War hero remembered

Ray Foster retraces the footsteps of his uncle in France.
Ray Foster retraces the footsteps of his uncle in France.

MINDARIE resident Ray Foster returned from France earlier this year, having stood on the battlefield once occupied by his uncle and Victoria Cross recipient Thomas Leslie (Jack) Axford.

Armed with photos, biographies and maps, Ray took the Times through Jack�s life, which ended on a plane home from London after attending his last reunion of the VC and George Cross Association in 1983.

In July, 1915, Jack, who was born in South Australia in 1894 and grew up in Coolgardie, enlisted in the First Australian Imperial Force.

Ray said his uncle arrived in the Middle East at the �tail-end� of the Gallipoli campaign and joined the 16th Battalion at Tel el Kebir in Egypt in March, 1916, to prepare for France.

�The Australians were considered to be at that stage �no-hopers�� but they didn�t realise that, like this guy (Jack), they had grown up in a mining environment and were made of real tough sort of stuff,� Ray said.

�Jack won a VC in the Battle of Hamel and a Military Medal in the Battle of Pozieres as well.�

While there are different versions of how Jack came to receive his VC, Ray said it was thought to have followed the news that his brother Harry had been killed.

�One version is he had just heard about his brother and he went into a rage; he jumped up and attacked the Germans,� Ray said.

�He never talked about the war very much.�

What is known is that during the Battle of Hamel on July 4, 1918, Jack�s actions undoubtedly saved many casualties.

The Lance Corporal�s platoon had reached enemy defences through gaps cut in the wire but a neighbouring platoon had been delayed by uncut wire.

Jack threw his hand grenades at machine-gun crews, jumped into the trench and charged with his bayonet.

�The tunnels they were coming out were not very wide, so he had to deal with each one of them,� Ray said.

�Ten of them came out that he actually killed with the bayonet.�

He threw their machine guns over the parapet and called the delayed platoon forward before joining his own.

Ray, a member of the Quinns Rocks RSL, where he will commemorate Anzac Day, visited the site on his recent tour.

�It�s paddocks; it has not been disturbed, it�s exactly as it was during the fight,� he said.

�It was very moving because you�ve got to remember we lost 60,000 men and boys in that place.�

He said Australians were held in high regard over there, with their efforts saving Amiens Cathedral.

�The Germans were advancing. They�d never been stopped on the Western Front until this happened,� Ray said.

�It was the Australians who actually broke the line and it was uncle Jack and his mob who broke through first.

�When they did that, it was the start of the whole thing falling over and it saved the cathedral; they would have bombed it.�

He said Jack returned home in December, 1918, later marrying his aunty Maud and raising five children in Mt Hawthorn.

�He wasn�t somebody who boasted; in fact he didn�t really want the medals, he didn�t like the publicity it brought him,� Ray said.

Jack�s daughter Aileen Carvell, of Kallaroo, said she only realised her dad�s VC was significant when she was about 12.

�We�d only ever see it on Anzac Day,� she said.

�Out came the medals, all got a polish and were put on.

�We weren�t told it was something extra special or anything like that. I think dad used to think there were a lot who should have got a VC.�

Jack was posted to Perth�s District Records Office in 1941, rising to sergeant in 1943, and was discharged in 1947.

Before he died, he told the Queen it would be his last visit, with his wife having passed just months earlier.

�He said to the Queen �I won�t be back� and he got on the plane� he said to the hostess �if I die on the way home, don�t worry about taking me back, just open the door and put me out�, but he was serious and he died,� Ray said.

Mt Hawthorn�s Axford Park is named in his honour and in 1985 Jack�s medals were presented to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.