Pte John William Alexander JACKSON V.C. – Australia’s Youngest Victoria Cross Recipient by Harry Willey

Billy Jackson a man awarded the British Empire’s highest award, not for his ability as a fighting man, but for his heroic act of compassion for his wounded comrades.
JACKSON, VC. Pte John William Alexander.

“You never know what virtues may come out of the most unsuspected places, nor what heroes may spring up out of the smallest village – Gunbar a little place of about four houses. Not even a blacksmith’s shop or a pub. My nephew had never even seen a train until he enlisted”
Mr. George Gale, Kemmis Street, Randwick at the Anzac Buffet, Sydney. (SMH. 6th July 1917.)

IMAGE LEFT: Photograph of John William Alexander JACKSON, showing his Victoria Cross pinned to his chest.  This photograph was supplied to the author of this story by Dorathea JACKSON (the only daughter of John William Alexander JACKSON V.C.)


Karl Reginald Cramp the Secretary of the Royal Australian Historical Society, in his 1919 book “Australian Winners of the Victoria Cross in the Great War 1914-1919”, correctly identified Billy Jackson VC as being the eldest son of John Jackson of Gunbar.
Gunbar historians have recorded that the seventeen year old John William Alexander Jackson was employed by Mr William Gibson, on “Carlowrie” Gunbar, when he left with the first men from the small setlement of only four houses to enlist. The embarkation roll for the 17th Battalion lists Jacksons address on the date of enrolment as Gunbar via Hay.
Confusion regarding Jackson’s birthplace, school and abode at the time of enlistment started with the publication of volume 111 of Dr Charles Bean, the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, ‘The AIF in France’ in 1929, a footnote references Jackson VC., as a farmer from Merriwa. Lionel Wigmore in ‘They Dared Mightily’ (1963), included this and other misleading information in his story on Jackson VC. As did David Harvey in ‘Monuments to Courage’ (1999) who also incorrectly states that Jackson has a Street in Albury, New South Wales named after him.

Newcastle and Hunter Valley papers, in Australia continued this theme in April 2000, publishing stories claiming that Pte John William Jackson VC., was the first man to enlist from the Hunter Valley to be honoured with a Victoria Cross., adding that Jackson attended Merriwa School and worked on his parent’s property at Merriwa before enlisting from there.  Controversy has also raged for fifty years regarding the medals awarded to Jackson. Five years after his death in 1959, the Director of the Australian War Memorial was still uncertain of his entitlements.

The Gunbar District Roll of Honour. The 1981 Register of the Victoria Cross and a cigarette card in a series produced by Sniders & Abrahams all record Jackson as being awarded both the VC., and DCM. On 16th October 1918 Jackson VC and other Army personnel spoke at a fund raising rally for ‘Dependents’ Day under a banner reading ‘Private Jackson V.C., D.C.M.’
Other publications have reported that he was also awarded a Military Medal. The certificate that accompanied the 1953 Coronation Medal issued to him by the Queen, referred to him as William Jackson, Esquire, V.C., M.M. On 11 November 2001, a plaque in honour of Jackson was unveiled on the steps of Balmain’s War Memorial reading: L/Cpl John William Alexander Jackson VC. DCM. MM.

IMAGE RIGHT: The correct war service medals of John William Alexander JACKSON.  From left to right is the Victoria Cross, 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, 1939-1945 War Medal, 1939-1945 Australia Service Medal, King George VI Coronation Medal and the Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal. This image was supplied to the author by Noble Numismatics circa 2008.

The story of the Seventeenth Battalion of the AIF, by Lieutenant-Colonel K. W. Mackenzie MC. correctly records that Jackson’s one and only award was the Victoria Cross. Despite this, these inaccuracies and others regarding Jackson’s service during both the First and Second World Wars continue to be perpetuated in various print media.

I was approached by Reg Fletcher MM., the past President of the Merriwa RSL club, and asked to research and write a story on the life of William Jackson VC, correctly identifying his service and his connection with the small Upper Hunter town of Merriwa. During the years that followed I have received assistance and encouragement from Jackson’s daughter Dorathea, who was also concerned at the many conflicting stories written about her father.  The well respected and award winning journalist John Gatfield writing for the January-February 2008 edition of “Reveille” the New South Wales RSL Magazine, produced a story on Australia’s Youngest VC., (Jackson) which repeated many of these inaccuracies.


