The Victoria Cross is the highest award for Gallantry that any British or Commonwealth Serviceman or woman can receive. It is always awarded first at any ceremony, and always the first medal worn. And with apologies to the Medal of Honour and the Iron Cross, there really is something special about that crimson ribbon and dark metal pattee cross. It has a history and a mystique all of its own. Go to a Museum where they have VC’s on show, and gaze through the gleaming glass at those hallowed medals, and try and argue that they are ‘just a lump of metal’.
Created in the Crimean War to recognise brave and heroic acts by all sailors, soldiers – and later airmen – regardless of class, rank or creed, in recent years it has become harder and harder to earn. This is shown by how many of them are awarded Posthumously, after the recipient has died in action. Of the two awarded for the Falklands War, both Sergeant Ian McKay and Lieutenant-Colonel H Jones were killed in Action. Corporal Bryan Budd was also killed winning his VC in Afghanistan. Only Private Johnson Beharry, in Iraq, has survived to receive his award in person in recent conflicts. And even then, he suffered terrible brain damage in the process. There are also countless stories of men being nominated for VC’s, but in the long process they were awarded a more minor medal.
It has occured to me more and more that although we are fully aware of some of the more famous VC winners – Guy Gibson, Leonard Cheshire, and of course the famous action at Rorkes Drift. But what of the hundreds of other recipients who did amazing things, but that we dont hear about?
So, starting now I’m going to take a periodic delve into the London Gazette’s records of Victoria Cross Citations, and look at some unsung holders of the Victoria Cross. This week we look at Flight Sergeant Norman Jackson.
Flight Sergeant Norman Jackson was the flight engineer in a Lancaster detailed to attack Schweinfurt on the night of 26th April, 1944. Suddenly it was attacked by a fighter at about 20,000 feet. A fire started near a petrol tank on the upper surface of the starboard wing, between the fuselage and the inner engine. Sergeant Jackson received shell splinters in the right leg and shoulder. 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. With a fire extinguisher and parachute, he 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 died. 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. 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.