“I was young and cocky and thought I could do anything. But I did no more than anyone else would do.”
Norman Jackson was born in Ealing on 8th April 1919. When he left school he qualified as an engineer. Although he was married and in a reserved occupation, on the outbreak of the 2nd World War in 1939 he volunteered for the RAF and trained as a Flight Engineer. On 20 July 1943 Warrant Officer Jackson joined his first squadron, No 106 based at Syerston, in Nottinghamshire, flying Lancaster bombers.
He and his new crew settled down well together and by mid-November had completed 14 sorties against targets in Germany. On a trip to Munich on 24 April 1944 Jackson completed his required tour of 30 sorties when he flew with another crew whose own flight engineer was unavailable. Two days later, on 26th April 1944, when his own crew were listed to complete their own tour of 30 sorties, Jackson cheerfully agreed to fly with them although there was no need for him to do so.
The target was Schweinfurt – home of the German wartime ball bearing industry – and the crew were in good humour. Their tour was nearly finished and Jackson had just received a telegram informing him that his wife, Alma, had given birth to their first son, Ian.
Jackson’s Lancaster reached the target safely and dropped its bombs. As they turned for home they were attacked by a Focke-Wulf 190 night fighter which raked the plane with cannon fire and peppered Jackson’s leg and shoulder with shell splinters. The starboard inner engine of the Lancaster also burst into flames. Jackson triggered the engine’s own internal extinguisher but the fire refused to go out. Realising the danger of the flames reaching the adjacent petrol tanks Jackson suggested climbing out on to the wing with a fire extinguisher. His pilot “Miff” Mifflin, struggling to control the damaged aircraft, agreed to Jackson’s incredible idea. Putting on his chute Jackson pulled the ripcord, handed his half opened parachute to the navigator and bomb aimer, stuffed a fire extinguisher inside his Mae West, opened the escape hatch above his head and, 20,000 feet above Germany, climbed out into the night and a 200mph slipstream. Clambering out onto the wing he managed to grip the intake on the blazing engine and hold on. He then emptied the extinguisher into the engine cowling and the flames began to die down. For a moment it looked as if they were going to make it home – but the Focke-Wulf hadn’t finished with them yet. Returning, it opened fire again, hitting the plane and wounding Jackson in the legs. Jackson dropped the extinguisher and, with his hands and face badly burnt, fell off the wing. As he twisted and tumbled in the slipstream, dangling on the cords of his parachute, Jackson’s crewmates inside the doomed aircraft struggled to release him. Eventually they succeeded and Jackson fell away from the plane into the darkness, his parachute torn and on fire.
As he fell rapidly towards the ground Jackson grabbed at the parachute cords with his bare hands in a futile attempt to extinguish the burning material. His parachute canopy in shreds, he hit the ground hard. His ankle seemed to be broken, his right eye was closed because of the burns on his face and his hands were useless. At daybreak he crawled to a nearby village and knocked on the door of a house. A man opened the door and, realising that he was a RAF flier, cursed him in German, “Terror Flieger!”. He was pushed aside by two young women – nurses at a local hospital – who took Jackson inside and bathed his wounds. The Gestapo then came and took him away. After 10 months in hospital Jackson made a good recovery, though his hands would require further treatment, and he was taken to a PoW camp. He was eventually freed by the Americans in 1945.
At the end of the war, when the 5 surviving members of Jackson’s crew were repatriated, the full story of Jackson’s remarkable bravery was disclosed. He was awarded the Victoria Cross on 26 October 1945 and on 13th November 1945 was invested with the medal at Buckingham Palace by King George VI.
After the war Jackson worked as a salesman for Haig whisky. He overcame the handicap of his permanently scarred hands and with a friend’s help built a house for himself, Alma and their 4 sons and 3 daughters at Hampton Hill. Norman Jackson died on 26th March 1994 – and is buried in Percy Road Cemetery in Twickenham.
After his death a friend wrote, “(Jackson) 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.”
Local hero commemorated
3.07.41pm BST (GMT +0100) Fri 17th Jul 2009
Local war hero, Norman Jackson VC was commemorated in the opening of the new Surestart Centre at Hampton Hill Junior School. The Centre is being named after him.
At a ceremony on Friday, with children and grandchildren of Norman Jackson, together with school governors and others, Vincent Cable MP formally opened the Centre and paid tribute to "a truly remarkable man. The Victoria Cross is awarded for remarkable acts of courage in wartime and Norman Jackson’s bravery in a Lancaster Bomber during a bombing raid was one of those. After his plane was attacked by fighters, he climbed out onto the wing to put out a fire and then fell to earth in a blazing parachute suffering massive injuries. After period in a prisoner of war camp he tried to escape.
“Ever since the 150th Anniversary of the Victoria Cross, I have been trying to find a way of commemorating Norman Jackson properly. The School came up with the idea of naming the Centre after him, which ensures that his courage will be remembered.”
— from Martyn Day