Gail's Gab: no glory in war as the story of Rutherglen man Thomas Jackson shows

When I was at school I was enthralled by the poetry of Wilfred Owen.

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Here was a man who experienced the real ravages of war and was able to articulate in words the horror and pain that those serving in the front line had to endure.

His Dulce et Decorum est condemnation of those who dared to suggest that it 'it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country' stands today as a searing testimony to the reality of the WWI and can be equally applied to all wars.

It was written in 1917 but should be reproduced, explained and taught in every school in the centenary year of the war which was supposed to end all wars but did nothing of the sort.

those who seek to glorify war in any shape or form should be challenged and their ideas repelled. The horrific loss of young lives at both ends of bayonets or bombs should be remembered, condemned and avoided at all costs.

Tommy recently brought home a funeral tribute to an ordinary Glasgow man from Rutherglen who led an extraordinary life. His name was Thomas Jackson and he lived, incredibly, to the age of 93.

I say incredibly because this man served in the Royal Navy and his ship, the HMS Exeter, was sunk in the Java sea after being seriously damaged in a ferocious battle with Japanese Navy destroyers on February 27, 1942.

An attempt to salvage the ship and it's crew was thwarted on March 1 when it and the ships who tried to save it were attacked by four well equipped Japanese ships that showed little mercy to the almost incapacitated vessel.

Thomas Jackson was only 22-years-old when he was faced with the agonising choice to stay aboard the fire engrossed ship with it's deck littered with bodies, some without limbs, some without heads, some with stomachs blown open, all his former friends and comrades, or to plunge into the shark infested Java sea and face the dark unknown. Thomas jumped.

The screams of men suffering from horrific injuries rang in his ears as he entered the freezing water to swim for his life. He was frightened and in shock but he swam despite suffering from an injured arm.

Eventually he noticed a dinghy with ropes hanging from it's sides and thought he could seek refuge there. He was disappointed to find there was no room left in the dinghy and all he could do was hang on to one of the ropes despite being exhausted, injured and in shock. He eventually had to hang on in that shark infested water for 27 hours.

Fortunately the shower of bombs and shrapnel had frightened off the sharks but Thomas Jackson's war nightmare was not an end. It was about to get worse.

Thomas and around 800 others were rounded up by Japanese warships and the rejoicing at being rescued soon turned to pain as the grim reality of becoming a Prisoner of War in Japan kicked in.

Thomas and his fellow prisoners were taken to Makassar on the island of Celebes (now called Sulawesi) where they would be forced to become slaves for the empire of Japan for the next three and a half years.

A young man in the prime of his life was about to endure hell on earth for the next three and a half years of his life.

His fellow prisoners were ritually and brutally beaten and treated like animals while many dropped dead from Malaria, Beriberi, Dengue Fever and other hideous diseases.

So many died and the survivors were so weak from hunger and illness that they were only able to dig shallow two feet graves to bury the fallen prisoners.

World War II finished in Europe in May 1945 but Thomas and his dwindling band of survivors were not liberated until September when Australian soldiers reacted with disbelief and horror when they found the emaciated and disease riven bodies of Tommy and the others. They were by this time no more than skeletal. Tommy weighed only 32 kilos.

Throughout his life he was haunted by the memories of friends and comrades who met painful, lingering and horrible deaths. His disgust for war in all it's shapes and forms was indelibly branded in his head and heart.

In subsequent years, he could hardly bring himself to discuss the horrors he witnessed and experienced. He dispatched his war medals down a stank and refused to wear a poppy lest it be interpreted as in any way glorifying war.

Thomas Jackson was liberated from his living hell at the age of 25 and went on to build a life in Rutherglen with his pre-war sweetheart who never lost faith he would be found one day and waited for him.

They were in love and went on to raise a family and become proud grandparents. However this extraordinary story of an ordinary man and how horrible the reality of war really is should be widely read and circulated.

It is the perfect antidote to the smug politicians and warmongers who love to bathe in the alleged glories of war without ever having to spill their own blood or witness the harsh pain and anguish which war inevitably visits upon those involved.

Thomas Jackson's story, and the stories of thousands like him, should be centre stage in this centenary year of the war to end all wars.

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