For most conspicuous bravery. On the return from a successful raid, several members of the raiding party were seriously wounded in No Man’s Land by shell fire. Private Jackson got back safely and, after handing over a prisoner whom he had brought in, immediately went out again under a very heavy shell fire and assisted in bringing in a wounded man. He then went out again, and with a sergeant was bringing in another wounded man, when his arm was blown off by a shell and the sergeant was rendered unconscious. He then returned to our trenches, obtained assistance, and went out again to look for his two wounded comrades. He set a splendid example of pluck and determination. His work has always been marked by the greatest coolness and bravery.
(London Gazette: 9th September 1916.)


For conspicuous gallantry. After a successful raid he escorted back a prisoner and immediately returned to “No Man’s Land” under heavy fire and assisted in bringing in a wounded man. On going out again his arm was blown off by a shell while he was bringing in a second wounded man, but even after this he continued to assist in the rescue of other wounded. His work as a scout has always been marked by the greatest pluck.
(London Gazette: 22 September 1916.)


William ‘Bill’ Jackson was born John William Alexander Jackson on 13 September 1897 at “Glengower” Station near the small rural settlement of Gunbar, then a hamlet of four houses, 50 mile (80km) north of Hay in southern New South Wales. Bill was the fourth child and eldest son of twenty nine year old Paddington (Sydney) born farm labourer John Gale Jackson and his wife Adelaide Ann (McFarlane). Adelaide, was the eldest daughter of John and Elizabeth McFarlane (Marks) and had married John Jackson the son of William and Mary Jackson (Gale) in 1890 at “Seaton Farm”, the Gunbar home of her parents.

Bill was only eight years of age when his mother died on 15 November 1905. Two of Bill’s older sisters had predeceased their mother; Eliza (b 1891), died on 20 January 1894 and Alice M. E. (b 1893) died as the result of an accidental shooting on 29 June 1903. Following his mother’s death Bill and his three surviving sisters Elizabeth, Catherine and May and two brothers Albert and Leslie were cared for by their grand-parents John and Elizabeth McFarlane. The McFarlane’s had raised fourteen children of their own, in addition to the four children from John’s earlier marriage. Now following Adelaide’s death they brought their six grandchildren into their home while their father John continued to work at Gunbar Station.

John McFarlane, who was born in 1836 in Aberdeen, Scotland, had established a carrying business in Yass before moving to Gunbar where he carted wool from Gunbar to Sydney with teams of up to eighteen Clydesdale horses. Following the death of his first wife John married Elizabeth Marks, the midwife of the small settlement, in 1872.
Bill Jackson, “Jacko” to his mates, was well known for his strength and reckless daring during his teenage years, so it surprised nobody when he left his employer, Mr William Gibson, of “Carlowrie” on the 15 February 1915 and joined the first group of volunteers from Gunbar to enlist in the Army.


Entering the Liverpool training camp on 19 February 1915, #588 Private William Jackson was 17 years and five months of age when he swore his allegiance to the King and agreed to serve in the army for the duration of the war plus four months. Records show that he was 5 feet 10 inches tall (175cm), weighed 12 stone (76kg), he had a fair complexion with fair hair and grey eyes. His religious denomoination was Presbyterian.  Bill was assigned to ‘B’ Company of the 17th Battalion which, with the 18th, 19th and 20th Battalions made up the 5th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Division of the AIF.

The 17th embarked from Sydney onboard A32 HMAT ‘Themistocles’ for training at Heliopolis, Egypt on 12 May 1915 disembarking at Cairo on 12 June, Bill found the town full of Australians who had been wounded at Gallipoli waiting either to be returned to Gallipoli or invalided home to Australia. He described the camp at Heliopolis, north west of Cairo, as ‘Hot, dirty and nothing but sand and the advanced training as a good deal harder than the training he had done in Australia.’

IMAGE LEFT: Colour patch of the 17th Infantry Battalion, AIF of the 5th Brigade. The colour patch consists of a diamond shape divided across the centre with the colours being black over green.

