Great article by Robbo as we rejoice in the remarkable contribution of the man in all facets of life…
Essendon legend Jack Jones, 95, reveals cancer diagnosis
At 95, there remains a handsomeness to Jack Jones.
You might know Jack.
Essendon people will. In his youth, he was a dashing forward in Essendon’sgolden era of DICK Reynolds, John Coleman and Bill Hutchison.
In later life, Jack was synonymous with Essendon and Anzac Day.
If you don’t know Jack, you should recognise him.
Think DICK Van ■■■■-ish in Night At The Museum.
Jack Jones is one of the most recognisable faces among Essendon fans. Picture: Getty Images
He was always smiling. Always dressed immaculately. Always proud of Anzac Day.
And his glistening, snow white hair was always parted perfectly and always to the left of centre.
He was the Dapper Don, a revered figure within the club because Jack was a gentleman. An officer and a gentleman.
Jack has cancer. He was told by his doctor in December that he had between three and six months to live.
“I’m quite ready, 95 is not a bad age to live,’’ he says, sitting in the corner chair in the living room of his home where he and his wife Mary, 95, have lived for 56 years.
“When I went to the doctor, he told me maybe three months, maybe six (months), and I said, ‘Yeah, fair enough’.
“I’m not scared … I’m going to die in a couple of years anyway. What’s the difference dying from cancer now?
“It’s been a lovely life. I’ve had six kids, have 11 grandchildren and nine great-grand kids, another due in May. I’ve been very lucky.’’
Essendon’s Dapper Don always looked the part.
Cancer has wearied Jones, pictured at his home.
FROM BOY TO MAN
Jack’s had a remarkable life.
He survived the horrors of New Guinea and Bougainville in World War II. He was 18 when his was name was called.
At 19, he was shipped to the islands. And he made it home just before his 21st birthday.
Such is war, he killed people and had mates killed.
In 1970, he and Mary visited Japan. “I didn’t want to go because some of these kids Mary was talking to, I might’ve killed their grandfather. That was hard,’’ he said.
An Ascot Vale boy, Jack was eight when he saw Dick Reynolds’ first game with his dad at the Western Oval. It was 1933.
“Funnily enough I played my first game there, too, and under Dick,’’ he said.
Before his career at Essendon — he played 175 games, kicked 156 goals and played in the Grand Final every year for six straight years from 1946-1951 — including two in ’48 after a draw against Melbourne — Jack endured indescribable hardship.
He lost his father Percival to cancer before the war — “Dad was 53” — and while in New Guinea his older brother, also named Percival, died. He was 27.
“I tried to get compassionate leave, but we were losing that many, the lieutenant said, ‘We’ll put in for compassionate leave, but you’ve got no hope’.
“I missed his funeral, and he never saw me play league football either.”
Jack was part of the 24th infantry battalion, one of mostly young men, numbering about 1000.
“We lost 91 killed and 197 wounded. I was one of the lucky ones,’’ he says.
He said he had not shot a rifle before experiencing the horrors of war — the blood, the death, the bombs, the screams, and always the fear.
“We had a job to do,’’ he says. “Here I am fighting the Japanese, and they probably didn’t want to go to war, either.
“But it was either you or me, and that’s how I looked at it. That’s how everyone thought about it.”
The war veteran loved the Anzac Day clash between his beloved Bombers and the Pies. Picture: Alex Coppel
HAND OF FATE
He keeps saying he was lucky.
One time his canteen, slung across his hip, was hit by a bullet. “It didn’t hit me in the bum, it hit the canteen. I was on patrol at the time, just before the war finished,” he says.
“I was a lance corporal by then and I was in charge of this patrol and we went out to find the Japanese. We found them all right, they opened up on us.
“My canteen was shot, I was lucky to get away.
“Unfortunately, we went back in the afternoon and five of our blokes got killed that day. So I was lucky again.’’
Try and imagine, he says, having bombs raining down on you. “A hundred bombs came down on us, mortar bombs, and you don’t know where they land,” he says.
“They start behind, then they go to the east, then the west, and then one dropped in front of us this day.
“Four blokes were in a trench, they got killed. Doug Johnson and myself trying to get out of the way.’’
Being stranded at night away from the base, and trying to sleep in the jungle with every noise a startler is, Jack says, a lonely place. “It was scary, we were only kids.’’
Jack drank alcohol only once in his life. When war was declared over, the powers that be supplied beer to the diggers.
“We were waiting for the boats to come home and they put beer on. They were, I think, 10c a bottle,” he says.
“All the boys were getting drunk. I called them two-pot drinkers, they asked me to join them, and they drank me under the table.
“I was vomiting everywhere and I’ve never had a drink since. I didn’t like beer. I never smoked. Had one wife. Still around, 72 years married.”
He never drank coffee. And he rarely ever swore in front of Mary. “Once or twice, but that’s about it,’’ he says.
A very fresh-faced Jack Jones. Picture: Alex Coppel
Jones, then and now. Picture: Alex Coppel
A NEW LIFE
JACK and his mates waited four months for the boats to take them home. They played footy, cricket, rugby and ran athletic carnivals to keep themselves occupied.
Legend has it Jack starred on the New Guinea footy field, and word made its way to Melbourne.
“When I got home, my mother said there were three letters for me,’’ he says.
