John Edmondson wins the Victoria Cross

John Edmondson won the Victoria Cross with a furious bayonet charge during the defence of Tobruk.

Easter Sunday 13th April 1941 saw a sustained attack by tanks and infantry on the besieged forces of Tobruk. The greater part of the hastily assembled garrison, the Australian 9th Division had been civilians only six months before. They had no anti tank weapons so the troops on the outer perimeter were instructed to allow tank to pass through them and not attract attention to their positions. They were then to deal with the infantry assault following the tanks.

Although they were defending positions that had previously been prepared by the Italians, and further re-inforced with wire and mines, the anti tank ditch on the perimeter had filled with drifting sand. Some forty German tanks were able to cross the perimeter late on the 13th and advance towards the town of Tobruk. Soon the the forward Observation Posts for the artillery found themselves surrounded by tanks. The gun commanders heard the instructions “Target me, Target me” from the OPs as they called in gunfire on their own positions in order to hit the tanks.

Meanwhile groups of the Australian infantry left their positions to deal with German infantry at the perimeter wire. Lieutenant Mackell led six men forward, including Corporal John Edmondson. They came under fire almost as soon as they left their trenches. Edmondson was hit by machine gun fire in the stomach and neck but kept going, bayoneting two Germans in a furious assault that had the Germans fleeing:

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. Throughout the operation he showed outstanding resolution and leadership, and conspicuous bravery.

The citation for the Victoria Cross awarded to Corporal John Hurst Edmondson.

In a later account Lieutenant Mackell stated that Edmondson had gone on to bayonet two more Germans after dealing with the two attacking him. Edmondson died of his wounds very shortly afterwards.

For more on John Edmondson see the Australian War Memorial.

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