The 50th Northumbrian Infantry was a division of the British Army that saw distinguished service in the Second World War. The two T’s in the divisional insignia represent the main rivers of its recruitment area, the Tyne and Tees.
The division served in almost all major engagements of the war from 1940 until late ‘44, and served with distinction in North Africa, the Mediterranean and Middle East. The 50th Division was one of two British divisions – the other being the 3rd Infantry, to land in Normandy on D-Day, 6 June 1944.
Four men of the division were awarded the Victoria Cross. The VC is the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of an enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
One of those brave soldiers was Captain James Jackman. This is his story.
I was born on 19 March 1916, my father James was a doctor, and my mother Elizabeth lived in Glenageary, County Dublin, Republic of Ireland. I was educated at Stoneyhurst College in Lancashire and on the outbreak of the Second World War, was enlisted with the 1st Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.
I was posted with the Regiment to North Africa and at 25 year old was given command of a machine gun company. It was November 1941 when I was commanding Z Company during Operation Crusader when we launched an attack near Tobruk in Libya.
As our tanks reached the crest of the rise they were met by extremely intense fire from a large number of guns. The fire was so heavy that it was doubtful whether the Brigade could maintain its hold on the position. Our tanks settled to beat down the enemy fire and I pushed up the ridge leading the machine gun trucks. I saw anti-tank guns firing, as well as rows of batteries that the tanks were engaging.
I immediately got our guns into action and stood up in the front of the truck leading our trucks across the front between the tanks and guns.
James’ devotion to duty regardless of danger not only inspired his men but clinched the determination of the tank crews never to relinquish the position they had gained. He directed guns to their positions and indicated targets, inspiring everyone with confidence, but was later killed in action.
James Jackman died 26 November 1941 and was buried with full military honours in Tobruk War Cemetery, Libya. His posthumous VC was presented to his parents by King George VI at Buckingham Palace.
The medal was placed on long term loan to his former school, Stoneyhurst College, Lancashire.
Research: Commonwealth War Graves.
Comprehensive Guide to Victoria Cross.
Gary Alikivi May 2021