WARD'S WORLD: Norman Jackson - a proper hero
Say what you like about Lincolnshire, one thing that stands out in its history is the number of RAF bases which are still about but have now turned into museums relating to their roles played during and after WW2.
I found one quite by accident - I show my ignorance at this point - as I did not even know it existed. In this instance it was Metheringham airfield, just outside Metheringham village itself. As I was going elsewhere at the time, I made a note to go back there to visit it once I looked it up on the almighty internet.
It was a Sunday lunchtime when we arrived, parked up and made our way to the Visitor Centre to be greeted by two officials with welcoming smiles. We learned that it’s run by enthusiastic volunteers but despite being what some people might call small in size, it’s very big in background, with an amazing history that is both varied and fascinating.
There are basic refreshments available, such as drinks etc but there are numerous picnic tables and benches around on the grass and bearing in mind the meagre admission charged, it's amazing value considering the content on offer.
You cannot fail to come across the plaques which commemorate crew members who were stationed there who either perished in missions or conflicts during WW2 or those who survived the aftermath. It’s moving to read the various names and accounts of what these brave and unselfish people did.
Their ‘nine to five day job’ possibly meant a 50-50 chance of their surviving, never mind getting home and complaining about what the weather had been like.
One interesting point about the plaques is the fact that some remember those from other countries, such as Australia and the Commonwealth, who took part in defeating the enemy. Even to this day, family and relatives make the journey to Metheringham to pay their respects.
I started off by saying this airfield could be called small - perhaps today it may appear that way but when it was operational, it was quite vast, if the scale model in one of the exhibition halls is anything to go by. However, it’s quite large in its history, like many others in the ‘same line of work’.
Among the many people who served there was Sergeant Norman Jackson, awarded the Victoria Cross for outstanding bravery.
Norman Jackson is not a name that springs to mind when you think of heroic RAF personnel - household names such as Douglas Bader or Guy Gibson may spring to mind - but it’s when you read about why he was awarded this honour, it’s the stuff of fictional heroes such as Indiana Jones or James Bond, but in this instance, it was all very real.
He was aboard a Lancaster bomber, heading for home after a successful bombing raid over Germany on the 26th of April 1944, when his plane was hit by an enemy fighter which attacked several times, causing considerable damage.
Still flying, but with the fire dangerously close to a petrol tank in the starboard wing and despite having wounded legs from shell splinters, he asked permission from his pilot officer to go out on the wing with an extinguisher to try to put out the fire.
While this sounds absolutely insane, completely raving bonkers even - the sort of thing the average Indiana Jones or James Bond type would tackle film-wise in complete safety - this man was very much for real and went out on the cold, freezing wing of an aircraft travelling at an estimated 200 miles an hour, in complete darkness, armed with a small fire extinguisher. Crew members held on to his parachute lines that had come unravelled.
Sadly, he was unsuccessful, as the plane crashed, still ablaze. He fell to Earth with the half- remains of his parachute breaking his fall. He suffered serious injuries but the crew managed to bail out in the interim.
Jackson spent more than ten months in hospital but pulled through to eventually be awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry - truly an amazing man who obviously cared about his fellow crewmen with no thought of the modern Health and Safety (H & S or 'Hinder and Stifle') brigade we have today. He saw the job, then tried to do it.
In the modern day world of box-ticking, one can only image his reaction if he was asked to fill in a risk assessment form to cover this sort of action.
Perhaps without visiting this museum, I would not be even aware of Norman Jackson but I am glad I did go there and learn of his bravery and unselfish mindset. It makes you feel humble when you consider today’s world, where the word ‘hero’ applies to somebody who kicks a football into a goal net, paid thousands a week.
In an era of people with agendas, trying to airbrush our history - or at the very least trying to rewrite it to suit their motives - it's quite an eye-opener to visit such places to see that no-nonsense, real people 'did their bit’ when required.
It was nice to wander around the indoor exhibits and have a conducted tour of a non-flying Dakota aircraft by a qualified and informative guide who really knew his stuff. We were allowed to sit in the pilot’s seat as well! The usual ‘Do Not Touch’ signs seemed to be in either short supply or they just weren’t there.
These type of aircraft were constantly used to ferry the Allied wounded from the Normandy beaches following on from the invasion in June 1944 back to Metheringham before being sent to hospitals and care units but while the typical war films show the ‘shoot 'em up’ side of events, this is the other side of the coin - boring perhaps, but well documented at Metheringham.
It was an enjoyable time and a detachment of Air Cadets were ‘on duty’ to pay their respects with a two-minute silence at the site memorial.
It was a peaceful place to reflect on those wonderful people who gave their lives for us to be here today.