John Vincent (Jack) TUNBRIDGE MC

TUNBRIDGE, John Vincent

Service Numbers: 155, 251590
Enlisted: 1 February 1916
Last Rank: Lieutenant
Last Unit: No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps
Born: Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, 13 February 1894
Home Town: Ballarat, Central Highlands, Victoria
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Motor cyclist
Died: Old age, Ballarat, Victoria, Australia, 15 June 1976, aged 82 years
Cemetery: Not yet discovered
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World War 1 Service

1 Feb 1916: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 155, No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps
16 Mar 1916: Involvement Private, SN 155, No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps
16 Mar 1916: Embarked Private, SN 155, No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, HMAT Orsova, Melbourne
18 Apr 1918: Honoured Military Cross, On the 11th May 1917, Sinai, for great gallantry and coolness during air combat.
3 Jan 1920: Discharged AIF WW1, Lieutenant, SN 155, No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps

World War 2 Service

Date unknown: Enlisted Royal Australian Air Force, Wing Commander, SN 251590

Help us honour John Vincent Tunbridge's service by contributing information, stories, and images so that they can be preserved for future generations.

Biography contributed by Evan Evans

From Ballarat & District in the Great War

Second Lt John Vincent 'Jack' Tunbridge MC

The name of Tunbridge has always been synonymous with Ballarat, certainly never more so than during the Great War. Several of the extended family served with distinction, and one, Geoffrey, was killed in action near Hill 60 on 14 March 1918. Such was their record of war service it is impossible to cover them all in a single post. At this point I will focus on the life of one of the grandsons of the patriarch of the Tunbridge clan.

When Richard Tunbridge, arrived in the colony of Victoria from Kent in 1853, he had already developed a shrewd businessman’s acumen. He immediately seized upon a goldmine of an opportunity and set up as a timber merchant in Melbourne. This lucrative business during a boom period, saw Tunbridge quickly amass a considerable fortune. Inexplicably, he returned to England, ‘but fortune turned against him’ and he sailed back to Victoria accompanied by his brother, Charles.

Following a period managing the Lonsdale Street store of Crosbie, Clapperton and Findlay, Richard Tunbridge moved to Ballarat. Around 1856 he opened the New Times Boot and Clothing Warehouse in Main Road. Then set up business as a member of the firm Wallace Bros & Tunbridge, timber merchants, that also stood in Main Road.

After the partnership was dissolved, Richard went into business with his brother, Charles, and their timber yard was established in Doveton Street. But it wasn’t long before the soon to be familiar furniture warehouse (originally in Lydiard Street) was opened. The Tunbridge name would eventually supply generations of Ballarat families with their quality produce.

Richard Tunbridge and his wife, Hannah Wood (also from Kent), produced a large and prosperous family. Their first-born son, Alfred Richard, went on to become head of the firm of R. Tunbridge & Sons.

Alfred Tunbridge married later in life by the usual standards – he was 37 – and he and his wife, Mary Cecily Doolan, had just five children. Their second child and eldest son was John Vincent Tunbridge, born at Ballarat on 13 February 1894. He arrived into the world at the family home of Ermington on Wendouree Parade.

By this time, his greatly esteemed grandfather, Richard, had been dead nearly twelve months. Substantial parcels of land that he had owned, areas that would later house local notable institutions St Patrick’s College and Nazareth House, had already been sold. With these sales and the family business thriving, the immediate future prospects for the Tunbridge family were very secure.

When young Jack (as he was to be known) reached school age, it was decided to send him to St Patrick’s College as a day student. He entered SPC as a junior boy in Grade II in 1901. He was to continue his studies at the college until the end of 1910. During that time, he received several prizes – at the end of his first year he was awarded 2nd Prize for his overall achievements for the Grade II class. He was again mentioned in December 1905 and then again in December 1909, when he received a special prize for bookkeeping and shorthand. Jack also appeared in school concerts and was noted for his performance in scenes from Hamlet.

It is also highly likely that Jack was well aware of his family connection to SPC – especially the ‘towered mansion, built in the roaring fifties’ by his own grandfather.

After leaving school, Jack joined the family store and worked as what was termed a “warehouseman”, which could and probably did involve every level of the furniture business.

