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Compiled by Patricia & Arthur Jackson [ John's children ].
John Jackson, a Queensland grazier, amateur aviator and businessman, joined the RAAF as a pilot when war broke out in 1939 and served through a dramatic year with 3 Squadron in the Middle East.
Returning to Australia, he became an instructor until given
command of 75 Squadron. He was killed in action leading that squadron in
its heroic defence of Port Moresby in March and April of 1942.
(The modern-day Port Moresby International Airport is named 'Jacksons' in his honour.)
"A Lot to Fight For" is a fascinating collection of diary entries and letters from that time, edited by his two children (Patricia and Arthur), in which John records, in vivid and often humorous fashion, his daily experiences interspersed with personal anecdotes. He gives advice and encouragement to his family, tells of the rumours, blunders, and loss of mates, and expresses forthright opinions on his fellow and opposing pilots, the aircraft they flew, and the way he thinks the war should be fought.
This is one of the very few surviving accounts, written as it happened, since Air Force regulations forbade the keeping of diaries on active service, and letters from other service personnel were often thrown away after being read.
20/10/40 Sailed at last; and about time too. We are fed up with all the waiting and delays. Thousands lined the rooftops, the shore, and all the vantage points and the harbour was thronged with craft of every size and description. Cheers, yells and shouts, whistles and sirens blowing. the Queen Mary, berthed out in the middle of the harbour, slowly turned towards the Heads...
15/11/40 We went down through the Street of Cages [Bombay], where women sit in little rooms... fronting the sidewalk with two barred doors where they tout and offer themselves for sale... but how on earth any European could be enticed or tempted under such filthy conditions, God only knows.
21/11/40 I saw some filthy coolies carrying carcasses of goats or sheep aboard at Bombay, and they looked as if they had parked them on the wharf, as they were all-over grit and coal dust. Another morning, early, on the ship, I saw a carcass lying on the galley floor and natives stepping over it. I have cut meat off my diet this trip!
24/11/40 Sent a signal to RAF Eastern Command Cairo and later rang up; they know nothing about us whatsoever at HQ - funny. Of course it was Sunday and apparently there is no war on Sundays... I am also told HQ Cairo still observe the siesta period from 1pm to 5pm every day and that the place is a seething mass of Administration officers doing nothing - it's a great war.
I'm beginning to think the bloke who takes all the risks and does the actual fighting is a melon.
1/12/40 (Letter) You should see how we live... reminds me of my droving trips when we really used to rough it... All of my ideas of the Air Force living miles behind in comfortable quarters have been shattered.
3/12/40 This afternoon I took the law into my own hands and authorised myself a flight in a Lysander. They are bloody awful. I have never flown worse. They are as heavy as lead on the controls and remind me of a bullock wagon with wings.
8/12/40 Well, I'm a full-blown operational pilot. Had a 20-minute flight this morning and fired the front guns on a bush in the desert - great training - all the air gunnery I've done is practically nil.
28/12/40 (Letter) Well darling, had my first stoush on Boxing Day... We ran into about forty-odd fighters - there were eight of us. I got into a lot on my own, about 12, and had them round me like bees, and one bloke very quickly got on my tail. I did a few antics to get away. He must have been very close to me and had a great sight on me as he hit my plane all over the place - only providence saved me.
31/12/40 My engine cut out on the take-off... I know I couldn't avoid the wadi, so uttered some earnest prayers and providence again took charge. I was heading straight for the big fire tender, managed just to tip it with the starboard wing. next in line was a bell-tent placed over a dugout - just went clean through that lot, down the wadi bank, nosed over the vertical gracefully and stayed there, hanging head-down in the straps.
Two pictures of the John's accident in Gladiator K6142. Right: John surveys his work. [Photos: "Mac" Macinnis collection]
Advance into Libya:
7/1/41 I heard about a dago Brigadier in charge of a sector in Badia going over late one afternoon to surrender his troops, about 5,000-odd, to an Aussie Brigadier. The Aussie Brig. sent him home, saying to come back in the morning, and not too bloody early either.
24/1/41 Took delivery of six Hurricanes, and aren't they beauties! The new type of mottled blue, grey and purple camouflage - on the nose, leading edges of wings and front surfaces - looks most peculiar.