The daily routine was, rise at 5am for a cup of tea before a three hour training session, then after a break for breakfast, a three hour lecture before a midday meal and a rest. Training resumed at 4.30pm and continued till the evening meal at 7pm. Following their meal they were assigned to digging trenches. In August, Bill was detailed for special duty in Alexandria before he sailed for Gallipoli, where he landed on 19 August. His introduction to the fighting on Gallipoli occurred on 27 August when, led by the Commander of the Anzac troops Major-General William Riddell Birdwood, the 17th took part in the final assault on Hill 60 a strategically important Turkish position to the north of Kaiajik Aghyl that overlooked the Australian’s position and had a plentiful supply of water. Unable to make any headway against the battery of machine-guns that confronted them, the Australians withdrew leaving their dead and wounded. Twelve stretcher bearers from the 5th Field Ambulance led by Captain Savage went forward in bright moonlight for two nights to within feet of the enemy trenches and succcesfully recued more than 30 of the wounded. The assaults on Hill 60 had cost the Australians 2,500 casualties.

IMAGE RIGHT: A photograph showing Hill 60 in the distance, taken from Bauchop’s Hill during August 2011.  Whilst it is difficult to identify Hill 60 in this image, this picture clearly shows the panoramic view over the Suvla area which would offer a clear field of fire and observation for artillery if the northern face of this feature was held by the Allies. Image courtesy of Gallipoli Historical Tours.

Following the August offensives, the 17th moved to Quinns Post, the most exposed position in the Anzac line. Conditions on the peninsular deteriated with increasing shortages of food and water, the spread of disease and the fact that many of the Australians were still wearing the same clothes they landed in as rain and snow began to fall.

IMAGE LEFT: The rear of Quinn’s Post as it exists today.  Whilst it is difficult to imagine what this post looked like during 1915, if you follow the skyline from the left of the image, you will notice that the land falls away to the right at a 45 degree angle, forming a gully in the centre of the photograph.  It was this gully which housed the terraces and offered some limited protection from Turkish fire eminating from Baby 700 and The Chessboard.  Having trouble interpreting this explanation?  Please feel free to email Gary Traynor at for a detailed explanation. Image courtesy of Gallipoli Historical Tours.

With a third of the Australian troops, now sick with dysentery, diarrhoea, typhoid, jaundice or influenza. Bill who had been unable to eat the daily issue of hard biscuits due to his poor teeth. Was admitted to a casualty clearing station with diarrhoea. On 3 October, now suffering from enteric fever (Typhoid) he was placed onboard HS Assaye for transit to Malta. Bill spent three months in St Patrick’s Hospital at Valetta before classified ‘unfit for further service’, he was taken onboard the 8,489 ton H S Essequibo on the 7 January 1916 to be returned to Egypt for transit to Australia. Three days out from Malta Bill, reported ill with dysentery and was admitted to the 1st Auxiliary Hospital at Cairo on 11 January.

His father was notified that he had left Malta and was returning to Australia. On 15 February, 1916 declaring himself fit he left the hospital seeking his battalion, which he rejoined at Tel El Kebir on the 8th of March. Nine days later the 17th embarked from Alexandria for the six day voyage to Marselles. The 17th relieved the Northumberland Fusiliers in the ‘nursery sector’ at Armentieres for two weeks, then with the other battalions of the 5th Brigade, they relieved the 3rd Australian Brigade at a forward position in the eastern Armentieres sector.

As a prelude to the Battle of the Somme, the 5th Brigade received orders to harass the Germans with as many raids as possible between 20/30 June. Bill volunteered as a scout for the raids which were planned by the Brigade Commander Brigadier-General William Holmes.

At midnight on the 25 June Bill was with a group of 40 led by Major Travers, which with two similar groups led by Captain Keith Heritage, carried out raids against the trenches occupied by the 231st Prussian reserve infantry regiment south east of Bois Grenier.
Two of these parties were driven back by grenades, while Bill’s party succeeded in reaching their objective. Their engineers quickly blew up two bomb stores while the remainder of the party captured four prisoners for interrogation.
During the raid Bill had revealed the coolness and bravery mentioned in his citation. He captured a Prussian soldier and safely guided him back across the 400 yard no-man’s-land to his own lines. Then learning some of the party still lay in no-man’s-land wounded, he immediately went out to look for them saying “I don’t like the idea of leaving any wounded men out there”.

Despite the barrage of shells and machine gun fire he soon returned carrying one of his wounded comrades then, ignoring the intensified bombardment, immediatly set out again. Bill went to the aid of Sergeant Hugh Alison Camden of the 19th Battalion who was attempting to carry back his seriously wounded mate Pte Alfred Edward Robinson, hit by the blast of a shell Camden was rendered unconcous, Bill’s right arm was blown off and Robinson was again wounded.
Returning to his lines, Bill sought help from an officer who used a piece of string and a stick to apply a tourniquet to what remained of his arm. Saying “he didn’t feel much just a numbing sensation” he insisted on returning to no-man’s-land to search for Camden and Robinson. Seeing Camden and an unnamed soldier carrying Robinson he joined them as Camden collapsed, he and the other soldier then carried in Camden and Robinson, Bill then continued his search for more wounded for a half an hour until he had satisfied himself that all the wounded had been brought in. Only then, did he make his way to the aid station.
Enemy casualties during the raid were thirty killed and four captured. The Australian casualties were fourteen wounded including Pte Robinson who died of his wounds on 3 July. Captain Heritage was killed in action a month later.

Admitted to the 2nd Canadian Stationary Hospital, Bill was transferred to the Hospital Ship ‘St Patrick,’ which took him from Boulogne to England. On 30 June, at the 3rd London General Hospital, the stump of his right arm was removed. Three weeks later, he was transferred to the 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital situated in the grounds of ‘Harefield Park’, Middlesex.

The recommendation that Private John William Alexander Jackson be awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions came from Brigadier-General William Holmes, the Commander of the 5th Brigade. Holmes also praised Bill for his ability as a scout, both with the raiding party and his own battalion.

On 3 September, Bill’s nineteenth birthday, he was transferred to the No 2 Auxiliary Hospital at Southall. King George V’s approval of a Victoria Cross for Bill, was gazetted on 8 September. Bill spent six weeks in the amputees ward before being shuffled between the Queen Mary General Hospital and the 2nd Auxiliary Hospital.
Billy Jackson, the boy from Gunbar, was driven to Buckingham Palace on Saturday 18 November 1916 to be invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V. The first Victoria Cross awarded to an Australian on the Western Front. With Bill at Buckingham Palace was Lieutenant Albert Jacka VC who was presented with a Military Cross by the King. To this day Billy Jackson remains the youngest Australian to be awarded a Victoria Cross.
The King’s approval of a Distinguished Conduct Medal for Bill had been gazetted on 22 September 1916. This was cancelled on 21 October due to the higher award of the Victoria Cross being conferred on him. Sergeant Camden, was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The awarding of both a VC and a DCM to Jackson were promulgated in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette No. 184, on 14 December 1916. Then on 4 January 1917, the Department of Defence notified John Jackson of his son’s two decorations.
Released from Hospital on the 5 April, Bill was returned to Australia 4 May with 992 returning wounded servicemen aboard A32. HMAT “Themistocles”. Disembarking in Sydney on 4 July Bill was the first New South Wales, Victoria Cross recipient to return from the war.

Bill was the last of the 993 returned diggers to arrive at a reception held in their honour at the Anzac Buffet in the Domain. As he arrived a young lady in the crowd handed him a floral arrangement. Bill then surprised Miss Ada Reeve, ‘Anzac Ada’ a star of the Australian stage who was waiting to officially welcome him, by cheekily presenting her with the flowers he had received moments earlier. Hoisted onto the shoulders of his comrades, Bill was then carried to where members of his family were waiting to greet him.
Five days later the Mayor of Hay, Mr John Barnett, received a telegram from the State Recuiting Committee informing him that Pte Jackson VC was leaving Sydney on a recruiting tour and would leave the train at Carrathool for a visit to his home at Gunbar.
Deputy Mayor William Godfrey Butterworth and Waradgery Shire President Michael Rutledge then arranged for Pte Jackson VC., to alight from the train at Hay, where he could be welcomed before being conveyed by car to Gunbar.

