SPORTING the popular "Digger" design - slouch hatted soldier, with downcast eyes - the Crows Nest War Memorial pays tribute to veterans of both World Wars. Amongst the names on the honour roll is that of John Alexander "Jack" French, recipient of the Victoria Cross for his gallantry during the Battle of Milne Bay.
The son of a barber, Jack was born in Crows Nest on 15 July, 1914 and spent his primary school days in the small country town just north of Toowoomba. Known for his sporting abilities (rugby league being his preferred code), French was equally no slouch with his academics, going on to pass his scholarship exams and complete secondary school in Toowoomba. An apprenticeship in his father's business followed, but was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II.
Enlisting in the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) on 22 October 1939 and subsequently seeing action in the Middle East, Jack was later deployed to Papua New Guinea.
It was on the afternoon of 4 September, 1942, that the young corporal showed incredible bravery and persistence during the Battle of Milne Bay. Finding his company under attack from no less than three Japanese machine-gun posts, he ordered his men to take cover. He valiantly lobbed grenades into the first of the posts, returned to gather more grenades so as to take similar action against the second and set about repeating the act to finish off the third, all the time being fired upon by the enemy. Despite successfully silencing his attackers, the wounds he sustained whilst protecting his company ultimately took his life.
Jack French is buried at the Bomana War Cemetery in Port Moresby, but the people of Crows Nest remember their fallen son with the inclusion of his name on the town's war memorial and the naming of the local library in his honour.