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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Jackson, Donald Robert (1915–1986)

by Michael O'Brien

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Donald Robert Jackson (1915-1986), soldier, was born on 12 October 1915 at Sunningdale, Surrey, England, elder son of Robert Edward Jackson (1886-1948), army officer, and his wife Edith Marguerite, née Vautin. Robert had been born on 1 January 1886 at Crows Nest, Queensland. In 1907 he was commissioned in the Commonwealth Cadet Corps and in 1911 in the Permanent Military Forces, with which he served in Western Australia. Joining the Australian Imperial Force in November 1914, he embarked as adjutant of the 10th Light Horse Regiment. On 29 May 1915 he was wounded in action on Gallipoli. He convalesced in England then held staff appointments with the 3rd Division on the Western Front. For this work, he was appointed to the Légion d’honneur (1917), awarded the Distinguished Service Order (1918) and appointed CMG (1919).

Back in Australia in 1920, Jackson resumed his career in the permanent forces. He was appointed to lead Northern Command in May 1940 and promoted to substantive major general in July. Twelve months later he was removed to Western Command, and effectively from the chance of a fighting command. He believed that he was sidelined for having opposed the `Brisbane Line’ strategy while in Queensland. Early in 1942 he retired. His disappointment is recorded in Donald Jackson’s unpublished memoir held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. Robert Jackson died of pneumonia on 24 November 1948 at Heidelberg, Melbourne, and was cremated. His wife, and their daughter and two sons, survived him.

Donald was educated at Sydney Boys’ High School and entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory, in the small class of 1934, becoming head cadet in his final year. After graduation he was allocated to the infantry and posted to the Sydney University Regiment so that he could study at the university (BA, 1949). He was with Darwin Mobile Force when World War II broke out in 1939. Transferring to the AIF, he sailed for the Middle East as adjutant of the 2/1st Battalion with the rank of captain. In 1940-41 he performed well in the fighting in Libya. He participated in the Greek campaign (April 1941) as a staff officer on the headquarters of I Corps. When the evacuation began, he supervised the embarkation of the nursing staff. Following a rearguard action near Argos, he was captured but escaped the same afternoon. He collected a force of about two hundred Allied troops and, after a hazardous journey, arrived on Crete, from which he was evacuated to Palestine. His actions won him the DSO.

Appointed brigade major of the 24th Brigade in Syria, Jackson moved to Egypt in June 1942 for the operations that culminated in the battle of El Alamein in October-November. Next year he sailed for Australia, arriving in February. He was an assistant to the director of military intelligence at Advanced Land Headquarters, Brisbane, before becoming second-in-command of the 2/28th Battalion in July 1944. From June 1945 he fought in British North Borneo. In 1946-47 he commanded the 67th Battalion in Japan. His postwar appointments included director of infantry at Army Headquarters, Melbourne, and commandant of the Officer Cadet School, Portsea. He retired from the army in 1968 as a brigadier.

Jackson was a man of solid build and character. His fellow officers found him dour and taciturn, though he was a shrewd judge of the temperament of Australian soldiers. From 1968 he held management positions with Hammersley Iron Pty Ltd at Dampier, Western Australia. He was the first member and chairman (1975) of the Defence Forces Credit Union, Australian Capital Territory. In retirement he lived for a time in Fiji. On 25 January 1944 at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Southport, Queensland, he had married Peggie Elaine Taylor, a Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force security officer; the marriage was dissolved in 1947. He married Anita Mary Edith Urquhart on 6 December 1949 at St John’s Church of England, Toorak, Melbourne. Survived by his wife and their daughter and two sons, he died of myocardial infarction on 12 January 1986 in Canberra and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Long, To Benghazi (1952)
  • G. Long, Greece, Crete and Syria (1953)
  • G. Long, The Final Campaigns (1963)
  • B. Maughan, Tobruk and El Alamein (1966)
  • D. M. Horner, Crisis of Command (1978)
  • Donald Robert Jackson memoir (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Citation details

Michael O'Brien, 'Jackson, Donald Robert (1915–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 1 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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