|Enlisted:||5 June 1940, Paddington, New South Wales|
|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|
|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.
Hi Nola, I just found your blog and your wonderful entry concerning Jack Mackey. He was my father’s first cousin but unfortunately never knew him, as my grandmother, Jack’s aunt Kathleen, was institutionalised following dad’s birth, suffering from post partum psychosis. Back then, such a thing as mental illness was hidden away….as was Kathleen. Dad was told that she had died in childbirth, and didn’t find out that she lived for 12 more years until he was in his 60’s. He actively researched her side of the family and discovered his cousin and namesake was a war hero. It’s quite something to discover a whole part of your family when it had been a veritable black hole until then! Thanks for your entry about Jack, it is wonderful to be able to show this to my brothers and their kids. ❤️
Hi Lisa, Thank you for your lovely comment. So sorry to hear about your Grandmother. I am so pleased to make contact, and to help others with their family history.