One of the Squadron's "new" Hurricanes being recovered after tipping over. ["Mac" Macinnis collection]
26/1/41 (Letter) We have a chap in our squadron, an airman, who has his wife over here - she is an AIF nurse... couldn't you come over as a nurse darling? And I could always be ill. It sounds just too easy.
16/2/41 I have lost my car. It appears the bloke I got it off pinched it from outside HQ in Benghazi... the owner happened to be visiting the drome and made a point of investigating every car that he saw like his. He spotted and positively identified it, even though I had painted it three different colours.
21/2/41 (Letter) I have an Italian POW for a batman, he looks after Prim and me very well... By means of signs and sketches on the wall, and pidgin Italian and English mixed with Arabic and a few well-chosen Aussie swear words, we manage to get him to understand quite well.
Giorgio RIZZO (left), a Prisoner of War batman to Squadron Leader John Francis JACKSON and 270447
Flying Officer Patrick "Prim" PRIMROSE. Giorgio was taken away from No.3 Squadron, RAAF in April 1941.
A 3SQN officer later came across Giorgio in a POW Camp in Egypt and took a photograph of him to pass
to SQNLDR Jackson. He holds a sign wishing John "Buona Fortuna" (good fortune). [ Jackson Collection, AWM.]
23/3/41 Had a devil of a row with the CO, about pilots not getting enough rest - was very sorry afterwards... I'm afraid I'm too critical... - have been running my own business for too long and forget I'm only a very junior officer in this show.
Frank Hurley photographed John reading a letter, but John was not mentioned in the official caption:
"BENINA AERODROME, LIBYA. 26 FEBRUARY 1941. SCENE OF GREAT DEVASTATION
AMONG THE ITALIAN AIRCRAFT THAT USED THE AERODROME AS A BASE . WHEN
TAKEN BY THE BRITISH, THIS AERODROME HAD 85 WRECKED ITALIAN PLANES ON IT."
The Squadron's First Retreat:
6/4/41 Up at dawn, cold, tired, dirty, and fed up. Why don't we face the issue and stop and do some fighting? The yarns we hear about other sections panicking and destroying their equipment are amazing - an incredible state of chaos seems to exist in some units and some of their leaders are mainly responsible. We found a dog biscuit and about one third of a cup of crook tea each, and breakfasted and flew off to El Gazala - Tmimi has been washed out and Gazala is further on. Arrived at Gazala early and threw ourselves down on the ground and tried to get some sleep - no shade, just blazing sun. Our convoy started to roll in and the cooks combined lunch and breakfast for us at about 11 a.m. I was too tired to attend and as Giorgio [Italian batman] had turned up, got him to open some of the tinned fruit from home.
A couple more lorries were smashed up last night - our transport drivers are just about done in. They have been driving all night and every night for days. We got a sitrep [situation report] from the army and they advised that Mort Edwards had been picked up uninjured but his plane had been destroyed, good news.
The CO decided to try and reorganise a bit today, no patrols thank goodness. We are all done in and dog-tired - have reached the stage of being nearly too tired to sleep. Communications are in a state of chaos - we can get no definite information re our army's movements and fights.
Three brigades, Scottish, English, and Australian, faced the Huns on the escarpment near Benina, the English being in the middle, and they just packed up and fled, leaving the Scots and Australians, who fought bitterly. But the Huns punched through where the English had retreated and surrounded them. There is an Aussie battalion somewhere right out in front and cut off, who won't give in and are fighting to the finish. I am sure if we had all stood firm and faced the issue with the Huns we would have held him, in spite of his superior numbers. The Aussie psychology is to do or die and we are no good at retreats. This is another Dunkirk, only on a smaller scale.
Joy of joys, we are all to have a swim this afternoon. We are only about three miles from Musso's Lake [Mediterranean Sea]. Last night our road convoy passed, between Derna and Tmimi, a string of burning transports that had been ground-strafed by the eight ME110s that attacked Derna yesterday. It appears that there were nine ME110s when they passed over Tmimi heading for Derna and they encountered three of our night bombers, Wimpeys [Wellingtons], who had a smack at them. I don't know what happened, but only eight ME110s got to Derna.
The whole Squadron had a marvellous swim and didn't we revel in it, we all feel new men and fit for anything but still very tired. We may have to shift again tomorrow, further back, so goodness knows what would have happened to us if we had gone back to Maraua as instructed by HQ, and goodness knows what has happened to 6 Squadron RAF who went back.
Heard tonight I'm to go hack for a rest with two others and to take crocks [Hurricanes unserviceable for operations] back to Aboukir for repair. I am now feeling as fit as a fiddle and didn't want to go and don't want to miss the next few days, which may turn out to be mighty interesting. The CO insists I go back for three days' clear rest. Tried to get my pay book or some cash but everything is so disorganised that I couldn't get either.
Got word that the Huns were nearly at Tmimi a few miles from here [Gazala], and we had to move all the transport immediately to the other side of Tobruk near Gambut, one of our old ALGs [Advanced Landing Grounds], so the poor troops packed up and moved off. We slept under the stars again. I heard tonight that a small German patrol had been captured near Acroma, between here and Tobruk, and one of Germans was in a British uniform. They found out he had spent the night in Tobruk picking up information. I hope they shot him and not just kissed him and interned him, as they now seem to do. Heard also that a German recce kite flew over El Adem today and a few minutes later they saw a huge cloud of black smoke ~ up in the west and went out and found a crew of six (including a German count) standing by the aircraft, but they wouldn't say what had happened. They are always arrogant and insolent and won't talk. They are exceedingly well-drilled in security and we don't get much information out of them.
I heard today that an Indian battalion has brought in the news that the Huns are approaching Mechili in great force. They have done the same sort of flanking tactics across from Agedabia to Mechili that we did from Tobruk and Mechili to Ghemines and Soluch, to cut off Benghazi. Looks as if they will get into Tobruk now and cut off a lot of our army, which appears to be scattered hell west and crooked. The Huns have moved with lightning rapidity. The Indians have already had a few clashes with their leading scout parties and a few Hun patrols are near El Adem today. Some terrific blundering has permitted our army forces to become so isolated and scattered - somebody will pay heavily for this blundering. It's rumoured that General O'Connor is missing - cut off somewhere. Also, the army unit that picked up Mort Edwards has been captured by the Huns - poor old Mort. I'm pretty sure Duncan has shared the same fate [he was killed in action on 5 April].
7/4/41 Our aircraft are to operate from Gazala this morning, up to 10 am. A big battle is expected at Mechili and we are to do an open patrol over the area all day, landing after 10 am back on the other side of Tobruk to refuel. Prim is remaining with the ground party as usual - he will end up being captured, most likely.
I pushed off for Aboukir and got as far as Matruh and landed there (with a flat tyre) in a raging dust storm to refuel. No equipment available at Matruh so stayed the night in an English transit camp. The English are queer birds: when we first came into the desert we used Egyptian stamps and when we crossed into Libya we were issued with English stamps, and then when we got to Benina we could only get Aussie stamps, so I put those on a parcel to send to you, Betty, but the English army post office wouldn't take it unless I put on English stamps - marvellous cooperation! You would almost think they were fighting us. Again, at Matruh, when I asked for accommodation at an English transit camp, the Major in charge said, "Oh, there is an Australian unit somewhere about, see them. We can't break a rule and accommodate Australians." Anyway, it turned out the Aussies had left, so I went back and eventually, with not very good grace, they put me up. Queer birds, one would almost think we are fighting different wars.
It appears that this morning our chaps went off on a patrol and, as arranged, the second patrol off had to land the other side of Tobruk at a ground we were to share with 73 Squadron. Lindsay Knowles couldn't make it for fuel and landed back at Gazala to find everybody had left, and he struck some army chaps who said the Huns were hot on their tracks and he had better burn his Hurricane and go with them, which he did. Meanwhile, our blokes had sent a truck back with a volunteer crew to refuel Lindsay at Gazala. They struck some army chaps who tried to stop them going any further. Anyway, they refused to be stopped and pushed on only to find a burnt-out Hurricane and Knowles gone and, what's more, no Huns!