The recuiting train encountered unexpected difficulties as the biggest industrial upheaval ever experienced in Australia began to take effect. This delayed its arrival at Hay till 26 July.
Pte Jackson VC., Sgt Camden DCM. and the recruiting party were met at the railway station by a large crowd before being conveyed to the Post Office square where they were officially welcomed. Mr Butterworth, in welcoming Jackson said “I have the greatest of pleasure in extending the welcome of the people of Hay”, then added “That while they did not want to deprive Gunbar of one iota of the glory, they were enjoying a degree of reflected glory due to the fact that Jackson had been repeatedly referred to as being from Gunbar near Hay”. Of Jackson’s deed, he said. “It was one of the incidents of this war, which so far as the district is concerned, will never be forgotten”.
Sgt Camden later told the crowd “Bill [Jackson] had gone out looking for him without his arm. Not looking for a VC, but looking for a cobber”.
Bill then visited Gunbar, where the local community offered to buy him a farm. He declined their offer, believing the loss of his arm would render him unable to work the land.
The railway strike, which had begun at the Randwick Rail and Tramway Workshop, expanded and two thirds of the staff of the NSW railways became involved. Despite this, Bill Jackson VC. was a speaker at recruiting drives and pro-conscription rallies throughout New South Wales for the next five months.
Forced to leave the train at Quirindi on Tuesday 14 August, Bill and the other members of the party travelled to Scone by car to attended a Civic reception given in their honour by the Mayor of Scone, Edward John Sherwood, before some visited the local schools.
The residents of Scone then took him by car to Muswellbrook. The strike brought an end to the recruiting tours and on 15 September and Bill was discharged from the AIF. On 4 November 1917 the Prime Minister, Billy Hughes opened his campain for the second referendum on conscription. Bill Jackson VC, assisted Hughes by touring New South Wales speaking in favour of the proposal. He re-visited Scone on Tuesday 4 December and speaking from the balcony of the Railway Hotel (now the Royal Hotel) urged the large gathering to vote “yes”. The second referendum, held on Thursday 20 December 1917 was lost by an even larger majority than the first, only Western Australia, Tasmania and the Federal Territories voting yes.

Apart from moral issues, many believed industry in Australia would shut down if the referendum was passed. As the large number of Australian troops being sent overseas would continued to rise. The Scone district was a prime example of this as over 500 men had enlisted from the district. Another soldier who spoke at these rallies was John Joseph Clasby a man Jackson later refered to as ‘The best pal I ever had”.


On 21 October 1918, Bill Jackson VC., marched in a procession through the streets of Sydney with 700 other returned servicemen, led by the Mounted Police and accompanied by a Military Band.

Although the DCM awarded to Bill Jackson VC. had been cancelled in the London Gazetter on 21 October 1916, it was the 14 April 1919 before the Base Records Office notified their pension department and John Jackson of the cancellation of the DCM. John Jackson still working on ‘Gunbar Station’, was asked to return the official notification he had received concerning the awarding of Bill’s DCM more than two years earlier. He replied that he had passed the notification on to Bill whose present address was unknown to him.
Lack of communications between Army Departments is evident here, as the Army was still sending Bill his pension to his address at “Yuletide”, Duke Street, Kensington.
On Armistice Day 1919, Bill Jackson VC., Albert Borella VC. MM, Bill Currey VC., Bill Dunstan VC., Arthur Hall VC., John Hamilton VC., George Howell VC.MM, George Ingram VC. MM, Reg Inwood VC., Albert Lowerson VC., Joe Maxwell VC. MC & bar, DCM, Walter Peeler VC., John Ryan VC., and Percy Storkey VC., attended a Dinner at the Hotel Australia as guests of The Hon Hugh Donald McIntosh, M.L.C.

Then on 20th March 1920, a guard of honour comprising of Bill Jackson VC and 13 other Australian World War 1 Victoria Cross recipients, Thomas Axford VC., MM, Maurice Buckley VC.,DCM, John Carroll VC., George Cartwright VC., Bill Currey VC., John Dwyer VC., John Hamilton VC., George Howell VC.MM, Lawrence McCarthy VC., Joe Maxwell VC. MC & bar, DCM, Walter Peeler VC., John Ryan VC., and John Whittle VC. DCM, rode through the streets of Melboure, in full uniform mounted on grey horses at the head of the St Patrick’s day march. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, His Grace Dr Daniel Mannix followed immediately behind the men in his car, Mannix who had opposed conscription during the war, believed the St Patricks Day procession would demonstrate to Australia, that Catholic Australians had been loyal to Australia’s cause during the war.
The march from St Patricks hall to the Exhibition building that consisted of 20,000 marchers, 6,000 of whom were returned soldiers and sailors, had been opposed by the Protestant Federation, the Loyal Orange Institute, the Loyalist league and other organisations. The Victorian Premier, Mr Lawson dismissed the objections saying that approval was entirely the responsibility of the Melbourne City Council. Co-incidentaly on the same day the Governor General of Australia hosted a gathering at which General Sir William Birdwood accompanied by Lady Birdwood presented medals and decorations to 300 returned diggers. While the pro-British newspapers, were quick to point out that four of the VCs including Jackson who participated in the St Patricks day march were not Catholics. Others believed it indicated general support for the Irish campaign to be free of British rule.

