Fox Footy’s Sarah Jones has paid a special tribute to her grandpa and Essendon legend Jack Jones, revealing why she will feel his loss more than ever this Anzac Day.
Fox Footy’s Sarah Jones has paid a special tribute to her grandpa and Essendon legend Jack Jones, revealing why she will feel his loss more than ever this Anzac Day.

Sarah Jones on the ‘Gentleman Jack’ I knew

My Pop, Jack Jones, had a lifelong link to the number 24.

He was born a drop punt from Windy Hill, at 23 Roseberry Street, Ascot Vale, in 1924.

When thrust into World War II as a teenager he found himself serving in the 24th infantry battalion in Papua New Guinea.

In a show of symbolism, he would carry his fallen mates on his back when he returned to wear the No.24 for the team he grew up barracking for - Essendon.

He became a father for the first time on the 24th and eventually a grandfather when I was born, yes on the 24th.

FEATURE: CELEBRATING THE LIFE OF ESSENDON LEGEND JACK JONES

ANZAC DAY ON FOX FOOTY

Channel 504 on Foxtel from 3.05pm. Hosted by Garry Lyon, with Jonathan Brown, Nick Riewoldt, Kath Loughnan and Jon Ralph.

And so on the 22nd of March last year, when Pop, 95, was gravely ill with cancer, I turned to my husband and said: "He won't pass away today. Tuesday is the 24th, he'll go then."

And he did. A final salute to the 24th infantry battalion.

Pop lived for the three Fs: family, food and football.

When he returned from the war he married Mary O'Donnell, the girl he had met as an 18-year-old at a dance at the Mooney Valley Town Hall.

They'd been writing to each other when he was away.

Together they went on to have six children, 11 grand children and 10 great grand children and be married for 72 years.

As the eldest of those grand children I inherited Pop's blue eyes, punctuality and a passion for football.

 

 

Sarah Jones on her wedding day with her grandfather Jack Jones.
Sarah Jones on her wedding day with her grandfather Jack Jones.

My Dad, Tony, suggests it's also where I discovered my love for television - Pop certainly was a star when the cameras were rolling.

On Sunday I will feel Pop's loss more than ever, the first Anzac Day clash in front of a packed MCG without him.
I'll miss seeing him dressed impeccably in an Essendon Football Club suit, silver hair shining as brightly as the war medals attached to his chest.

I'll miss his energy on Anzac Day, a day he felt great responsibility to represent his mates.

I'll miss getting my daughters ready in their footy jumpers to march alongside their "Old Pop".

People would yell "On ya Jack" and "Go Bombers".

He would save his biggest wave for State Governor Linda Dessau and her husband, Tony Howard - Essendon supporters who became friends.

 

 

 

 

 

When they invited Nan and Pop to Government House for tea, Tony told Pop it was a very casual affair and no need to get dressed up.

But Pop wore a three-piece suit. He was never underdressed.

Pop was the quintessential gentlemen. I never heard him swear or saw him get angry.

Even at 95, he would always remember people's names.

I can't bring myself to think about the horrors he would have endured at war. Imagining him in the jungle fighting is incomprehensible.

 

When Pop was in his 50s he and Nan went on a holiday to Japan.

They visited Hiroshima which he found very confronting.

Nan says seeing the other side of the war was a harrowing experience for Pop, but something "he had to get through".

Like so many of his generation, Pop was incredibly stoic.

 

 

 

 

Dad says he never saw Pop cry, except the day after my Mum, Chris, was killed in a car accident while driving home to Echuca from Shepparton. She was just 31.

Tragically the accident left Dad, Pop's son, a widow at just 32 with five heartbroken children to raise.

I was eight years old, Daniel was six, Rebecca four, Thomas two and Bridget was just a baby at three months.

I'm not sure how we would've survived if not for Pop and Nan's incredible support.

Pop didn't speak about war much, until Anzac Day. And then he was utterly brilliant.

He became a media darling and held an audience captive. Pop educated us, and to me that's his greatest legacy.

Of course, I was lucky enough to hear his stories my entire life.

I'd hang on every word as he would tell me how he climbed on his roof in Ascot Vale to watch Phar Lap win the 1930 Melbourne Cup.

And how, when he arrived home from war, there was a letter waiting for him from Essendon, inviting him to train with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Essendon legend Jack Jones during the war.
Essendon legend Jack Jones during the war.

 

Word had reached the Bombers about a star half-forward who had impressed in the jungle footy games played while soldiers waited for a boat to carry them home.

He missed games at Essendon after contracting malaria from his time in New Guinea.

He once fell on top of his younger brother chasing a footy over the boundary at the MCG back when fans were allowed to sit INSIDE the fence.

He was right next to John Coleman when the great full-forward did his knee, Coleman telling Pop "I've got it Jona" as he flew in the marking contest.

He was our link from football's past to the present, bringing to life stories from post war Australia to 2020.

 

Pop loved the Essendon Football Club and the club loved him.

He started volunteering at the club's Hall of Fame in 1996 and ran tours of his beloved Windy Hill.

I've never met someone who loved food as much as Pop.

Later this year the club will unveil its new cafe at Tullamarine, "The Jack Jones Cafe". I can think of no better tribute.

Pop died the week Australia was plunged into our national COVID lockdown.

Like it has for so many families, the pandemic robbed us of the chance to farewell Pop in the manner he so deserved.

He told Dad his one wish was for his grandchildren to wear his war medals at his funeral.

I loved him so much and will always feel his absence on Anzac Day. I know he'll be watching down - cheering for a Bombers win.

Miss you, Poppa Jack.

 

ANZAC DAY ON FOX FOOTY

Channel 504 on Foxtel from 3.05pm. Hosted by Garry Lyon, with Jonathan Brown, Nick Riewoldt, Kath Loughnan and Jon Ralph.

 

 

Originally published as Sarah Jones: The 'Gentleman Jack' I knew



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