15/4/41 ...It's funny, but after a spell the first patrol is rotten - I was on tenterhooks. When I left the Squadron at Gazala I was just at my prime, feeling as fit as a fiddle and enjoying every patrol. Strange how one's courage wanes.
18/4/41 ... 21 [German] dive-bombers arrived and gave the Tobruk Harbour a pasting - it was pretty to watch, seeing the dive-bombers taking advantage of two big cumulus clouds, diving out of one to attack in a vertical dive and then climbing to take cover in the other...
25/4/41 We then hopped in a gharry, which I drove, and ended up with a hostile crowd of gyppo policemen, pedestrians and the gharry-driver screaming and shouting in a traffic jam in a main square, all very picturesque in the blackout.
To Palestine / Battle of Syria against the Vichy French:
15/5/41 (Letter) I notice, packing these things, that some of them are stained! ...When I brought them I never had much of a look - you know how quick I am at buying things - but when looking at another in the shop I remember now pointing out to the shopkeeper that there was a stain on the garment, and he said, "Oh, that's off the girl who sews it," (or the machine, I forget which) and being a believing sort of bloke, I thought it sounded OK, and only now notice the stains on the ones I've bought. I suppose the girl wore them while making them or, more likely, they are second-hand. What a great shopper I am!
Lydda Palestine. 6 June 1941. Group of Australian and English Air Force Officers (RAAF & RAF) on the
verandah of the main building at Lydda Airport, at present being used as HQ for 3SQN, operating in Palestine.
[FRONT ROW, SEATED, LEFT TO RIGHT:] Bob GIBBES; Ed JACKSON;
Flying Officer T. H. "Tom" TRIMBLE (squatting with dog); Peter TURNBULL.
[REAR, SITTING ON WALL, LEFT TO RIGHT:] John JACKSON; SQNLDR J. C. LAVER (Medical Officer);
"Woof" ARTHUR; Captain BINNIE (Intelligence Officer. His left arm was shot off in WW1 by Lothar von Richthofen!);
FLTLT A. C. "Al" RAWLINSON; FLTLT J. R. "Jock" PERRIN; John DAVIDSON; Bill MACINNIS (Supply Officer);
F.O. W. E. JEWELL; Brian BRACEGIRDLE. [Negative by Damien PARER. AWM 008320]
24/6/41 "C" Flight went out and did an offensive patrol over Rayak but the blighters wouldn't accept the challenge and no combat occurred. It's very annoying sitting over a main enemy drome for an hour without being challenged!
25/6/41 Shortly afterwards, we intercepted three Potez 63 bombers and made short work of them. I brought the first down with the assistance of P/O Lane and saw the crew all bale out. The bomber crashed with a hell of an explosion and burst to pieces in flames. The crew all appeared to land safely, though one at least appeared wounded. I flew down and gave them a wave but they did not respond - evidently didn't see much humour in the situation.
27/6/41 We have now pranged 19 Tomahawks and the CO is furious as it is certainly a bad reflection on the Squadron's ability. There is nothing vicious or unusual about landing the Tomahawk, though I really think the undercarriages are a bit weak and this means that a bit more care is needed with landings.
1941-10. Western Desert. Tomahawk fighter of FLTLT John JACKSON (right), with two of his ground crew,
Leading Aircraftmen R. DUNNING and M. J. MORVELL. [NEGATIVE BY G. SILK - AWM 010176]
27/6/41 ...We are not allowed to refer to the French aircraft as French or Enemy, but must call them Vichy or Hostile - diplomatic kid-stakes.
13/7/41 We got some [fishing] bait from the Army - a case of Mills Bombs [hand grenades]. Alan Binnie, who has only one arm, threw the first and we reckoned he only dropped it over the side and there was a scatter to get down flat on the bottom of the boat.
9/9/41 Young X in my Flight, only a lad, got very full last night and played up in public, hitting our Wing Commander and another officer. Had a deuce of a time getting him to his room - had to knock him out to quieten him. ... I think he is losing his nerve and wants to be sent home. It's sticking out a mile that he doesn't want to face operations again.
18/9/41 Every few days, we manage to get down to the beach, about ten miles away, for a swim. ...A lot of the army are camped in the same area and crowds of chaps are swimming and sunbaking all day, almost like an Aussie seaside resort except there are no bright colours or feminine attractions, and most of the chaps don't use togs.
