In an age when footballers are paid millions for kicking a ball and singers gain instant fame, it is refreshing to meet real heroes. Today, I met and interviewed George Jackson and his wife. George is 92 years of age. Many people can thank him for what he has done. But, most do not know him.
Born into a small farming community in Victoria, Australia, he thought he would have a quiet life on a farm. In 1940, he was called to serve in the Australian Army and sent to fight in Syria and then Libya, against the French Vichy collaborateurs who joined the Germans.
After winning some battles, but losing a number of mates, he was put on a boat to return home. On the way, the Japanese invaded Singapore and Java. George and his mates were diverted to help stop their advance. Instead, he was captured and became a slave on the dreaded Burma railroad. Amazingly, after nearly four years, he was still alive when the war ended in August 1945.
Returning home, he regained his health. You may think that he would choose a quiet life. George and his wife, Dawn, who I also met today, volunteered to be Christian missionaries in Borneo. Arriving in the Iban tribal village, they saw the heads of victims. Despite being amongst head hunters, they set about the challenge of improving the health of the local people and converting them to Christian values.
For years they lived in the remote forest area and learned the Iban and Malay languages. As George said, ‘Learning to speak the local language and culture was the first thing we had to do to be accepted.’ His wife, Dawn, said, ‘Helping the local women with childbirth and providing medical advice was a way to show that we were useful.’ Gradually, they made progress and gained the trust and support of local people.
‘I would return and live there again,’ said Dawn. ‘The local people were lovely.’
They showed leadership, encouraged the self development of the people and developed teamwork in difficult circumstances.
George, who has a wonderful memory said, ‘It was a tremendous experience. We returned there a few years later. The place had developed. There were roads leading the the local community. In our day, the only way to get there was by a small boat.’
It was a fascinating conversation. I was talking to heroes – real heroes – who worked for the benefit of others without asking for large sums of money or prizes.