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Colleagues: John Jackson – The Remittance Man


One day around 1958, Peter Maund, Deputy Head of News at GTV9, Melbourne, called me to say that he had a visitor who had come in with some film and would I like to see it.  I went down to a projection room to meet this man.  He was a dapper sort of fellow.  He was short but had black wavy hair.  I guessed he was in his mid forties.   He introduced himself as John Jackson.  He was English.

He said that he was a professional prospector who was paid by large companies to go off into the wilderness to explore for mineral deposits.

He had recently been in the Northern Territory and had come back with a few hundred feet of film.

We sat down to watch it, but could not believe our eyes.  There was not a scene longer than about ten or twelve frames, that is, half a second.  This was the first time that Jackson had seen the film, so he was as astonished as we were.

I asked him how this had happened and he said he didn’t know.  He had pressed the start button and then stopped.  While using the camera, he had assumed that he had got enough of a particular shot.   Here was a man, obviously otherwise intelligent and well-educated, who thought that you could press the start switch on a camera, almost immediately switch it off and get a useable piece of action.

The tragedy was that every frame was perfectly composed and exposed.  The actual scenes were wonderful but totally useless.

I told him that we could not use it at all.  He asked me where he went wrong because he did not fully understand what had happened himself.

I spent a long time telling what was wanted and that he should leave the camera on for, at least, five seconds and even more if he is following some action.  Many years later I was to come across this phenomenon again  where, fortunately, the scenes were a good deal longer.

Over  the next few months, I met up with him and I used to go to his home where I met his girl friend.  He told me something of his history.

John Jackson was not his real name, he never divulged what his real name was.  However, he originated in the South of England and was one of a well-to-do family.

He said that he had done something that had seriously upset his family and he was thrown out.  He became, for a while, a remittance man.

However, before all that, he was in the British Army in Italy.  He got captured and was held in a prison camp in the North of Italy.  Another of the prisoners was Freddie Brown who later became England cricket captain.  They were held at Camp PG21 at Chieti.

In September 1943, the Italian forces capitulated and, in the middle of the night, the prison guards abandoned PG21 in Chieti., and the Senior British Officer,  Colonel Marshall, threatened to court-martial any POW who attempted to leave the camp.  The inmates came close to mutiny.  He appointed his own squad of guards and ordered them to man the watchtowers. Many of the prisoners could not bring themselves to disobey a high ranking officer and for a week remained in camp,  guarded by British guards in an Italian POW camp.

A few days later the POWs awoke to find German soldiers everywhere. The prisoners were rounded up and marched to train stations; they were soon on their way to Germany to undergo a further eighteen months, in some cases under appalling conditions in POW camps in Germany and Poland. There can be few examples of utter despair on such a scale as that of the Allied POWs in Italy.

Jackson had befriended some Guardsmen and, before the arrival of the Germans, they and he decided to “go over the wall”.

Soon after their escape, they headed south hoping to cross into the Allied lines.  When they got close, they could see how hopeless it would be to try at that point.  The Guardsmen said that they were going to explore any weak link in the line and then try to go over.  It is quite possible that the Guardsmen made it through the front lines, six and a half thousand others made it. Jackson, however, was not game to try it.  He decided to go North where he might get to Switzerland.

The further he went North, the more unlikely it seemed that he could get into Switzerland, the frontier was guarded against all the Italians wishing to go there, apart from the odd German deserter.

He managed to get through the Brenner Pass and finally made his way to the Eastern Front.  Why it should have been easier to pass through the lines there, I don’t know, he didn’t say, but he made it.

He was taken and held by the Russians while they verified who he was.  In fact, he was a member of G2, Army Intelligence.  As a result, he was instructed to remain with the Russians and to work with them.  This he did until the end of the war.

You couldn’t make it up and I am sure he didn’t.

He had a spell in East Africa as a White Hunter, leading parties on Safari and Big Game Hunting.    He said that he was able to recognise any animal at night by the colour of its eyes.  Having been interested in shooting myself, albeit at targets, I asked him how he was able to take aim and get a shot away when suddenly confronted by a charging animal.  He said “You place the shot” which meant that you raised your rifle and pulled the trigger when the gun was, in his estimation, correctly aimed.  There was no time to look through a sight.  I asked if it was like throwing a dart at a dartboard.  He said “Exactly”.

Asp or Egytian Cobra - Naja haje - Taken at Lo...

Image via Wikipedia

He also told us about a problem he had with a snake that came into his bedroom.  It was under his pillow.  He recognised the snake and called out to his houseboy, telling him what snake it was.  The boy came in armed with a dustbin lid.  John made a hasty retreat while the houseboy took over.  The houseboy pushed his head forward offering a target for the snake.  A snake that spat venom towards the eyes of the victim.  This could have been an Egyptian Cobra (Naja Haje) which is found in much of Africa and also in Arabia.  It is probably the snake once known as the asp.  Cobras have a short, hollow poison fang in the front part of the upper jaw.  In some species the opening of the fang faces forward so that the cobra can actually spit poison at anything that disturbs it.  The fine spray of poison can blind an attacker at a range of up to six feet and it may be many days before sight is regained, if at all. As the snake spat, the houseboy moved the dustbin lid across to catch the venom.  He carried on doing this until the snake ran out of venom at which point he went forward, picked it up by the tail and took it outside to dispose of it.

The days of the White Hunter were coming to an end.  That he was a White Hunter was true, he showed me his licence from the Kenyan Colonial Government.

He then got involved in mining and it was during this period he learned something about prospecting.  As with a lot of mining, the yield was up and down, and more down than up.  It can be an expensive occupation.  Eventually he sold up his mine and moved to Australia.

He was able to convince a number of companies that he was able to prospect for them and he seemed to have been quite successful.

He told us about one of his, maybe apocryphal, stories.

He brought out a copy of The Australian Magazine which had an article about an old aborigine who had amputated his own leg at the knee.

Jack said that it was totally untrue and that he knew the truth.

He had been in the Northern Territory outback with a partner when they were attacked by a group of aborigines.  One of these was extremely menacing and was rushing towards them waving an axe.  John and his partner were armed with rifles and they both shot at the man at the same time.  They both hit him at the same time, on the same knee which resulted in the man losing his lower leg.  I bet the aborigine got paid well for his version of the story.  I often wondered why John Jackson didn’t make money out of his.

You have to believe all this, you couldn’t make it up.

John and I co-operated on a number of film projects over the next two years, but, after I returned to England, we lost touch.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2012.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For more articles in the Colleagues series click here.

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