5/10/41 Hooray, hooray, hooray - I'm going home. ...It almost seems too wonderful to be true. I'll spend the time between now and and the boat sailing just jumping with joy - it's wonderful.
16/10/41 Results lately have not been so good. The Hun has been getting more of our fighters than we are getting of his. ...He won't fight, just dives in at high speed, opens fire at 1000 yards and climbs away out of range.
...We can't get near him in a climb or dive.
[This refers to the superior German Bf109F fighter.]
3SQN groundcrew farewell John before his return to Australia. [ Jackson Collection, AWM.]
On the Way Home:
2/11/41 There is a Jap ship leaving [Bombay] tomorrow carrying all the Jap nationals from India. ...Believe 500 are also leaving from Singapore. Looks as if they are nearly ready to declare war.
After the Fall of Singapore and the Bombing of Darwin:
20/2/42 (Letter) Am pleased to hear that the Home Guard is progressing - they will need to put a bit more energy into it when they are fighting the Japs, which I'm afraid won't be very long now. I think I will probably bring you all back [from Queensland] ...and get you established in Victoria. ...Just heard there is another raid on Darwin... this will wake a few more up.
28/2/42 (Letter) I have written to John today to see if it's possible to arrange passage ... to America [for John's wife and children]. It may only be an old sailing ship, but I honestly think the risk of getting there a much less risk than remaining and being subjected to a fate worse than death at the hands of the rotten yellow Japanese swine. How do you like the idea? Anyway, like it or not, if it can be arranged, I'm packing you all off.
15/3/42 (Letter) I am looking forward to fighting again, especially Japanese swine, and we will lick them too. I reckon I can fight ten times as hard now that our shores are threatened.
On the Way to New Guinea
20/3/42 (Letter) Have been given 75 Squadron and acting rank of Squadron Leader, so am big stuff now, but by crikey have some worries. ...It's no joke starting a squadron off from scratch...
Port Moresby (Leading No.75 Squadron RAAF)
29/3/42 (Letter) Just a line darling. Never seem to have time to write these days, am flat out. Have seen a good lot of action since we arrived, practically every day. The boys have about five scalps [aerial victories] and about 12 aircraft destroyed on the ground and some damaged.
After being Shot Down; Evading Capture and Walking Back across the Mountains:
12/4/42 (Letter) Providence alone has saved me. My aircraft was shot to ribbons, the croc [a large crocodile in the water when he was swimming to shore] turned away and I have two wonderful boys [native guides]. Staggered on all day yesterday; towards the end climbing a mountain. I could only just stagger and the boys took turns pushing me...
Informal portrait of 493 Squadron Leader John Francis JACKSON, DFC, No.75 Squadron RAAF,
in Port Moresby after hiking from Busama to Lae, Papua New Guinea. During a solo reconnaissance
mission on 10 April 1942, SQNLDR Jackson was shot down by a Japanese Mitsubishi Zero into the sea
near Lae. Assisted by native villagers, he hiked for days through the jungle from Busama
to the Australian base at Wau, where he was flown to Port Moresby. He is photographed wearing
a "Mae West" life jacket and nursing a bandaged finger, the tip of which was grazed by a Japanese bullet.
[ Jackson Collection, AWM.]
Sixteen days later, on 28 April 1942, John was killed in action above Port Moresby, leading his squadron's five remaining airworthy Kittyhawks in the interception of a force of Japanese bombers and escorting Zero fighters.
Historians believe he may have been trying to obey impossible orders, deliberately staying high to dogfight the superior Japanese fighters.
The International Airport at Port Moresby is named "Jackson's" in his honour.
Book size: B5, 256 pages including maps, plus 31 pages of photos & extracts. Includes index. ISBN No.1-876194
Chapter Headings: Joining Up and Embarkation; Off to War; Waiting for Action; John's First Combat and the Big Push; Benina;
Retreat to Egypt; Palestine and Cyprus; The Syrian Campaign; Back to the Desert; Going Home; The New Enemy.
Appendices: John's notes on air fighting; 3 Squadron victories; a record of his last combat.
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