It seems, however, that Jack’s interests lay in other areas and, in certain respects, he became a bit of a tearaway. You see, Jack loved his motorcycle – he really loved riding fast and, not always within the road rules!

In March 1915, Jack was brought before the magistrate in the Bacchus Marsh Court having been charged with riding his motorcycle at excessive speed. The constable who had brought the charges claimed he was riding at between 25 to 30 miles per hour along Main Street. Such was his recklessness, he forced a cyclist to mount a gutter to avoid being hit. Another witness claimed that the speed Jack was travelling at was closer to 40mph and ‘was a danger to anyone coming out of a side-street or a right-of-way.’

For this escapade, Jack was fined £5, which was a substantial amount of money at that time.

However, it seems that he was far from learning his lesson.
On 21 June, Senior-Constable Thomas Finn charged him with riding his motorcycle on the wrong side of Sturt Street in Ballarat. It seems he was actually riding on the tram track, and his excuse: ‘the road was dirty,’ was hardly one to endear him to the law. This time the magistrate fined him £3, but warned that he had just escaped receiving the same fine handed down earlier in the year.

Meanwhile, it seems that Jack was more than holding his own in other areas of his life. On 27 May 1915, it had been confirmed that he had passed his examinations for the provisional appointment as second-lieutenant in the 71st Infantry Regiment. It was only the motorcycle that seemed to get him into trouble!

A solution of sorts presented itself when Jack decided to enlist, and applied to join the Australian Flying Corps. He volunteered at Melbourne on 1 February 1916 within days of his 22nd birthday. With undoubted skill in handling a motorcycle and four years’ experience in senior infantry ranks, plus already holding a commission, Jack Tunbridge was an ideal candidate. Even his medical examination posed no problems: he was just short of 6-feet tall, although somewhat slight at 9-stone 10-pounds. His fair complexion, brown hair and eyes completed the information recorded by the examining doctor.

Jack named his father, who had by this time moved his family into “Dimora”, an impressive house at 1437 Sturt Street, as his next-of-kin.

Upon signing his attestation papers, Jack went straight into camp at Headquarters of the 1st Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, at Laverton. On noting that he was a motorcyclist, Jack was immediately appointed an acting lance-corporal. Then, on 1 March, he was promoted to the rank of acting-sergeant.

A little over two weeks later, on 16 March, Jack boarded the troopship Orsova at Port Melbourne, although strangely his rank was only recorded as a private on embarkation.

The Orsova docked at Port Suez on 14 April and Jack Tunbridge began to train in earnest for his role in the Flying Corps. He was commissioned to the rank of second-lieutenant on 16 June whilst stationed at Heliopolis.

From the outset it was clear that Jack was going to spend his time predominantly in the Middle East. On 23 August, he proceeded to Aboukir (Abu Qir) near Alexandria to undertake a rigorous course of instruction in aviation.

After receiving his wings on 24 October 1916, Jack was posted to the 5th Wing of the Royal Flying Corps and assigned to the 67th Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps at Kantara.

The New Year opened brightly with news that Jack had been promoted to full lieutenant. He cabled home the news to his family, letting them know that both he and his mate, Reg Baillieu, had been granted their commissions in the 1st Squadron AFC.

‘…Rafa, 29/3/17.
A hurried line this mail, to let you know I am splendid. Have not time to write at length, as we are all up to our necks in work.

The battle of Gaza is at present is at its height, and we have been going for our lives for the last five days, in connection with it. We start at 5 a.m., and go until dark each day, and will continue to do so until the show is over. So far, we have held our own well, and should have the position in a few days.
The casualty returns to-night show British, 3800, and Turks 7000…we have taken about 1500 prisoners. You will see by these figures what a big engagement it is.

So far, we have lost five machines. Two 14 squadron officers were burned to death in the air on Tuesday morning. On Wednesday two of our fellows were shot down by a Hun machine while, doing artillery co-operation over Gaza. Rutherford, the pilot, has four bullets in him; but will be all right. Hynan, the observer, was shot through the back, and died in a few hours. The machine had over 60 bullet holes in it, and it was a great effort of Rutherford's to land her in our lines, as most of the controls were shot away.

On Monday a chap called Clark brought down a Hun machine, but on Tuesday was brought down himself. His machine fell in the sea, but he got in all right.

