MARCHING ON: Jacko Jackson, right, all set for Tuesday?s Anzac Day parade in Grafton. Photo: AMBER TOMS.
MARCHING ON: Jacko Jackson, right, all set for Tuesday?s Anzac Day parade in Grafton. Photo: AMBER TOMS.

Japs gave Jacko a mouthful of shrapnel

EXCLUSIVE

By IAN THOMSON

THERE are many reasons why the Clarence Valley's Jack Jackson will never forget the part he played in repelling the Japanese from our shores in World War Two.

One, of course, is the sheer horror of it all.

Another is the memory of the mates he lost while serving his country in New Guinea.

A third reason is physical.

To this day, Jack ? known to everyone as 'Jacko' ? is carrying a real piece of battle in his mouth.

The young soldier from Cowper was in a water-logged foxhole in Sanananda during fierce fighting on Boxing Day, 1942, when a chunk of Japanese shrapnel slammed into the right side of his face.

''There was blood everywhere,'' the 83-year-old says in his lounge room at home in Grafton.

''The medics thought my right jaw was smashed, so I was flown back to (Port) Moresby for treatment.''

It turns out that the shrapnel had actually pierced his cheek and knocked out a few teeth.

Jacko was quickly patched up and sent back to the fray.

Many years later, after he complained of a constant sore throat, X-rays revealed a piece of that enemy shrapnel had lodged itself in Jacko's tongue.

Doctors decided that any operation to remove the 5mm square piece of shrapnel would cause more problems than it solved.

So, 64 years on, Jacko Jackson still has the taste of war in his mouth.

Jack Jackson was born and educated at Cowper. He left school at 13 to help his dad William and mum Dorca run the family farm.

Several years later, war stories were filling the newspapers. It was at the age of 18 that Jack and lifelong mate Terry McLennan made a pledge.

''We didn't want to get involved in the fighting way over there in Europe,'' Jacko says.

''But we decided that if the war got close to home, we'd better do something about it.''

And when the Japanese war machine eventually set its sights on the Pacific and Australia, teenagers Jack and Terry became brothers in arms.

The 36th Battalion was on a recruiting drive throughout the Clarence Valley in 1942. It wanted 80 fit, young Valley men to bring the proud 36th up to full strength.

Jack and mate Terry signed on at Brushgrove. They were accepted and in no time found themselves in basic and brief training in the Hunter Valley.

Next stop, the New Guinea capital Port Moresby, before being pitch-forked into the raging battle at Sanananda on December 19, 1942.

Jack Jackson and Terry McLennan, like so many proud Australian young men before them, had partly signed up for an adventure. What they got, was a hell hole.

''We'd had no jungle warfare training at all,'' Jacko recalls. ''Apart from an extremely smart and savage enemy to contend with in dense jungle and limited vision, it was nothing to get swamped by six to 10 inches of rain in just one night. And then there were the leaches and the tropical diseases like malaria.''

The day before Jacko was wounded in the face, he and two mates huddled in a sodden foxhole and 'enjoyed' Christmas dinner.

They shared one can of bully beef and had a biscuit each. Sanananda eventually fell to the allies.

Jacko Jackson and the depleted 36th Battalion returned home to await their next mission.

The new theatre was the island of New Britain, where Jacko joined about 1000 other members of the battle-weary 36th to replace American marines in 1944.

The task of the now-hardened Aussie troops was to hunt down the Japanese invaders in long-range patrols. Sniper attacks and ambushes saw much more young Australian blood spilt in the jungle.

But the lines of communication had long since run out for the starving Japanese troops. They had little ammunition or food.

Testament to their hunger was the fact that the Japanese had eaten body parts of killed or captured allied soldiers.

When the 90,000 Japanese remaining on New Britain were rescued and taken home, Jacko Jackson came back to Australia, again, to await another posting with the 36th Battalion.

No more orders came his way. Peace had broken out and the guns fell silent.

''I will never forget that day,'' Jacko says. ''I'm sorry, but I can't describe the feeling. Everyone just went mad.''

Jacko Jackson, physically intact apart from a few missing teeth, a piece of shrapnel in his tongue and lingering malar- ia, returned to the Clarence Valley in 1947.

He cut cane for a while, moved to work at the sawmill in Dorrigo for a time and then answered his father's call to help out on the family farm at Cowper.

It was when he was being treated in Maclean Hospital for his sixth recurring bout of malaria, that Jacko Jackson felt the soothing hand of a young and comely nurse on his forehead.

Sparks flew and in 1949 the Brushgrove Uniting Church witnessed the marriage of Jack Jackson to Maclean's Roma Grebert.

They have been man and wife for 57 years. There are three children and two grandchildren.

Jack and Roma saw much of New South Wales because Jack was a foreman heavily involved in water-supply duties with the Public Works Department.

Jack retired in 1983 and brought Roma back to the Clarence Valley where they've been ever since. Loving life, and freedom, in Grafton.

Of the 80 young Clarence Valley men who went to war in New Guinea with the 36th Battalion, only five are still with us. Jacko, of course, Johnny Irons, Charlie Napper, Tiger Payne and Sunny Lang.

Jack, or Jacko, Jackson ? call him what you like because he doesn't mind ? was made a life member of the RSL in December last year.

Come Tuesday, he'll again be in Grafton's Anzac Day march, his hard-fought medals proudly pinned over his 83-year-old heart.

He served his country for more than four years, witnessing unimaginable atrocities in his fight for Australia's freedom.

Don't just reserve Anzac Day to pay your respects to Jacko Jackson. He and the thousands of others who covered themselves in glory for this country need to be applauded each and every day of the year.



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