Maurice Buckley VC. DCM., had been a member of the Delegation that had successfully gained permission to hold the procession.  Bill moved to Merriwa early in 1920 and with Leslie (later Sir Leslie) Morshead, the former commander of the 33rd Battalion who was working as a Jackaroo (Stockman) at ‘Brindley Park’, joined the newly formed Merriwa Sub Branch of the ‘Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia’.
First living in Bettington Street, Bill moved to the Fitzroy Hotel and began buying and selling horses and animal skins, including possum skins, which at that time was illegal. Then joined by his father, he spent his spare time building a house in Flags Road using cement blocks.

In March 1927, HRH the Duke of York (the future King George V1) visited Sydney. Bill Jackson and ten other VCs, all residents of New South Wales, were invited to meet him in the grounds of Government House, Sydney. Following the function the Duke told a Sydney Mail reporter that ‘He had never seen so many VCs together’.
A month later, Lieutenant-General Sir John Monash GCMG. KCB. VD. hosted a ANZAC Dinner in Melbourne that was attended by twenty three Australian VCs who marched through the streets of Melbourne with 30,000 veterans in the ANZAC Day march. Following the march the VCs attended a function hosted by the Duke of York at the Exhibition building.

Bill left Merriwa in 1927 and was the licensee of the Figtree Hotel at Figtree, a suburb of Wollongong, for eighteen months, while his father remained in Merriwa.
In September 1929, while a patient in Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Bill was introduced to Ivy Muriel Alma Morris, by the patient in the next bed. Ivy was a dressmaker.

Bill attended a informal luncheon at Government House, Sydney on Armistice Day, when all fourteen NSW VCs lunched with the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Dudley de Chair and his wife. The Governor, a ex Navy man, requested no uniforms, badges or speeches preferring to join the men for after dinner cigars and coffee on the lawns of Government House.

In Melbourne for Armistice Day in 1930, Bill stayed at the Peoples Palace in King Street. While in Melbourne he applied for a copy of his discharge certificate that was destroyed when his home at Merriwa was burnt down in 1926. It was then that the Army belatedly issued Bill with his Victory Medal.

Bill and Ivy were inseperable after Bill returned from Melbourne. Bill supported John Clasby, a member of the Paddington-Woollahra Sub-branch of the RSL, who was standing for the seat of East Sydney in the Federal Elections to be held 19 December 1931. During the campaign Clasby’s political opponent had cast doubts on his claim that he was a returned serviceman. This brought instant support for Clasby from four VCs; Arthur Sullivan VC, George ‘Snowy’ Howell VC. MM, Henry Dalziel VC, and his [Clasby’s] mate of 16 years Billy Jackson VC.

Bill and Ivy postponed their marriage at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Kogarah until after the election as they wanted John to be best man. During the campaign John became seriously ill and was in hospital on polling day. Bill’s joy when John was elected was short lived as he was told that John was dying.

On Tuesday 12 January 1932, Bill arrived at the door of Ivy’s home and told Ivy and her mother that the Rev’d S. G. Best had agreed to marry them that evening. With no time to wait for Ivy’s step father, Bill showed that, even at 34 years of age, he was still a larrikin and a prankster when he took his cattle dog ‘Jackie’ to stand in as his best man. (When the Daily Telegraph, a Sydney newspaper, learnt of the wedding, they interviewed Bill and Ivy who had postponed their honeymoon due to John’s illness.)

John Joseph Clasby, who had been wounded and gassed in France, died three days after Bill and Ivy married, before being sworn in as M.H.R. for East Sydney.
Later in 1932, Bill and Ivy celebrated the birth of their daughter, Dorothea.
With the depression making it difficult to obtaining employment, Bill, worked as the Manager of a greengrocery, then as a clerk with the Metropolitan Water, Sewerage & Drainage Board.

In August 1935 while living at 91 St George Pde, Hurstville, Bill applied as a relative for the Returned Soldiers Badges of L/Cpl. Edmund Yule, No. 567 of the 1st A.L.H.Regiment and Pte. Thomas Holman, No. 1710 of the 17th Battalion, AIF, as keepsakes.


Bill Jackson VC., volunteered for service at Paddington on 31 March 1941. He served as Corporal/Acting Sergeant J.W.Jackson VC., with the Eastern Command Provost Company.
In December of 1941 he was interrogated regarding the wearing of the DCM ribbon. Producing the official notification his father had received in January 1917 confirming the award, he denied any knowledge of it’s cancellation. Bill stated that the Medal and the notification were in his possession and the award had been recorded in his WW1 pay book and his discharge papers.

