b. 13/09/1897 Gunbar, Australia. d. 04/08/1959 Melbourne, Australia.
John William Alexander Jackson (1897-1959) or “Billy” as he was known to his family, was born on 13th September 1897 at “Glengower” Station, Gunbar, near Hay, New South Wales, Australia. His father was John Gale Jackson, who hailed from Sydney and was a farm labourer. His mother was Adelaide Ann nee McFarlane, whose father hailed from Aberdeen, Scotland. Billy’s parents married at Seaton Farm, Gunbar Station, New South Wales in 1890. Sadly, Billy’s mother died when he was eight. Billy had seven siblings, though two of his older sisters died aged 3 and 10.
Following the death of his mother, the children were cared for by their grandparents, John and Elizabeth McFarlane. Their father continued to work on Gunbar Station. Billy was then employed as a labourer by William Gibson of “Carlowrie”, New South Wales until February 1915.
He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force at Hay on 20th February 1915 and was posted to Liverpool, New South Wales. He embarked with B Company, 17th Battalion, AIF on HMAT Themistocles from Sydney on 12th May. He disembarked at Alexandria, Egypt and was stationed at Heliopolis until taking part in operations at Gallipoli from 20th August. He took part in the initial attack on Kalajik Aghyl (Hill 60) the following day. Illness and a problem with his teeth saw him evacuated to Malta in October 1915. He returned to his unit on 12th February at the Mouscar Garrison.
Billy embarked at Alexandria on 16th March, landing at Marseilles, France on 23rd March. By April, he was serving in the Armentieres area. On the night of 25th June, Jackson was acting as a scout for a party of forty soldiers, as they carried out an assault on the forward trenches of a Prussian infantry regiment, south-east of Bois Grenier (near Armentières). During the assault Jackson captured an enemy soldier and returned with him through no man's land. Prisoners were valued for the purpose of interrogation. On learning that some of his party had been hit in the intense shelling and gun-fire, Jackson returned to no man's land. He helped to bring in a wounded man, before going out again. While assisting Sergeant Camden to bring in the seriously wounded Private Robinson, a shell exploded nearby. The blast rendered Camden unconscious, blew off Jackson’s right arm above the elbow and inflicted further wounds to Robinson.
He was the youngest Australian recipient and the first VC Australian on the Western Front. He was originally recommended for the DCM and unusually it was gazetted on 22nd September, almost two weeks after the gazetting of the VC. The DCM was cancelled by a correction in the London Gazette on 20th October. The VC was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 18th November 1916.
Billy was admitted to 2nd Canadian Stationery Hospital and was evacuated aboard HMHS St Patrick from Boulogne to 3rd London General Hospital on 30th June. He was transferred to No 1 Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Harefield Park, Middlesex on 20th July where the upper part of his arm was amputated. He moved around several hospitals in his recuperation, before being discharged on 5th April 1917.
On 4th May, Billy embarked at Devonport aboard HMAT Themistocles and arrived in Sydney on 5th July. He visited Hay accompanied by Sergeant Camden DCM on 26th July. They were met at the station by a large crowd before being conveyed to the Post Office square. He was offered a farm property by the people of Gunbar during a visit, but had to decline because he did not feel able to handle a farm with one arm. He managed to build his own house in Flags Road. He became a dealer, buying and selling horses and skins and managed to buy a property in Merriwa.
Billy’s house burnt down in 1926 and he lost all his military documents. The military replaced them in 1930 and also sent him belatedly his Victory Medal. He left Merriwa and became licensee of the Figtree Hotel, Wollongong, New South Wales, for 18 months. He took part in the ANZAC Commemoration Service on 25th April 1927 at the Royal Exhibition Building, Melbourne in the presence of the Duke of York.
Billy married Ivy Muriel Alma Morris at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Kogarah, New South Wales on 12th January 1932. They had a daughter, Dorathea Anne Helen Jackson later that year. Billy enlisted again at Paddington, New South Wales at the outbreak of World War II and served as a corporal/acting sergeant. He was posted to Eastern Command Provost Company in March 1941. He discharged himself, but soon re-enlisted with the 2nd Australian Labour Company as a corporal, but opted for voluntary discharge in September 1942.
In 1946, he was managing a greengrocery business, selling fruit and vegetables from a stall in King Street, Sydney. He was also a clerk with the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage & Drainage Board in Sydney at some time. Returning from a skin buying trip to Wollongong on 5th October 1946, he was driving a truck through fog and light rain at Waterfall, south of Sydney when he was involved in a four vehicle accident. He suffered minor injuries, but two were killed and he was charged with manslaughter, driving in a dangerous manner and negligent driving. He appeared before Wollongong Court of Quarter Sessions on 13th May 1947. Billy was found not guilty.
He was appointed Commissionaire and Enquiry Attendant at Melbourne Town Hall on 1st June 1953. His duties involved driving dignitaries to civic receptions. On one occasion his passenger was the Governor General, Field Marshal Sir William Slim, who noticed the crimson VC ribbon. Billy’s marriage ended in divorce in 1955. Against his doctor’s advice, he sailed aboard RMS Orcades with 34 other Australian VCs to attend the 1956 VC Centenary Celebrations in London. He suffered a heart attack on the voyage and spent six weeks in hospital in England. He recovered and was able to attend a garden party at Marlborough House before flying back to Australia.
Billy was admitted to Austin Repatriation Hospital, Heidelberg, Melbourne suffering from cardiac failure and died there on 5th August 1959. He was cremated at Springvale Botanical Cemetery, Melbourne. His ashes were placed in Boronia House Gardens. In addition to the VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, War Medal 1939-45, Australia Service Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. The VC group was offered for sale by Bonham & Goodman in Sydney in November 2007 and by Noble Auctions on 8th-11th April 2008, but attracted no bids. The group was sold later to Barry Hibbard, a New South Wales coin collector, for $650,000. Its current location is not known.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA (LOAN).
BURIAL PLACE: SPRINGVALE CEMETERY, SPRINGVALE, AUSTRALIA. (ASHES INTERRED)
The National Memorial Arboretum (Thomas Stewart)
War Illustrated, 23rd September 1916