Victory in the Pacific

by Dr Geraldine Mate, Principal Curator – History, Industry and Technology, Queensland Museum  

The 75th anniversary of victory in the Pacific is a moment to look back at World War II and consider the impacts of the war in Queensland. Felt across the country and the world, the Second World War nevertheless came right to the door of Queensland Museum.

Today it is 75 years since the surrender of Japan, marking the closing stages of World War II in the Pacific. While VE (Victory in Europe) Day was marked on 8 May 1945, in Australasia the Pacific was still an arena of conflict. For Queenslanders, the war in our own part of the world was at the forefront of people’s minds. It was not until the official surrender of Japan on 15 August 1945 that Queenslanders could foresee the end in hostilities.  As one Queensland Museum employee, Museum Ichthyologist Ivor Filmer, reported:

‘A unique day in our history, and in my life. Peace was officially announced at 9:30 this morning, and at the museum we received the news with joy. The attendants rang the bell, shouting “hooray!” through the galleries’.

With the news of the surrender, Queensland Museum closed its doors for the day and for the public holiday the day after. But for Queensland Museum staff, the shared joy of the end of conflict was tainted by the loss of one of their own.

Ken Jackson, a museum curator

George Kenneth ‘Ken’ Jackson, Assistant in Ethnology, was the only Queensland Museum employee ever to lose their life in the service of our country. Ken had joined Queensland Museum in 1937 as a cadet, at a time when the Museum’s total staff consisted of approximately ten people. With a keen interest in Aboriginal history and artefacts, he flourished as a protégé of then Director Heber Longman. At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Ken was amongst the first few hundred to enlist in Brisbane. He volunteered for the 2nd A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Force) and was posted to the Queensland-raised 2/9th Infantry Battalion, seeing service in the United Kingdom, Syria, Palestine and North Africa before returning to Australia with his unit in 1942. Ken married his girlfriend Dorothy in Brisbane on 28 April, only days after his arrival home. But Ken and Dorothy had little time together, as the demands of the war meant that by August he was again serving with his unit in the South-West Pacific theatre.

Ken Jackson
Ken Jackson, Queensland Museum curator and AIF serviceman, 1914-1943.

At heart a collector

Although now in the armed forces, Ken Jackson was at heart still a collector. His role in the museum was the natural outcome of early experiences. A keen naturalist since childhood, he developed a particular interest in Aboriginal material culture while working at Thylungra Station between Quilpie and Windorah in south west Queensland as a jackaroo.  Not long after his return he joined Queensland Museum and in 1937 had begun his professional career as an ethnologist and museum curator.

Throughout his wartime travels, Ken continued to collect cultural artefacts, natural history specimens and geological samples, posting them back to the museum on a regular basis.  He collected antiquities from Syria, Egypt and Britain, including Roman pottery and coins, metal spearheads and Egyptian glass, together with fossils, shells and minerals amongst other things.

During Ken’s tour of New Guinea in 1942-43 he continued collecting, particularly material from the Milne Bay area, including traditional adze blades, spears, bows and arrows. This was to be Ken’s last collection.

Adze from Milne Bay cropped
Edge ground stone adze blade, made from Suloga quarry hornfels, collected by Ken Jackson from  Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea in 1942. 

The supreme sacrifice

Part of the Australian and United States advance in New Guinea, from August to October 1942 the 2/9th Battalion was involved in stemming Japanese land forces for the first time in the Pacific campaign at Milne Bay. Here Ken’s services and abilities in action were recognised by the award of a field commission, when he was promoted to Acting Lieutenant on 5 October.  In December Ken was part of the savage fighting at Buna. Wounded but refusing to be evacuated, he continued to fight, taking part in hostilities at Sanananda in early January. QX372 Lieutenant G.K. Jackson, 2/9 Battalion A.I.F.,  was killed in action on the Killerton Track at Sanananda, inland from Buna in Papua New Guinea, on 12 January 1943, while leading his company against the Japanese who had been turned back on the Kokoda Track. Ken was awarded a posthumous Mentioned-in-Despatches “for Gallantry and Distinguished Service in the S.W. Pacific” on 13 May 1943.

Ken remained to the end an ethnologist. Despite being enlisted he was considered a valued member of the Queensland Museum until his death in 1943.

Japanese Flag captured in New Guinea with signatures of A.I.F. servicemen involved in the engagement, including Lieutenant G.K. Jackson. Ken’s name is located in the top right-hand corner of this flag in large lettering: “Lt G K Jackson”. Queensland Museum collection

Seventy five years later, it is timely to reflect on the service and sacrifice of many. And to remember the hope and feelings of joy of many Queenslanders with the coming of the end of World War II.

Keep a look out for another blog in September exploring stories about the official end of World War Two.

And find out more about the antiquities Ken Jackson found in this blog post here.