In January 1942, when the Officer in Charge of the Base Records suggested he return his D.C.M., Bill replied “If I am not entitled to the medals I am wearing, somebody has slipped and slipped badly in issuing them to me.” Continuing Bill said “I will continue to wear my six medals,” (V.C., D.C.M., 1914/15 Star, the British War and Victory Medals and the 1937 King George VI Coronation Medal). Adding “I will apply for a discharge from the army and let the matter be decided in Court rather than surrender any of my medals.”
Discharged at his own request on 30 March 1942 he returned to his home at 54 Vine Street, Hurstville. (It appear’s that the Army relented following advice from the War Office in London who, while agreeing that the D.C.M., had been cancelled, advised that it had no knowledge of any steps ever having been officially taken to recover the medal. Under these circumstances they thought it undesirable to order Jackson to return the decoration.)
Less than three weeks later, Bill returned to the Army as Corporal J.W. Jackson VC, assigned to the 2nd Australian Labour Company.

In June, following the Japanese Submarine attack on Sydney Harbour and the offshore shelling of Sydney’s eastern suburbs, Bill sent Ivy and Dorothea to live in Merriwa. Dorothea attended the local school for three months until Bill was discharged at his own request on 14 September 1942. As Corporal Jackson VC. he had continued to sign all corrospondence W Jackson VC. DCM.

His service in World War 11 entitled him to wear a further two medals, the 1939/45 War Medal and the 1939/45 Australia Service Medal. In 1953, as the holder of the Victoria Cross, he recieved the Queen Elizabeth 11 Coronation Medal.


Returning to Sydney from a skin buying trip to Wollongong at 8.30pm on 5 October 1946, Bill was driving a motor lorry through fog and light rain at Waterfall, when he was involved in a four vehicle accident. Bill suffered only minor injuries, however two people were killed in the accident and Bill was charged with man-slaughter, driving in a dangerous manner and negligent driving.

He appeared before the Wollongong Court of Quarter Sessions charged with two counts of manslaughter on 13 May, 1947. Evidence revealed that Bill was driving a truck fitted in accordance with the restricted licence he had held for five months; this was the first accident he had been involved in during the thirty years he had been driving; and that due to the poor weather conditions all four drivers had been driving at 25mph. (40km).
The Judge, Judge Neild, a former member of the 17th Battalion, disclosing to the jury that he knew Bill’s reputation as a soldier and this was causing him some embarrassment during the trial. He directed them to return their verdict, not on anything that he had said but purely on the facts of the case. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty.
Following the break-up of his marriage, Bill moved to Melbourne in 1953 working as Commissionnaire and Inquiry Attendant at the Town Hall. In August a Civic Reception was held at the Town Hall for the newly appointed Australian Governor-General Sir William Slim. When Slim, who had been seriously wounded on Gallipoli, noticed that the lift driver was wearing the ribbon of a VC., he spoke at length to Bill, leaving the accompanying civic dignitaries and guests waiting.

During the 1954 Royal Tour, Bill was seated in The Official Stand at Fleet Steps, Farm Cove for the arrival of the Queen and Prince Phillip on 3rd February and the following night attended a State Dinner for the Royal couple that was held in David Jones Restaurant. Bill had been introduced to the Royal Couple when they visited the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park.

Bill then unfurled the Royal Standard as the Queen stepped from her car on arrival at the Melbourne Town Hall.  In 1956, Bill sailed with 34 other Australian VC recipients on the SS Orcades to England, to attend the Victoria Cross Centenary Celebrations in London on 25th/26th June fourty years to the day after his VC., action.

Bill was seriously ill during the voyage and on arrival in England was admitted to a London Hospital for six weeks, allowed out only to attend a garden party given by Queen Elizabeth, at Marlborough House, Pall Mall on 26th June, before he was flown home.
Recovering, he returned to work at the Melbourne Town Hall. On the 5 August 1959, he collapsed there and was taken to the Austin hospital in Heidleburg where he died from Arteriosclerotic Heart Disease. Bill had been living with his father at 68 Green Street, Ivanhoe and was a member of the Carlton Sub-branch of the RSL.
John William Alexander Jackson VC was given full Military Honours by the Southern Command at his funeral at Springvale Cemetery. He was cremated and his ashes placed in the Boronia Gardens of the cemetery.

