NORMAN JACKSON was one of 10 Lancaster air crew awarded the Victoria Cross during the Second World War. It was only when the surviving members of his crew were repatriated at the end of the war that the full story of Jackson's incredible action while on a bombing sortie over Germany in April 1944 was disclosed.
Born in Ealing, west London, in 1919, Jackson was adopted by the Gunter family when he was only a few weeks old. On leaving school he qualified in engineering as a fitter and turner. When the war started, although he was married and in a reserved occupation, he volunteered for the RAF and joined up in October 1939. His first posting was in January 1941 to a Sunderland flying boat squadron based at Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Jackson applied to train as a flight engineer and returned to England in September 1942. In June 1943 he joined Sergeant (later Flying Officer) Fred Mifflin (pilot) and his crew.
On 20 July 1943 Jackson joined his first squadron, No 106 based at Syerston, in Nottinghamshire, flying Lancasters. The crew settled down well together and by mid-November had completed 14 sorties against targets in Germany. In late November the Squadron was moved to Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, to continue its part in the night air offensive.
On a trip to Munich on 24 April 1944 Jackson flew his 30th sortie, having flown an extra operation with another crew when its flight engineer was indisposed. The others had one operation to do to complete their tour and Jackson cheerfully agreed to do one more sortie to stay with his friends on 26 April.
The target was Schweinfurt and the crew were in good humour, particularly Jackson who had earlier received a telegram informing that his wife, Alma, had just given birth to their first son, Ian. The Lancaster reached the target safely, dropped their bombs successfully and turned home at about 20,000 feet. Not long after they set course for home they were attacked by a Focke-Wulf 190 which raked them with cannon fire, and the starboard inner engine of the Lancaster burst into flames. Jackson pushed the button on his panel to operate the engine's fire extinguisher, and the flames died down: but seconds later the fire flared up again.
Jackson realised the danger of the fire igniting the adjacent petrol tanks in the wing. He suggested climbing out on to the wing with a fire extinguisher and Mifflin, struggling to control the damaged aircraft, accepted this incredible suggestion. Jackson's plan was to don his parachute, pull the ripcord inside the fuselage and have the navigator and bomb-aimer hang on to the cords of the chute and pay them out as he made his way on to the wing. He put on his chute and pulled the ripcord, stuffed a fire extinguisher inside his Mae West, and opened the dinghy escape hatch. The engine was still burning fiercely and Jackson looked for a handhold on the wing and saw the leading edge air intake ahead of him. Flinging himself forward he managed to grip the intake and hold on. He aimed the extinguisher into the engine cowling and the flames began to die down.
Suddenly he heard the sound of cannon fire and felt sharp pains in his legs and back - the FW190 had returned. The shock loosened his grip on the extinguisher which fell away and the fire again blazed up and swept over Jackson as he lay there. He lost his grip and the slipstream flung him backwards. He was pulled to a halt just behind the rear turret, being dragged and twisted behind the falling aircraft, held by the cords of the parachute. The cords, already smouldering from the burning engine, were being let out hurriedly by the navigator and bomb-aimer inside the fuselage before they could bail out.
Once Jackson was free of the aircraft he started grabbing at the lines with his bare hands to extinguish the smouldering cords. The main canopy was slashed and torn, burn- holes riddled the silk, as he continued his rapid descent. He hit the ground fairly hard, some bushes partially breaking his fall but an ankle seemed to be broken, his right eye was closed through burns and his hands were useless. At daybreak he crawled to a village nearby and knocked on the door of a house. A man opened the door and bawled at him in German, then two girls came out pushing the man aside. They took him inside and bathed his wounds; they were nurses from the local hospital. The rest of the crew had been rounded up. The pilot and rear gunner had been killed but the others were all right and they were all taken to a police station.
After 10 months in hospital Jackson made a good recovery, though his hands required further treatment, and he was then taken to PoW camp from which was eventually freed by the Americans in 1945.
At the end of the war, when the surviving crew members were repatriated, the full story of Jackson's remarkable bravery was disclosed. He was awarded the Victoria Cross on 26 October 1945 and went to Buckingham Palace the following month to receive his cross, alongside another VC, the celebrated Group Captain Leonard Cheshire.
After the war Jackson worked as a salesman for Distillers (Haig whisky). He overcame the handicap of his permanently scarred hands and with a friend's help built a house for himself and his family at Hampton Hill, in south-west London.
I first met him in 1953 when we attended the film premiere of Appointment in London with three other VCs, Wing Commander Rab Learoyd VC, Grp Capt LH Trent VC, and Air Commodore HI Edwards VC; and we all sent a message to Gp Capt Cheshire who at that date was a patient in a Midhurst sanatorium.
We met regularly at the Victoria Cross / George Cross Association by annual reunions and he and his wife, Alma, and my wife, Violet, and I had a close relationship. He seldom if ever talked about his own action and was most unassuming. In fact he often reflected that he was more fortunate than many of his colleagues who either did not make it or found it difficult to adjust to normal life after the war.
Alma, his attractive wife, had a tragic stroke in the late Seventies which meant she was confined to a wheelchair, but he still made sure she shared in all the activities he attended - admirably aided by his caring family who often drove them to and from the reunions where they were welcomed by their friends in the association.
We were linked by the Lancaster and the fact that we had both been at Syerston at the same time. A painting of Lancasters, by Robert Taylor, depicted both our planes flying into the evening sky. There were several thousand signed prints of the picture sold to raise money for the RAF Benevolent Fund; and Jackson completed them and many other such signings in spite of the old injury to his hands.