RECKLESS is based on a story written by Christine Dodd from the Deniliquin Creative Writers Group. It was narrated by Damien Johnston and Spencer McGill and produced by The Shack Studios, Deniliquin.
The story was inspired by the experiences of Australia’s youngest ever Victoria Cross recipient, John William Alexander Jackson VC from Gunbar during WW1.
The Passing Out Parade was supported by the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary Arts and Culture Fund and was coordinated by South West Arts in partnership with South West Music Regional Conservatorium and Outback Theatre for Young People.
By Christine Dodd
Mum died when I was eight. Me and my five sisters and two brothers went and lived with our Grandparents.
There were only four houses in Gunbar, about 80 kilometres from Hay, when I lived there. Showing a carefree disregard for danger, no-one was surprised when I put my age up by 12 months just so I could enlist in the war. I was given a couple of months of basic training before leaving for Egypt.
I soon learnt the overwhelming truth about war, as the conflict took lives, and injured 2,500 young Australian soldiers. It not only destroys the land, it also crush’s a man’s soul. By October the conditions at Gallipoli were so bad over a third of us Australians were seriously ill. Here in Gallipoli on October 3 1915, I was hospitalised suffering from diarrhoea and a problem with my teeth. The end result was I contracted typhoid and was taken by the hospital ship ‘Assaye’ to a hospital in Malta. I was told I was too sick for further service and was to be sent back to Australia.
I had different ideas.
Despite the fact that on 7th January 1916 as the ship ‘Esquibo’ was passing through Cairo on the way back to Australia, I declared myself to be fit enough to rejoin my battalion.
On April 10th, I was waiting on the front lines in France in a lead up to the battle of Somme when orders were given that as many raids as possible were to be carried out on enemy positions. At midnight of 25/26th June I voluntarily engaged in one of these operations acting as scout for a party that consisted of 82 officers and men, at this point we carried out an assault on the forward trenches of the 231 Prussian Reserve Infantry Regiment. It took five minutes for the engineers to blow up two bomb stores while the remainder of men attacked the enemy trenches.
The purpose of this raid was to bring back as many prisoners for interrogation as possible. The barrage of enemy shells and machine gun fire was fierce, but I still managed to capture one of the Prussian soldiers and bring him back across the 400 metre of no-man’s-land. I didn’t like the idea of leaving any of our wounded out there so despite the intensifying bombardment where I felt every bullet or shell would find me; I made it my duty to rescue as many of these men as I could. I went back across enemy territory many times before being injured. On the second mission I was assisting Sergeant Camden of the 19th battalion to bring in a seriously wounded, Private Robinson when a blast from an exploding shell inflicted further damage to Robinson and rendering Camden unconscious; it also blew my right arm off below the elbow.
Luckily I made it back behind my own lines where an officer making use of a stick and a piece of string for a tourniquet stopped the bleeding before I went back to bring in more of the wounded.
When all those boy’s had been brought in I was sent board the hospital ship ‘St Patrick’ sailing from Boulogne France to England where on June 30 at the London General Hospital, doctors amputated the rest of my arm.
Just after my 19th birthday I was driven to Buckingham Palace where I was awarded the Victoria Cross from King George the fifth. I was especially pleased when it was announced I, John William “Billy” Jackson was the youngest Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross on the Western Front.
After the war I was lucky enough to start a family. Nevertheless I rejoined the army in September 1939 when the Second World War was announced. In later years I became Commissionaire at the Melbourne Town Hall where I’m still known as the youngest Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross.