The Victoria Cross is well known as being the highest military decoration which can be awarded for valour in the face of the enemy. But the most valuable part of any VC is the story behind it and one of the most remarkable of all Royal Air Force VC stories now lives on in the minds of the next generation of Nuneaton Air Cadets.
On the 8th October Mr Philip Wilson, local historian and County Chairman of the Warwickshire Royal British Legion visited 121 ( Nuneaton ) Squadron to talk to the cadets about the history behind the Warwickshire Yeomanry and his work with the regiment's Warwick based museum.
Mr. Wilson's presentation on the history of the Warwickshire Yeomanry was extremely informative and well received by the cadets but of all the stories he had to tell of courage and valour he left the most amazing to the end.
It was the story of the VC awarded to Sergeant Norman Jackson, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, which understandably captured the imagination of the Air Cadets. And just to make the whole story even more exciting, Philip Wilson had Sergeant Jackson's medals with him, including the coveted VC.
Mr. Wilson told how on the night of 26 ~ 27 April 1944 , when 215 Lancasters and 11 Mosquitoes raided Schweinfurt . The pathfinding aircraft inaccurately marked the target, strong headwinds upset the bombing schedule and enemy fighters incessantly attacked the bombers. Sergeant Norman Jackson RAFVR was a Lancaster flight engineer with 106 Squadron.
As Philip Wilson read out the citation published in the London Gazette on 26th October 1945 the room fell silent as everyone listened intently to the high drama of the account of Sergeant Norman Jackson's exploit, which led to the award of the VC.
In recognition of most conspicuous bravery. This airman was the flight engineer in a Lancaster bomber detailed to attack Schweinfurt on the night of 26th April 1944 . Bombs were dropped successfully and the aircraft was climbing out of the target area. Suddenly it was attacked by a fighter at about 20,000 feet. The captain took evading action at once but the enemy secured many hits. A fire started near a petrol tank on the upper surface of the starboard wing, between the fuselage and the inner engine. Sergeant Jackson was thrown to the floor during the engagement. Wounds which he received from shell splinters in the right leg and shoulder were probably sustained at that time. Recovering himself, he remarked that he could deal with the fire on the wing and obtained his captain's permission to try to put out the flames.
Pushing a hand fire-extinguisher into the top of his life-saving jacket and slipping on his parachute pack, Sergeant Jackson jettisoned the escape hatch above the pilot's head. He then started to climb out of the cockpit and back along the top of the fuselage to the starboard wing. Before he could leave the fuselage his parachute pack opened and the whole canopy and rigging lines spilled into the cockpit. Undeterred, Sergeant Jackson continued. The pilot, bomb aimer and navigator gathered the parachute together and held on to the rigging lines, paying them out as the airman crawled aft. Eventually he slipped and, falling from the fuselage to the starboard wing, grasped an air intake on the leading edge of the wing. He succeeded in clinging on but lost the extinguisher, which was blown away.
By this time, the fire had spread rapidly and Sergeant Jackson was involved. His face, hands and clothing were severely burnt. Unable to retain his hold, he was swept through the flames and over the trailing edge of the wing, dragging his parachute behind. When last seen it was only partly inflated and was burning in a number of places.
Realising that the fire could not be controlled, the captain gave the order to abandon aircraft. Four of the remaining members of the crew landed safely. The captain and rear gunner have not been accounted for. Sergeant Jackson was unable to control his descent and landed heavily. He sustained a broken ankle, his right eye was closed through burns and his hands were useless. These injuries, together with the wounds received earlier, reduced him to a pitiable state. At daybreak he crawled to the nearest village, where he was taken prisoner. He bore the intense pain and discomfort of the journey to Dulag Luft with magnificent fortitude. After 10 months in hospital he made a good recovery, though his hands required further treatment and are only of limited use.
This airman's attempt to extinguish the fire and save the aircraft and crew from falling into enemy hands was an act of outstanding gallantry. To venture outside, when travelling at 200 miles an hour, at a great height and in intense cold, was an almost incredible feat. Had he succeeded in subduing the flames, there was little or no prospect of his regaining the cockpit. The spilling of his parachute and the risk of grave damage to its canopy reduced his chances of survival to a minimum. By his ready willingness to face these dangers he set an example of self-sacrifice which will ever be remembered.
Mr. Wilson then went on to explain how the Lancaster 's captain, Flying Officer F. Mifflin, and the rear gunner were killed in the crash, the others spent the rest of the war as prisoners. Sergeant Jackson's astonishing experience did not become known until after the war when the members of the Lancaster 's crew were repatriated. Sergeant Jackson had said nothing about his actions but the navigator, Flight Lieutenant F. Higgins, and the other surviving members of his crew unanimously recommended him for the award of the VC.
Norman Jackson was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the 13th November 1945. Norman Jackson VC died in March 1994 and is buried in the Percy Road Cemetery , Twickenham, Middlesex.
Flight Lieutenant Paul Hincks RAFVR(T) of 121 ( Nuneaton ) Squadron said, “Sergeant Norman Jackson's exploit may have been the most amazing of the war and certainly it was the most unusual I've ever heard. The high drama of his selfless valour still has the power to capture the imagination. Thanks to historians like Philip Wilson the story of Sergeant Norman Jackson VC still lives on in the minds of the next generation of air minded young people”.
Sergeant Norman Jackson 's Medals
- Victoria Cross
- 1939-45 Star
- Air Crew Europe Star
- Italy Star
- Defence Medal ( 1939-45 )
- War Medal ( 1939-45 )
- Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
- Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1977 )