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John William Jackson (1897–1959)

by R. Sutton

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William Jackson, c.1916

William Jackson, c.1916

Australian War Memorial, P01992.001

John William Alexander Jackson (1897-1959), soldier, hotelkeeper, farmer and clerk, was born on 13 September 1897 at Gunbar near Hay, New South Wales, son of John Jackson, labourer, and his wife Adelaide Ann, née McFarlane. He worked for William Gibson of Carlowrie before enlisting as a private in the 17th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, on 20 February 1915 and embarking in May. After training in Egypt the battalion landed at Gallipoli on 20 August and immediately fought in the battle for Hill 60. On 3 October Jackson was evacuated with dysentery and rejoined his unit on 8 March 1916 in Egypt. Shortly afterwards the battalion left for the Western Front and relieved the Northumberland Fusiliers at Bois Grenier, near Armentières, France, on 10 April.

An intensive training programme was arranged for a raid on enemy trenches; 18-year-old Jackson volunteered for the operation. On the night of 25-26 June the raiding party of 9 officers and 73 other ranks, under cover of artillery fire, assaulted the forward trenches of the 231st Prussian Reserve Infantry Regiment. Jackson was a member of the scout group which reconnoitred the approaches to the enemy positions. The raiding party moved out in the face of withering machine-gun fire. After the scout group had neutralized the enemy listening posts the raiders, supported by a box barrage, entered the enemy trenches, encountering only token resistance. Five minutes later the Australians withdrew under heavy shelling.

Jackson brought a prisoner back and returned to bring in a wounded man. Again he went out and with a sergeant was carrying in another man when his right arm was shattered by a bursting shell and the sergeant was rendered unconscious. He returned for help, disregarding his own condition, and went out again to help bring back the sergeant and the wounded man; one was recovered. For this act of courage he was immediately awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. This was cancelled, however, and he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his 'splendid example of pluck and determination'. The citation stated: 'his work has always been marked by the greatest coolness and bravery'.

Jackson was evacuated and his arm was amputated. He embarked for Australia on 4 May 1917 and was discharged on 15 September. Returning to Merriwa, he began dealing in horses and animal skins but in 1927 became licensee of the Figtree hotel in Wollongong.  Jackson then moved to Sydney in 1929 for employment. He had several jobs, including clerical work with the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage and Drainage Board. On 12 January 1932 he married a dressmaker, Ivy Muriel Alma Morris, at St Paul's Anglican Church, Kogarah; there was one daughter of the marriage which was dissolved in 1955. During World War II he served as an acting sergeant in Eastern Command Provost Company, 1941-42. In 1953 he moved to Melbourne and became commissionaire and inquiry attendant at the Melbourne Town Hall.

In 1956 Jackson visited England to attend Victoria Cross centenary celebrations. Survived by his daughter, he died of arteriosclerotic heart disease on 4 August 1959 at the Austin Hospital, Heidelberg, Melbourne, and was cremated. Jackson was the youngest Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross in World War I and his was the first V.C. to be awarded to a member of the A.I.F. in France.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The A.I.F. in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929)
  • K. W. McKenzie, The Story of the Seventeenth Battalion A.I.F. in the Great War 1914-1918 (Syd, 1946)
  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • London Gazette, 8, 22 Sept, 20 Oct 1916
  • Reveille (Sydney), Jan 1932, Feb 1933, Jan 1960, July 1964, Oct 1966
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 Aug 1959
  • war diary, 17th Battalion A.I.F., and records (Australian War Memorial)
  • Dept of Veterans' Affairs (Sydney) records
  • private information.

Citation details

R. Sutton, 'Jackson, John William (1897–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 5 March 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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