Farmers make strong fighters

Farmers make strong fighters

The Victoria Cross.

The Victoria Cross.


PRIVATE Billy Jackson, his right arm dangling by a piece of skin, wasn't about to let his wounded mates be blown to bits by the vicious German artillery shell blasts ripping across no man's land.


PRIVATE William ("Billy") Jackson, badly dazed and his right arm dangling by a piece of skin, wasn't about to let his wounded mates be blown to bits by the vicious German artillery shell blasts ripping across no man's land.

Somehow he managed to scramble out of the Australian trenches after the medics had hastily tie a tourniquet and piece of stick to his mangled arm and headed for the spot where he had left Sergeant Hugh Camden and a badly wounded Private Alfred Robinson when an enemy shell burst nearby.

The blast had knocked Camden unconscious and almost severed Jackson's arm above the elbow.

Jackson, the kid drover from Gunbar near Hay (he was still 18), went looking for a wounded mate the morning of June 26, 1916, but instead ended up with the Victoria Cross (VC), our highest military honour for bravery.

His was the first VC awarded to an Australian on the Western Front during World War I and he remains our youngest recipient of the military's "medal of medals".

Jackson, who was born at Gunbar, near Hay, on September 13, 1897, enlisted in the 17th Battalion AIF in February, 1915, first seeing action on the Gallipoli Peninsula before being sent to the Western Front in March, 1916.

On the night of June 25-26 he had volunteered for a raiding party which attacked German trenches near Armentieres, France, and was returning across no-man's land (the area between the opposing trench lines) with a prisoner when they were suddenly hit by enemy artillery and machine gun fire.

He handed over his prisoner and immediately went back into no man's land to help a wounded man to safety. He then went out again and with Sergeant Camden was trying to rescue Private Robinson when they were hit by the shrapnel blast which smashed Jackson's arm which was later amputated.

Jackson's final act of bravery that day when he selflessly ignored his own horrific wounds to venture back into no-man's land and spent about half an hour looking for Camden (who survived and rescued Robinson who later died) initially won him the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) which was later upgraded to a VC. But he refused to hand back the DCM.

Like many VC winners, Jackson returned home to a life of relative obscurity (after the initial fanfare died down), first living and working around Merriwa for seven years before taking over a hotel at Wollongong for 18 months. He later worked in a variety of jobs in Sydney and Melbourne before his death in 1959.

Also hailing from the NSW bush was Australia's first VC winner, Neville Reginald Howse, an English-born doctor who was practising at Orange when he joined the NSW Medical Corps and sailed for South Africa in 1900 to serve in the Boer War.

On July 24, 1900, Captain Howse won the VC for riding through enemy bullets to help a wounded trumpeter during an attack by mounted soldiers near Vredefort.

Howse also distinguished himself during the First World War helping evacuate the wounded at Gallipoli during the bloody opening days of the campaign at great personal danger.

Many country-born soldiers were among the 61,000 Australians who died before the Germans were finally repulsed back to their borders at the end of 1918.

Among the fallen was Temporary Corporal Alexander Henry Buckley, a farmer from "Homebush", Armatree, who was awarded the VC posthumously after he was killed during fierce fighting on September 1-2, 1918, at Peronne, France.

Buckley, a member of the 54th Australian Infantry Battalion, and another man rushed a machine-gun nest, killing four Germans and capturing 22 others. He was later killed trying to overrun another machine-gun position.

And among the survivors was Nyngan district farmer and fellow member of the 54th battalion, Corporal Arthur Charles Hall, who was awarded a VC for similar heroic deeds against enemy machine gunners and for saving a seriously wounded comrade during the same action at Peronne as the allies rapidly pushed back the Germans with victory only weeks away.

After the war Hall farmed at "Gundooee", Coolabah, and died at Nyngan in 1978.

The story Farmers make strong fighters first appeared on Farm Online.


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