The Member’s Bar in the Merriwa RSL Club is named the Jackson VC. Bar. Displayed near the bar is a framed photograph of William Jackson VC, DCM and a duplicate set of medals one of which is the DCM. On Saturday 4 October 2003, a Rest Area/Park situated on the Golden Highway at Gungal, 23 km south of Merriwa, was officially opened by the Mayor of Merriwa, Councillor Ean Cottle as ‘Private Jackson Park.’
In November 2005, Hay Historical Society presented a Portrait of William Jackson VC to the Hay War Memorial High School.

In June 2008, Pte John William Alexander Jackson VCs medals; Victoria Cross; 1914-15 Star; British War Medal 1914-18; Victory Medal 1914-1919; British War Medal 1939-45; Australian Service Medal 1939-45; Coronation Medal (GV1R) 1937 and Coronation Medal (E11R) 1953; were sold privately by Noble Numismatics for an undisclosed amount. Although it was believed the medals would be displayed in the Hall of Valour at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra they remain in a private collection.

© Harry Willey 2010


My sincere thanks to:-

William Jackson VC’s only daughter, Dorathea, Mr Ray Thorburn, Kiama, NSW, Mrs Robyn Howard, Mrs Caroline Merrylees and Mr Ian Beissel of Hay, Mrs Carol Douch. Merriwa Historical Society, Ex Corporal Reg Fletcher MM. Scone, Mr Bert Gedin, Birmingham, England, Mr M. Kelly, Banora Point, The National Archives of Australia and Doug and Richard Arman for their assistance while researching this story.

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About gary

Gary Traynor is the volunteer Administrator of the Militaria based website MEDALSGONEMISSING. The aim of this "NOT FOR PROFIT" website is to reunite families, with lost War Medals and other items of militaria. Anything from medals to items of uniform. What Gary refers to as their "lost heritage". He has been actively involved in the Militaria world and researching of Military History for well over 30 years. As a result, Gary also conducts valuations and offers advice on all items of militaria. He has acted as advisor to a number of television and Foxtel productions; including Sir Tony Robinson's "Tour of Duty" series which featured on the History Channel. Gary is a field historian and conducts tours to Gallipoli, The Western Front, Kokoda and many other major battle sites around the world. He was a member of the Australian Army Reserve (UNSWR & 4/3 RNSWR) and served for 23 years with the New South Wales Police Force. He is perhaps the only person who has been employed at the Australian War Memorial in all three capacities .... as a volunteer, part time and full time employee .... starting as a qualified tour guide, working in the public galleries as an Information Assistant and finally Assistant Curator in Military Heraldry & Technology. Medalsgonemissing is a website that will assist you in locating your family's lost war medals and other awards. If you have an ancestor who served in any of the British Commonwealth Armed Services at any time - and whose medals are lost/stolen or simply missing....then so long as the medals are out there - this site will help you to locate them. However the site also contains articles of interest in relation to Military History, War Memorials & Uniforms / kit. Please explore our website as there is sure to be something of interest to you.
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6 Responses to Pte John William Alexander JACKSON V.C. – Australia’s Youngest Victoria Cross Recipient by Harry Willey

  1. Graham St.John Willey says:

    I just wonder where Harry Willey’s family came from – England? Is he related to me?

  2. gary says:

    It is possible Graham as the surname ‘Willey’ is not a common one? I would be keen to hear back from you if you find anything out? Kind regards. Gary Traynor (Administrator)

  3. gail jackson says:

    Gail collins…jackson ..murwillumbah
    Thought Id let you know my son Ryan Jackson has joined army cadets and plans on being a soldier just like “uncle bill” wishes

  4. gary says:

    The best of “British” luck to you Ryan. The army cadets is a very noble organisation for a young lad to be involved in. No doubt, you are very proud of your family’s military history and it is great to see you carrying on a tradition. I wish you all the very best for the future. Kind regards …… Gary Traynor (Administrator)

  5. Harry – would you be interested in a couple of shots of the Tamworth Light Horse Memorial created by noted (But reasonably young) Tanya Bartlett from Newcastle. Our bronze Memorial was unveiled on the Beersheeba Charge weekend 2005 and stands in Bicentnnial Park Tamworth. Shoot back your emsil and I will send back some shots. It is an accurate reproduction of Light Horse and Trooper. David

  6. Harry Willey says:

    Graham St John Willey; My family came from Bristol, arriving in Australia 1880.
    David Evans Email
    To Ryan Jackson Hope my story was of interest.

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