So far, I have been doing hostile aircraft patrols, and long reconnaissance’s. The 'recos.' are interesting, but you get sick of doing 2½ hour patrols at 10,000 feet. Patrols are for the purpose of keeping enemy machines off our artillery, and contact machines down below.

On Tuesday afternoon one of our machines reported 5000 Turkish reinforcements marching on Gaza from Akra. Six of us went out, with 12 bombs each, and made a nasty mess of a lot of them.

The Light Horse have been having a pretty thin time of it. The 3rd Brigade were nearly cut off on Monday night. They got back all right, but it was a near thing. This is all I had better say.

On the 16th March we had an anniversary dinner in the mess. A lot of officers from the 5th Wing and from the 14th Squadron were with us, and the dinner was a great success. We tried to get a flashlight photo of it, but it was a failure. I will try and get hold of a menu card, and if I do, I will enclose it.

We have been at Rafa just a week, and are all delighted with the change. The country here is all beautifully green at present, and most of it round about is under cultivation. The Aerodrome is a huge grass paddock, and our ramp is in an elevated position overlooking the sea, which is about four miles away. Between us and the sea there is a huge belt of sand dunes, which runs right up the coast, and which is about three miles wide. The belt prevents us getting over to the beach. Just in the rear of the camp is the central redoubt, which was the Turks' strongest position in the battle of Rafa.

When we first came, there were dead bodies in and around the vicinity of the redoubt, which we got buried. Not 200 yards from my tent is a little cemetery, where the New Zealanders who fell were buried. The Australians' Cemetery is on the other side of the hill.

You will probably have found Rafa on the map. It is sure to be marked, as it is the border town of Africa and Asia. If we take Gaza alright, we will probably push on another 25 or 30 miles before long. In fact, if we continue to progress as we have been doing, we will be in Jerusalem shortly.

I told you last mail of Len Heathcote's capture, also the two officers from 14th Squadron, Capts Floyer and Palmer. On Saturday week one of the Hun machines from the German Aerodrome at Rambi flew over our aerodrome at 1000 feet, and dropped a message bag which contained letters from these three fellows to us, a note from the C.O. of the German Flying Corps suggesting that one of our machines fly up to Rambi, and drop any articles of kit we thought our fellows would need, and a photo of Capts Floyer and Palmer taken with the German pilots alongside the engine of the machine they were brought down in. The C.O.'s note also stated that if our machine that brought the kit flew at a certain height, and came by a certain route, it would not be fired on. We all considered this a very sportsmanlike act, and some kit is being sent to each of them, probably next week.

One of our photographers copied the photo, and I am enclosing a couple of prints.

You will be pleased to hear that Reg Baillieu has won the Military Cross. He put up a great performance a fortnight ago. Four of our machines and four from the 14th Squadron were sent but to bomb the Railway line at Akra. One of the 14th’s machine failed, and was forced to land near a big camp of Turks. Reg saw him come down and burn his machine, and at once came down and landed alongside Kirby. By this time, they were nearly surrounded by Turks, who had seen Kirby's machine land. These beggars gave Reg a very hot time with rifle fire, but he managed to get Kirby, who was badly burned, into his machine, and get home. It was a splendid effort of Reg's, and we were are delighted that he was rewarded…’

Jack found himself caught up in ‘an exciting encounter with a German airman’ of his own on 11 May 1917. He was engaged in a duel with the enemy at a height of 7000 feet. With his machine badly damaged, and the controls completely out of order, Jack continued firing at ‘the foe’. As his aircraft dropped to 2000 feet, it caught fire, but he managed to make an emergency landing. The aeroplane apparently collapsed as soon as he got out of it.

Although Jack had performed brilliantly under extenuating circumstances, he nevertheless sustained severe burns to his arms, chest and abdomen. He was admitted in a dangerous condition to the 1st Light Horse Field Ambulance before being transferred to a Casualty Clearing Station.

After transferring through a number of treatment centres, Jack was finally admitted to the 24th Stationary Hospital at Kantara on 13 May. Even after a week of care, he was still in a dangerous condition. Cables to his family from Base Records in Ballarat only served to raise their fears.

Fortunately, Jack was able to send word to his parents letting them know he was ‘getting on splendidly.’ And, on 23 May, he was finally pronounced out of danger. However, it was decided that he should be sent home to Australia to recuperate. So, on 11 July, Jack boarded the transport Port Sydney at Suez, bound for Melbourne.

