‘Big Mac’ our most decorated soldier
John McNamara (known as Jack and nicknamed ‘Big Mac’) was born and raised in Yarrawonga to a well known and respected family. He was educated by the Sisters of Mercy at the Sacred Heart Primary School, Yarrawonga.
Jack joined the family company, John McNamara and Co. (Established 1881), Stock and Station Agents in Yarrawonga.
Jack was an outstanding citizen who contributed to community life in many ways. He was active in local sports, a talented footballer, and as a tennis player served as president of the tennis club.
As an energetic, community focused young man with a vision for the future, he was part of a small group of volunteers who felled trees in the Murray River Flats to create the open water of Lake Mulwala during the construction of Yarrawonga Weir; a project that has proved to be of immense value to the Yarrawonga-Mulwala Community
Jack is fondly remembered as a charismatic young man with a larger than life personality. A natural leader of men, he was tall, handsome, had a commanding presence and was especially popular with the young ladies of the district.
After joining the army Captain John McNamara MC died aged 34 when he and eight others in the 2/24th Battalion were ambushed by the Japanese near Lae in New Guinea in 1943.
When the news of his death came through, Yarrawonga came to a complete stand still and the businesses of Belmore St closed their doors and ceased trading for the day as a mark of respect.
Capt. McNamara had earned the Military Cross in 1942. “He was the most popular person in Yarrawonga, because of his personality, charisma, presence and good looks”.
The 2/24th Battalion's war history described Capt. McNamara as follows:
“The death of Jack McNamara, who was a legendary figure in our division, cast a cloud over the closing stages of the campaign. He was typical of the superb leaders who commanded in the field at this time, and whose unfailing courage, leadership and enthusiasm tempered with experience and skill played a great part in making Australia's jungle army such a formidable fighting machine.
“Captain McNamara was a born leader, a man of kindness, courage and riotous good humour, who inspired his men to encompass seemingly impossible tasks by his own total disregard of danger. ‘Big Mac' had always ordered that if he were killed in action he must be buried with his boots on. When his body was brought in his boots had been removed by the Japanese.
“This worried his company to such a degree that an unofficial patrol set out to recover them; they returned at dawn to quietly carry out their company commander's orders”.