John Alexander “Jack” French VC

b. 15/07/1914 Crow’s Nest, Queensland, Australia. d. 04/09/1942 Milne Bay, New Guinea.

John Alexander “Jack” French (1914-1942) was born on 15th 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. As a boy, Jack excelled at sports, and in rugby league he was known as “The Flying Winger”. On 22nd 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.

John A French VC

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 26th 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 2nd 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 4th 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 11th 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 18th July 1958. French’s medals are owned by his niece, Faye Lowien. Due to safeguarding concerns over the medals, the family chose to auction them on 28th July 2023 at Noble Numismatics in Sydney. They sold for a hammer price of $AUS1.46 million (£755,000). 






Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map

Jason Daniels – Image of French VC Grave, and the image of the French VC Board at Anzac Park, Townsville, Queensland.

David Baker – Image of the Milne Bay Memorial.

Noble Numismatics Ltd – Image of the French VC Medal Group prior to auction in July 2023.

Aubrey Bairstow – Image of the French VC reverse