Saturday, April 16, 2022

REMEMBERING HEROES: JOHN MACKEY VC


The stories behind the names on the signs at the rest stops on the Remembrance Driveway from Sydney to Canberra.

Corporal John Bernard Mackey VC. 
Corporal Mackey was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroism during the Battle of Tarakan on 12 May 1945.

Location of Rest Stop:

Moss Vale




About:
  • The next rest stop in terms of direction is at Moss Vale and is named after John Bernard "Jack" Mackey (16 May 1922 – 12 May 1945), an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British Commonwealth forces.
  • Mackey was one of twenty Australians to receive the award for actions during the Second World War, receiving his award posthumously for leading an attack on against a strongly defended Japanese position during the Battle of Tarakan in May 1945. He was 22 and serving as a corporal in the 2/3rd Pioneer Battalion at the time of his death.
  • Born in Leichhardt, New South Wales, Mackey was the only son and the eldest of four children. He attended St. Columba's School in Leichhardt and then Christian Brothers' High School in Lewisham, New South Wales, where my sons went to school.
  • On 5 June 1940, Mackey enlisted in the Second Australian Imperial Force, falsifying his age to do so. He participated in the Syrian Campaign against the Vichy French and in the Second Battle of El Alamein.
  • The Japanese threat to Australia grew as they advanced through the Pacific in 1942. In response, the Australian government requested the withdrawal of Australian units back to their home country, and Mackey's battalion returned in February 1943, serving in Papua New Guinea and in the Southwest Pacific theatre of operations where they were committed to the Borneo Campaign.
  • On 1 May 1945, Mackey's battalion, as part of 26th Brigade Group, landed at Lingkas Beach on Tarakan Island, off North Borneo. The island's airfield was to be captured to allow its use in operations against Borneo. Advancing inland along the Aman River, the battalion were held up by Japanese defending a stronghold known as Helen. On 12 May 1945, Mackey's company was to continue an attack that had begun three days previously and it was during this action that he earned the Victoria Cross.
  • The citation for his VC reads (I have added paragraph spaces for easier reading):
Corporal Mackey was in charge of a section of the 2/3rd Australian Pioneer Battalion in the attack on the feature known as Helen, east of Tarakan town.

Led by Corporal Mackey the section moved along a narrow spur with scarcely width for more than one man when it came under fire from three well-sited positions near the top of a very steep, razor-backed ridge. The ground fell away almost sheer on each side of the track making it almost impossible to move to a flank so Corporal Mackey led his men forward.

He charged the first Light Machine-Gun position but slipped and after wrestling with one enemy, bayoneted him, and charged straight on to the Heavy Machine-Gun which was firing from a bunker position six yards to his right. He rushed this post and killed the crew with grenades.

He then jumped back and changing his rifle for a sub-machine-gun he attacked further up the steep slope another Light Machine-Gun position which was firing on his platoon. Whilst charging, he fired his gun and reached with a few feet of the enemy position when he was killed by Light Machine-Gun fire but not before he had killed two more enemy.

By his exceptional bravery and complete disregard for his own life, Corporal Mackey was largely responsible for the killing of seven Japanese and the elimination of two machine-gun posts, which enabled his platoon to gain its objective, from which the Company continued to engage the enemy. His fearless action and outstanding courage were an inspiration to the whole battalion.
  • The Japanese continued to hold off the attackers for a further two days before Helen was bombed with napalm, forcing them to abandon the position.
  • Originally buried where he was killed, after the war Mackey was interred at Labuan War Cemetery.
  • Mackey's VC was presented to his sister, Patricia, and was later donated to the Australian War Memorial, where it is now on display in the Hall of Valour.

Gallery:


Victoria Cross: Corporal J B Mackey, 2/3 Pioneer Battalion, AIF


The original grave and early grave marker of Corporal John Bernard Mackey

Grave and plaque for Corporal Mackey in Labuan War Cemetery.


Detail from above photograph, plaque on Corporal Mackey


Labuan War Cemetery

Labuan War Cemetery is a Commonwealth World War II graveyard in Labuan, Malaysia. This graveyard was erected by Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Among those buried are Jack Mackey (1922–1945) and Tom Derrick (1914–1945), each of whom received the Victoria Cross.

Many of the personnel buried in this cemetery, including Indian and Australian troops, were killed during the Japanese invasion of Borneo or the Borneo campaign of 1945. Others were prisoners of war in the region, including a number of those who perished on the infamous Sandakan Death Marches, and many hundreds of Allied POWs (mostly British and Australian) who died during their imprisonment by the Japanese at Batu Lintang camp near Kuching were also reburied here.

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