John Alexander (Jack) FRENCH VC


FRENCH, John Alexander

Service Number: QX1071
Enlisted: 22 October 1939, Toowoomba, Queensland
Last Rank: Corporal
Last Unit: 2nd/9th Infantry Battalion
Born: Crows Nest, Queensland, 15 July 1914
Home Town: Crows Nest, Toowoomba, Queensland
Schooling: Crows Nest State School and Toowoomba Technical College
Occupation: Barber/Hairdresser
Died: Killed in Action, Milne Bay, New Guinea, 4 September 1942, aged 28 years
Cemetery: Port Moresby (Bomana) War Cemetery, Papua New Guinea
Section. A Plot. 2 Row. E Grave. 16
Tree Plaque: Not yet discovered
Memorials: Australian War Memorial, Roll of Honour, Corporal John French V.C. Memorial Bridge, Crows Nest (Qld) War Memorial, Keith Payne VC Memorial Park, North Bondi War Memorial
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World War 2 Service

22 Oct 1939: Enlisted 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN QX1071, Toowoomba, Queensland
23 Oct 1939: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN QX1071
15 May 1940: Embarked 2nd AIF WW 2, SN QX1071, 2nd/9th Infantry Battalion, Embarked Sydney (for Middle East)
17 Mar 1941: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN QX1071, 2nd/9th Infantry Battalion, Libya/North Africa
10 Apr 1941: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Private, SN QX1071, 2nd/9th Infantry Battalion, Siege of Tobruk
10 Aug 1941: Promoted 2nd AIF WW 2, Lance Corporal, 2nd/9th Infantry Battalion
22 Dec 1941: Promoted 2nd AIF WW 2, Corporal, 2nd/9th Infantry Battalion
28 Mar 1942: Embarked 2nd AIF WW 2, Corporal, SN QX1071, 2nd/9th Infantry Battalion, Embarked Middle East (for Sydney)
7 Aug 1942: Embarked 2nd AIF WW 2, Corporal, SN QX1071, 2nd/9th Infantry Battalion, Embarked Brisbane (for New Guinea)
4 Sep 1942: Honoured Victoria Cross, Papua New Guinea - Milne Bay, At Milne Bay, New Guinea, on September 4th 1942, during an attack by an Australian Infantry battalion on the Japanese position east of the Buna Mission, the section commanded by Corporal French was held up by terrific fire from three enemy machine-gun posts. Corporal French, ordering his men to take cover, himself advanced and silenced two with grenades. Then, armed with a sub-machine-gun, he attacked the third post. Although badly wounded by enemy fire he continued to advance until it, too, was silenced. His section pushed on, to find that the three enemy gun crews had been killed, and that Corporal French had died in front of the third gun pit. By his cool courage and disregard of his own safety, this non-commissioned officer saved his section from heavy casualties and was responsible for the successful conclusion of the attack.
4 Sep 1942: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Corporal, SN QX1071, 2nd/9th Infantry Battalion, Papua New Guinea - Milne Bay

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Biography contributed by Paul Trevor

The three enlisted sons of Albert and Lucy French (nee Donaldson) of Crows Nest, Queensland:-

QX41220 Gunner Eric Donaldson French (/explore/people/693432) (/explore/people/693432) - returned to Australia;

QX1071 Cpl. John Alexander French VC - Killed in Action at Milne Bay, New Guinea on 4 September 1942;

425147 F/Sgt. Gordon Albert French (/explore/people/628697) (/explore/people/628697) -  killed in flying battle over Germany on the 11 August 1943.

'John Alexander 'Jack' FRENCH (1914-1942), soldier and barber, was born on 15 July 1914 at Crows Nest, near Toowoomba, Queensland, third of five children of Albert French, hairdresser, and his wife Lucy Fanny May, née Donaldson, both native-born. Educated at Crows Nest State School and Toowoomba Technical College, Jack entered his father's barber-and-tobacconist business. On 22 October 1939 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted to the 2nd/9th Battalion, then being formed at Redbank. Quiet, unassuming and of a serious disposition, French was a 'big fair chap', a good sportsman and well liked. He gave his religion as Presbyterian.

Sailing from Sydney in May 1940, he spent five months in Britain before reaching the Middle East in December. In March 1941 the 2nd/9th assaulted the Italian stronghold at Giarabub, Libya. From April to August the battalion took part in the defence of Tobruk before moving to Syria where it performed garrison duties. French became an excellent soldier. He was promoted acting corporal in December and his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel C. J. Cummings, saw him as a future officer. The 2nd/9th returned to Australia in early 1942 and left again in August, bound for Papua. By mid-month the unit was established at Milne Bay.

On 26 August 1942 a Japanese invasion force landed on the north shore of Milne Bay, east of K.B. Mission. The 2nd/9th moved into the K.B. area on 2 September and on the following day continued east along the coast towards the Goroni River. French was in 'B' Company which crossed the river on 4 September to attack Japanese positions from the rear. A fierce engagement ensued. Three enemy machine-gun posts retarded the section's advance. Ordering his men to take cover, French made his way forward and destroyed one of the posts with grenades; he returned for more grenades and used them to demolish the second strong-point; armed with a Thompson sub-machine gun, he attacked the third gun-pit, firing from the hip as he went. Although he was badly wounded, he kept going, silenced the post and died in front of it. His action saved casualties among his comrades and assured the success of the attack. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

French was buried in Port Moresby (Bomana) war cemetery. His grieving fiancée Dulcie McCahon said that she 'knew he would always carry out his duty regardless of his safety'. Jack's elder brother Eric served in the A.I.F. On 11 August 1943, while flying with the Royal Australian Air Force, their younger brother Gordon was killed in action over Europe. The governor-general, Field Marshal Sir William (Viscount) Slim, opened and dedicated the John French, V.C., Memorial Library at Crows Nest on 18 July 1958.' SOURCE ( (