Part of Jack’s therapy included a holiday in Adelaide with a fellow pilot, Flight-Lieutenant Eric Roberts, from Camberwell, who had been invalided home around the same time. But, despite the initial suggestion that Jack’s time in Australia should be for a six months “change”, his appointment with the AFC was terminated on 12 December 1917.

There was great excitement in Ballarat when the New Year’s Honours List was announced on 1 January 1918. Included in the list was Lieutenant J. V. Tunbridge, ‘who got away with the first Wattle Land Flying Corps’; he had been decorated with the Military Cross. It was also commented that he was amongst many ‘Ballaratites [who] have already reaped a fine crop of awards.’ Jack was holidaying on the coast at Peterborough when news of the award came through.

The official citation for Jack’s Military Cross elicited more details around the day he was badly injured.

‘…For consistent gallantry in numerous air combats, notably on the 11th May, 1917, when he engaged and drove off an enemy aeroplane which threatened the machine he was escorting, continuing the engagement even after a bullet had ignited the signal cartridges in his machine, causing him severe injuries. In bombing operations his work has always been distinguished by the greatest coolness and disregard of danger…’

In June 1918, with no apparent end to the war in sight, Jack was called up for duty as an assistant instructor at the Central Flying School at Point Cook. He took over from Lieutenant J. C. C. Marduel, who had resigned his appointment. The new position earned him a substantial remuneration of £400 a year. His reappointment to the Australian Flying Corps, along with that of Captain F. H. McNamara VC, was announced the following September.

On 12 June 1919, Ballarat was treated to a special fly past, led by Captain McNamara VC and Lieutenant Jack Tunbridge MC. The residents of Ballarat were urged to ‘turn their eyes skywards towards noon’ when they would enjoy ‘the privilege of witnessing a sight never previously vouchsafed to the people of this district.’ The flight of seven aircraft had flown from Laverton, across Ballarat and landed at the Dowling Forest Racecourse, which had been placed at their disposal by the secretary of the club, Mr James Lyons. After enjoying lunch, the party made the return flight to Laverton.

With the war ended and peace returning men and women to their former occupations, so it was that Jack Tunbridge resumed his work in the family business. The sudden death of his father of his father on 24 July, just weeks after the monumental parade of aircraft over Ballarat, was a sad blow for the young man, and hastened his promotion within Tunbridge & Sons.

The death of Jack’s mother followed on 15 October 1924, within a few short months of his intended marriage to Grace Hammond. The young couple then made their home at “Dimora”, where both their daughters were born – on 24 December 1925, and 14 May 1929.

When Nan Tunbridge married Robert Salmon on 10 April 1926, her brother Jack performed the role their father would have undertaken in “giving her away”. Robert was the son of noted Ballarat doctor, Henry Salmon, and himself a Military Cross winner. He had also performed valuable service for Brigadier-General H. E. ‘Pompey’ Elliott as his intelligence officer. It was truly the joining of two of Ballarat’s finest families.

Jack and Grace continued to live in Ballarat, with Jack continuing to operate the furniture warehouse throughout the 1930’s. He also dabbled in the idea of establishing a cross-country air service. Along with several other prominent Ballarat businessmen – Eric MacLeod of John MacLeod & Company, Alan Ronaldson, of Ronaldson Bros & Tippett, and his own brother, Daryle Tunbridge, Jack took part in a flight to Mildura on 15 January 1934. With the backing of the Shell Company and the Civil Aviation Department, it was certainly a sign of things to come. The flight took less than three hours.

During the Second World War, Jack enlisted once again, and whilst serving as a wing commander with the RAAF, he and Grace made their home at 137 Orrong Road in Toorak. He was finally discharged on 11 October 1945.

With another war over, Jack returned once more to good old Ballarat and the business that was now very much a part of the city’s furniture, so to speak. He continued in his role with the company until his retirement.

After a life of great adventure and heroism, Jack Tunbridge died at Ballarat on 15 June 1976, when he was 82 years-old. In keeping with his thirst for knowledge and the development of new ideas, he had his body donated to the School of Anatomy, at the University of Melbourne.

Jack Tunbridge was a truly rare individual.