b. 03/08/1882 Huon Island, Tasmania. d. 02/03/1946 Glebe, New South Wales.
John Woods Whittle (1882-1946), also known more commonly as Jack, was born on 3rd August 1882 at Huon Island, Port Cygnet District, near Gordon, Tasmania. His father, Henry William Whittle, was a labourer. His mother, Catherine Theresa nee Sullivan, married Henry on 4th February 1878 at Brighton, Tasmania. Jack was part of a large family, having nine siblings in total.
Jack served for over three years in the Senior Cadets, before enlisting for service in South Africa and embarked with the 4th (2nd Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen) Contingent from Hobart aboard SS Chicago on 27th March 1901. He arrived in Port Elizabeth on 24th April and took part in operations in the Cape Colony. He left on 22nd May 1902, arriving back in Hobart on 25th June and was discharged on 30th June. Soon afterwards, he enlisted in the Royal Navy as a stoker for five years on the Australia Station, serving aboard HMS Challenger and HMS Pioneer. He then served in the Australian Permanent Military Forces in the Australian Army Service Corps, 31st Battery Royal Australian Artillery and the Tasmanian Rifle Regiment.
Jack married Emily Margaret Roland on 23rd July 1909 at the Archbishop’s House, Hobart, Tasmania. They had two sons and three daughters including Ivan Whittle, who died in an accident in Port Moresby, New Guinea in 1943 when a Liberator aircraft crashed.
Jack enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Claremont, Tasmania on 6th August 1915 from 13th Remount Depot. He was posted to Claremont as acting Corporal and embarked with 26th Battalion, 6th Reinforcement Group at Brisbane on 21st October aboard HMAT A48 Seang Bee. He transferred to HMAT A38 Ulysees departing Melbourne on 27th October. On arrival at Heliopolis, he was admitted to 1st Australian General Hospital for three days in January 1916. He was posted to 12th Battalion in March, and was promoted to Corporal and Lance Sergeant. The Battalion then left for France arriving on 5th April.
He was wounded in the arm on 21st June, and was evacuated to England aboard HMHS Stad Antwerpen on 23rd June for treatment at 1st Eastern General Hospital, Cambridge. He returned to France in August 1916. He was swiftly promoted to Sergeant.
Jack was awarded the DCM for his actions on 27th February 1917, during the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line when A Company attacked Le Barque and Ligny-Thilloy at dawn – on the left flank. He bombed an enemy machine gun post, forcing the Germans to flee. On 8th-9th April 1917 at Boursies and at Lagnicourt on 15th April 1917, Jack performed several actions which led to the award of the VC. When in command of a platoon the enemy, under cover of an intense artillery barrage, attacked the small trench he was holding. Owing to weight of numbers the enemy succeeded in entering the trench, and it was owing to Sjt. Whittle personally collecting all available men and charging the enemy that the position was regained.
On a second occasion when the enemy broke through the left of our line Sjt. Whittle's own splendid example was the means of keeping the men well in hand. His platoon were suffering heavy casualties and the enemy endeavoured to bring up a machine gun to enfilade the position. Grasping the situation he rushed alone across the fire-swept ground and attacked the hostile gun crew with bombs before the gun could be got into action. He succeeded in killing the whole crew and in bringing back the machine gun to our position.
Jack then reported sick with psoriasis, which didn’t clear up quickly, and he was evacuated to England in May 1917. During his time having treatment in England, he was released so he could receive his VC and DCM from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 21st July. He would finally return to France in August, but was soon in trouble with the authorities. He was tried at Court Martial on 1st October 1917 for drunkenness and conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline on 27th September. He was reduced to Corporal and spent four days in detention before re-joining his unit in Belgium in October 1917.
He received a shrapnel wound to the finger in March 1918, and was wounded again by shrapnel to the right elbow in July 1918. He was evacuated to England by the second wound, and was treated in Central Military Hospital, Eastbourne. On 24th August, he left for Australia with eight other Australian VCs to assist with recruitment. He was discharged from the Army on 15th December 1918. He struggled to find post-war employment, and by 1932 was struggling and made a plea for work. Within a month, he was employer as an inspector by the Western Assurance Company and was later given other jobs, including at Tooth’s Brewery in Sydney.
As with other VCs, he was in high demand for public appearances. He was at the ANZAC Commemoration Service in 1927, and was one of eight VCs who attended the 1st AIF Reunion Dinner at Sydney Town Hall on 8th August 1928. On 7th February 1934, Jack was walking across University Park, Sydney when a small boy yelled that his 3 year old brother had fallen in the lake. Jack dived in, found the boy in the weeds, and brought him to the bank. He gave the boy first aid and the boy revived and was taken to hospital. Jack was awarded the Certificate of Merit from the Royal Life Saving Society. A few weeks later, he was initiated as a Freemason, being admitted to Saint Andrew Lodge, Sydney.
Jack died of a cerebral haemorrhage at his home at 27 Avenue Road, Glebe, Sydney on 2nd March 1946 and was buried in the Roman Catholic Section of Rookwood Cemetery, Sydney. In addition to his VC and DCM, he was also awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal 1899-1902 with four clasps, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, George V Jubilee Medal 1935 and George VI Coronation Medal 1937. The medals were owned by John Edwards of Port Macquarie, New South Wales until he died in June 2006. On 20th November 2014, they were sold at auction to a private bidder at a Noble Numismatics sale in Sydney for a hammer price of A$500,000 (£274,240). They were then donated to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA.
BURIAL PLACE: ROOKWOOD CREMATORIUM, LIDCOMBE, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA.
John Whittle's medals courtesy of Memorials to Valour
ASHES INTERRED - RC SECTION 15, GRAVE 63.
War Illustrated, 11th August 1917