For me, this is one of the most powerful photos of the Second World War. A lone shirtless Australian soldier of the 9th Division carves the word "Heaven" and an upwards pointing arrow in the soft stone wall of the Alamein railway station with the tip of his bayonet. I've seen the significance of this being explained as "Alamein is a slice of heaven". I like to look on it more as that of a digger taking the piss. If Heaven is above them as the arrow would indicate I think the digger means to liken Alamein to Hell. And he would be right. More on Alamein later.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
2/17th Infantry Battalion, 20th Brigade, 9th Division
Cpl John Hurst "Jack" Edmondson was born in Wagga Wagga, NSW in 1914. He enlisted on 20th May 1940 at Paddington, NSW. Here he joined the newly formed 2/17th Infantry Battalion of the 7th Division. Due to his previous militia service he was quickly promoted to Corporal.
When the 7th Division embarked for Palestine in Oct 1940 little would they know that for some of them they would be arrive to be members of the newly formed 9th Division. As the divisions for WW2 were formed and numbered in the order of enlistment and began with the 6th Division (the 1st to 5th Divisions having been previously allocated for WW1) the members of the 7th Division were amongst the second wave of mass enlistments that occurred in early to mid 1940. The men of the former 7th Division were horrified to find themselves a part of the 9th Division. These men were often incorrectly labeled "The Long Thinkers" by the men of the 6th Division, a reference to the time it took for the men to decide to enlist.
With the 9th Division's deployment to Libya to relieve the 6th Division who were pulled out for the defence of Greece, Cpl Edmondson and his battalion (of whom my grandfather was a member) first engaged the German's in what was to be later known as "The Benghazi Handicap", the hasty retreat back to the shelter of the city of Tobruk.
Not long after arriving from this harrowing journey Cpl Edmondson's section was deployed on the outer perimeter of Tobruk's defences at post R33 in the Red Line. This was the area that was first attacked by Rommel's Panzer Division in what was to be known as "The Easter Battle".
Cpl. Edmondson's Victoria Cross was awarded posthumously (as too many are), for action during The Easter Battle of 13-14th April, 1941. The passage in the London Gazette of 1 July, 1941, gave the following details of Edmondson's deeds:
"On the night of 13th-14th April, 1941, a party of German infantry broke through the wire defences of Tobruk, and established themselves with numerous machine guns, mortars and field pieces. Led by an officer, Corporal Edmondson and five privates carried out a bayonet charge upon them under heavy fire. Although wounded in the neck and stomach Corporal Edmondson not only killed one of the enemy, but went to the assistance of his officer, who was attacked by a German from behind while bayoneting another who had seized him about the legs. Despite his wounds, from which he later died, Corporal Edmondson succeeded in killing these two Germans also, thus undoubtedly saving his officer's life."
John Hurst Edmondson's Victoria Cross was the first of twenty received by Australian Forces in WW2. As a result it carried with it quite a bit of propaganda value for the Allies who were in need of good news. John Edmondson's V.C. is currently on display in the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial. John Hurst Edmondson V.C. is buried in the Tobruk War Cemetery.
Welcome to the 9th Divvy!
The 9th Divvy is the blog that I am keeping as I research the exploits of the Australian 9th Division during the Second World War. I hope you learn as much as I have about the forgotten heroes of Australia. I aim to raise awareness in subsequent generations of Australians about just what life was like for a digger in the 9th Division on active service. I plan to profile the people, places and events that forged the legend that is the 9th Division.
To open with I will share with you a famous quote I found made by Major-General Francis de Guingaund. The Major-General was the Chief of Staff of Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery's Land Force HQ. On the morning of the 6th June, 1944 as the invasion fleet of Operation Overlord set sail for the shores of France from England, the Major-General was heard to sigh and state;
"My God, I wish we had 9th Australian Division with us this morning".
Hearing this quote makes me beam with pride, not only because I am a proud Australian but because my Grandfather was a member of the 9th Division. More on him later, but for now I will welcome you all and hope that you find this blog both entertaining and informative.
Lest We Forget,
The 9th Divvy