Attention Internet Explorer User

Your web browser has been identified as Internet Explorer .

In the coming months this site is going to be updated to improve security, accessibility and mobile experience. Older versions of Internet Explorer do not provide the functionality required for these changes and as such your browser will no longer be supported as of September 2020. If you require continued access to this site then you will need to install a different browser such as Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome.

Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Jackson, John Francis (1908–1942)

by David Wilson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

This is a shared entry with Leslie Douglas Jackson

John Francis Jackson (1908-1942), grazier, businessman and air force officer, and Leslie Douglas (1917-1980), businessman and air force officer, were born on 23 February 1908 at New Farm, Brisbane, and 24 February 1917 at Newmarket, eldest and fourth sons of Queensland-born parents William James Jackson (d.1935), merchant, and his wife Edith Annie, née Grayson. Both boys attended Brisbane Grammar School. Completing his education at Scots College, Warwick, John toured Europe with the Young Australia League. By 1927 he was working his property, Macwood, 60 miles (97 km) from St George. In 1933 he became the proprietor and manager of Western Queensland Motor Engineering Works, St George, and local representative of the New Zealand Loan & Mercantile Agency Co. Ltd. He learned to fly, bought a Klemm Swallow monoplane and in 1936 competed in the South Australian centenary air-race from Brisbane to Adelaide. That year he joined the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve. At Christ Church, North Adelaide, on 17 February 1938 he married with Anglican rites Elizabeth Helen Thompson.

Appointed pilot officer, R.A.A.F., on 2 October 1939, Jackson embarked for the Middle East in October 1940. He served with No.3 Squadron in Libya, Syria and Cyprus, flew 129 sorties and spent 206 hours in the air in Gladiators, Hurricanes and Tomahawks. Among his victories, he was credited with destroying three Junkers 87 dive-bombers on 18 February 1941 and another on 5 April; he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and mentioned in dispatches. Flight Lieutenant Jackson returned to Australia in November and joined No.75 Squadron at Townsville, Queensland, in March 1942.

On the 19th he assumed command as acting squadron leader and began moving the unit's Kittyhawks to Port Moresby which had been without fighter protection against Japanese air-attacks. Jackson's leadership and aggression inspired his men. Confronting superior forces, they intercepted enemy raiders and counter-attacked Japanese bases. During a solo reconnaissance on 10 April he was shot down into the sea off Lae and swam ashore. Two New Guineans helped him to avoid the Japanese and guided him on a gruelling, eight-day trek through the jungle to Bulolo. He was then carried to Wau whence he was flown to Port Moresby on 23 April.

'Old John' earned the affection and trust of all who served with him. His 'philosophy, like himself, was rugged, simple, not subject to debate, determined but as true as steel'. On 28 April 1942 he led five aircraft to intercept a Japanese strike. He was killed in the ensuing combat. Survived by his wife, daughter and son, he was buried in Bomana war cemetery. Jackson International Airport, Port Moresby, commemorates him.

On leaving school, Leslie worked briefly in the family business, J. Jackson & Co. Pty Ltd, before purchasing a garage and service station at Surat. He, too, became a pilot. Enlisting in the R.A.A.F. on 6 November 1939, he was commissioned in February 1940 and served with units in Darwin, Singapore and Brisbane. On 28 March 1942 he joined No.75 Squadron. In the defence of Port Moresby he was credited with destroying four enemy fighters and damaging two bombers. Leslie succeeded his brother in command on 29 April. In the battle of Milne Bay (August-September) the Kittyhawks of No.75 and No.76 squadrons played a decisive part in defeating a Japanese invasion force that had been sent with inadequate air support. Jackson accounted for one enemy fighter and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

After leaving the squadron in January 1943, he held staff appointments in Australia. Between December 1943 and November 1944 he led No.78 Wing (as acting wing commander from September 1944) in operations in New Guinea, New Britain and the Netherlands New Guinea. He was awarded a Bar to his D.F.C. for 'determined and successful attacks on enemy installations and shipping'. Having performed instructional duties in New South Wales, he commanded Air Defence Headquarters, Madang, New Guinea, from June 1945. He was demobilized on 8 February 1946 in Brisbane.

Jackson established Active Service Motors at Roma and bought Western Queensland Motors, St George, from John's widow. On 25 January 1947 at St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Southport, he married Cynthia Mary Cobb, née Molle (d.1974), a 27-year-old widow. Survived by his three sons, he died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 17 February 1980 at Southport and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Wilson, Jackson's Few (Canb, 1988)
  • D. Wilson, The Decisive Factor (Melb, 1991)
  • Nos 3, 21, 23 and 75 Squadrons, No 78 Wing, No 8 Operational Training Unit, unit history records (History Section, RAAF, Canberra)
  • E. Logan, family history (untitled manuscript, privately held).

Citation details

David Wilson, 'Jackson, John Francis (1908–1942)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020