They were from the Williamstown Football Club, the Brunswick Football Club — both in the Association — and the other was from the Bombers, inviting him to train.
“A chap named Bill Pearson was playing at Essendon and we were in the same class at school and he filled me in with what to do and what not to do,” he says.
“I remember him telling me that when the practice games start, don’t come to the ground early. This is his words, he said, ‘A lot of rats and mice will be there and they’ve got no hope of getting a game. So, you turn up later, so you can get in the senior team’.
“I got a game in the senior side and played pretty well. Monday’s Herald headline was: ‘Jones shines for Essendon, new recruit’.
“I thought, ‘How long has this been going on?’ Yeah, I did all right.’’
One hundred players tried out. Two were chosen to join the club.
Jones was one of them.
Jones would give tours at Essendon’s old home Windy Hill.
He played Round 1 in 1946 and was never dropped or played a reserves game before leaving for Albury for the 1955 season.
He talks of those days at Essendon like Hollywood talks of the golden age of film.
He played under his idol DICK Reynolds and, he says, the best player he played with at Essendon, Bill Hutchison.
Then there was John Coleman, the AFL Legend who played 98 games and kicked 537 goals. He injured his knee in 1954, ending his career.
“We won three premierships and played in seven Grand Finals,” he says.
“I was lucky enough to be in with those great footballers, Reynolds, Coleman, Hutchison, (Wally) Buttsworth, (Cec) Ruddell, Jacky Clarke, Ted Leehane … the list goes on.’’
Jack’s body might be frail and broken, yet his ability to remember and tell a story is a blessing.
Such as the one about the 1948 draw when Melbourne kicked 10.9 and Essendon kicked 7.27.
“Bill Brittingham is listed to have kicked 2.12,’’ he says.
“I disagree with that. I reckon it was 1.13. He was a great footballer, Bill.
“When Coleman came, Bill went to full back. He was a beautiful kick and a great bloke.’’
Jack admits he also kicked several behinds.
“Right on the siren, Norm Smith for Melbourne was in the goalsquare, I can remember it like it was yesterday,” he says.
“The great Norm Smith was fiddling around with the ball in the 10-yard square, and if he pushes it through for a point, they would’ve won the game.
“But he kept trying to get it out to try to kick a goal.
“Of course, he didn’t, and it was a draw.
“We didn’t know what to do because there hadn’t been a draw in the Grand Final before.
“One bloke said to me, ‘Beauty, another 10 pounds next week’.”
The Demons won the replay.
“Jack Mueller came in the next week for Melbourne, we had two of our best players, Wally Buttsworth and Harold Lambert, out injured, and we got beaten by five goals.’’
Jack is Fox Footy commentator Sarah Jones’ grandfather. Picture: Ian Currie
JONA AND COLEY
Jack played in Coleman’s first game in 1949. Coleman kicked 12 goals on debut. He was 20 years of age.
“Yeah, he was a marvel,’’ Jack says.
“He played 98 games, I played 97 with him. He was a great bloke. Jona, he used to call me. I called him Coley.’’
Jack also played in Coleman’s last game, in 1954.
It was Round 8. In Round 7, Coleman kicked 14 goals against Fitzroy at Windy Hill.
The next week he dislocated his knee, which ended his career.
He’s told this story before, Jack, but it is legendary.
“I remember, Jacky Clarke wheeled out of the centre, I was forward so I led,’’ Jack says.
“As the ball came, a voice behind me said, ‘It’s mine, Jona’.
“I said to myself, ‘That’s Coley, I better move out the way’. He went up for the mark, came down, hurt his knee, and never played again.
“I can remember it as if it was yesterday. There was a big sigh, you know, he went off the ground, was carried off.
“We both retired at the end of the season.’’
Offered eight pounds a week to coach the Essendon reserves team in the 1955 season, Jack and Mary instead moved to Albury where, he claimed, he would captain-coach for 25 pounds a week as well as landing a job with the butcher.
He was a star at Albury, was named captain of its Team of the Century, and is in the Ovens and Murray League Hall of Fame.
Jones with former Don Kepler Bradley at the MCG.
And with David HIlle.
Along the way, Jack and Mary had six kids — Lynne, Peter, Brian, Tony, John and Anne.
One of his grandchildren is Fox Footy presenter Sarah Jones, an emphatic Essendon supporter.
He was involved with Essendon for 60-odd years, and in 2010 the club named the development academy after him.
Part of his role was to take the recruits to the Shrine ahead of Anzac Day, and it’s one of the few days of the year he talks about the war.
“I don’t think of the war much until it gets close to Anzac Day, and that’s when it really hits you,’’ he says.
“Here I am, 95, married and I have got 36 in my family.
“There’s poor buggers still up there in their graves in New Guinea and Port Moresby.
“They never got home. They never saw their parents again. Poor buggers.’’
As a tribute to his mates from the 24th Battalion, Jack always wore that number when he played.
As the final siren approaches, Jack is spending precious time with his family at home and still tries to make special occasions.
A couple of weeks ago, one of Jack’s great-grandchildren started primary school at the same primary school Jack started in 1929.
Jack made the effort to get there. “Isn’t that just amazing?’’ he says.
Asked what is the greatest learning in his life, he says: “I tried to be a good person. I tried to do the right thing.
“My father taught me to treat others how you’d liked to be treated yourself. I think that’s a good motto.’’
Well played, Jack.