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.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Editor April 18, 2014 at 8:45 am

Barry

I did email you about the fact that I don’t monitor comments 24/7 – nor can I be expected to. Because of the stuff some people try to leave all comments have to be approved.

Martin

barry mccann NSW April 18, 2014 at 2:04 am

Julie,looks like my third message arrived. David is mentioned at page 100 of the book ‘B’ COMPANY SECOND SEVENTEENTH INFANTRY,by HD WELLS. Second hand now is advertised for about $130. David borrowed Wells corporal uniform to do Harrys’ battalion orderly duty because Harry Wells was intoxicated. David is also listed in the bibliography so I’m certain he was in B Company and almost certainly 10 platoon the same as Harry and Paul McCann. The 2/17 Battalion War Diary(internet) has lots of info. As you may know Mulvihill and David are listed on that War Diary together at Tobruk, I recall. Paul (black irish olive skin) was about 5’4 1/2 and a smiling David is seated opposite in the photo and I reckon is around 5’3″. Paul and Herbert Crain seated next to David were both luckily WIA at Alamein; it was a terrible brutal battle ; the South Australian Battalion were isolated, surrounded by Panzers and killed,wounded or captured. I recommend to anyone ,the 2012 ABC video”Desert War”,which deals with the Easter Tobruk Battle- the trap sprung by the AIF 20 Brigade ala 2/17,2/13 and 2/15 Battalions and the English Artillery ; as well as the Battle of El Alamein. The British General had asked Morshead why was he putting the AIF 20 brigade in place to defend El Adem Road,Tobruk, because “they are incorrigible and ill-disciplined”.Morsheads reply was they will do the job. Yep the first defeat of Rommels men in WW2 in the Easter Battle at El Adem where Edmondson fell. Those silhouetted bayonet scenes after the hidden 2/17th leap out of their holes to surprise the Germans following the tanks into the outskirts of Tobruk, are brief and subtle. One of many reasons why Paul ,David and most said little about their encounters. Ray Rudkins’(B Company commander at Finschaffen) tapes recorded on the ABC(internet) are the wonderful recounts of what it was like in the 2/17th; he is letting us know some things as he is prodded and seems to break down, being almost forced to face and remember as a kind old man what they had tried to put away in a deep part of their memory.

barry mccann jp diamond beach nsw April 17, 2014 at 11:31 am

Dear Julie, the men of the NSW 2/17th Battalion did not speak of the bad times,only fondly of those who returned. David is in a group photo with my dad at a Tel Aviv cafe straight after the 12 day Battle of El Alamein which was the AIFs major victory of WW2 and involved the 9th Division, the Rats of Tobruk who lost a lot of mates especially to blasts and the Tiger tanks. They held the Siege of Tobruk for 9 months after the 6th division had quickly taken the town from Mussolinis men. The 6th division were not the Rats of Tobruk ,they were there only before the siege. David is relaxing with 7 men from the 10th and 11th platoons of B Company. Jack Edmondson was a member of D Company and was with men of D Company at Post 33. Dad was in the same Mess as Jack Edmondson, so they all ate and drank together at the camps. The 800-1000 men would have known each other, many had nicknames. An AIF Battalion had ABCD Companies and maybe a Headquarters Company. Obviously David had held it inside and maybe he needed to let go like he did. Did he have a Scottish accent and what town did he come from.Now I hope this gets through to you.
Barry- contact me

Editor August 16, 2013 at 11:50 am

I am afraid I know little more about the unit in question apart from the Citation. Hopefully someone else may be able to assist.

Julie Schuurman August 16, 2013 at 11:42 am

I am the daughter of David Clarence Dunning who was also a ‘Rat’ in 2/17 9th division.
My father cried when I took him to the RSL at Liverpool when he saw the painting of John Edmondson, when I asked my father did you know him he said yes that’s my friend Jack. He never spoke about the war as it was too painful.

My question is who were the other five privates with John ? My father passed away in 1997.

Regards
Mrs Julie Schuurman

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