Roderick Colin Jackson was born in Napa, California, on June 24, 1881. The Jackson family had a lengthy record of military service. His father, John Bruce, enlisted for service with the 42nd Missouri Infantry during the American Civil War at the age of 14. Roderick’s grandfather, Major William Jackson, fought with the 3rd Missouri Cavalry in the Civil War battle of Wilson’s Creek, near Springfield, MO. His great-great-grandfather, William Jackson, served as a Private during the American Revolutionary War. He also fought in the War of 1812 and was mortally wounded at the Battle of New Orleans (January 1815) while serving as a Captain with the Tennessee Rifles.
Roderick’s mother, Ann, was a native of Pictou County, Nova Scotia. When her husband, John Bruce, passed away from stomach cancer two years after Roderick’s birth, Ann returned to Rogers Hill, Pictou County with her three children. She became ill shortly afterward and died of tuberculosis in 1887, while one of her daughters passed away from the same illness the following year. Tuberculosis was quite prevalent in Ann’s lineage—six of twelve immediate family died from the disease. In subsequent years, the affliction would also affect Roderick’s health.
Following his mother’s passing, Roderick and his older sister, Ida, resided with family in Pictou County. He subsequently enrolled at Pictou Academy but placed his studies on hold to enlist for military service in the Boer (South African) War (1899 - 1902). As the minimum age requirement was 22, Roderick stated his age as 21 years and 11 months old, even though he was barely 18 at the time. The fact that he stood five feet nine inches may explain why military recruiters accepted his statement. Roderick listed his sister, Ida Jackson, as next of kin.
Roderick formally attested with E Battery, 491st Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery in January, 1900, and departed for South Africa shortly afterward. His platoon commander was Colonel James L. Ralston, who would later serve as Commanding Officer of the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders) during the latter stages of the battalion’s First World War service, and Canadian Minister of National Defence during the Second World War.
Roderick spent one year in South Africa, during which time he was slightly wounded at the Battle of Faber’s Farm (Fabersputs) on June 30, 1900. Discharged from military service on January 8, 1901, he subsequently received the South African medal with clasps for service at Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal in a ceremony held at Halifax on October 19, 1901.
Upon completing his grammar school education, Roderick departed Nova Scotia for Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario in 1902. After graduating four years later, he attended Yale Divinity School from 1907 to 1908. The strains of long hours of study, however, took their toll, as Roderick developed tubercular symptoms and relocated to New Mexico for treatment. Upon recovering, he returned to Queen’s Theological Seminary and was ordained a Minister of the Canadian Presbyterian Church in 1909.
Concerns over maintaining his health led Roderick to return to New Mexico. In subsequent years, he completed a course of study at Union Theological Seminary, New York, graduating in 1915 with a Bachelor of Divinity. During the early summer, he returned to Nova Scotia, where he married Lily Spears Young, a native of Millsville, Pictou County, on June 24, 1915.
Roderick’s return to Nova Scotia coincided with a period of frenetic military recruitment. Throughout 1915, the Canadian government authorized numerous battalions for overseas service with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. One such unit was the 85th Battalion (Nova Scotia Highlanders), established on September 14, 1915. Roderick initially joined with the 78th Regiment (Pictou Highlanders), a local militia unit, and subsequently enlisted with the 85th at Halifax on January 14, 1916.
While Roderick received a commission as Lieutenant with the 85th, his time with the unit was short-lived. On February 28, 1916, he was part of a group of 85th officers who were transferred to the 185th Battalion (Cape Breton Highlanders), under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Frank Parker Day. Shortly after its formation, the unit mobilized at Broughton, an abandoned mining town near Sydney. Roderick was appointed battalion Adjutant on May 1 and received a promotion to the rank of Captain shortly afterward.
In late May, the 185th made its way to Camp Aldershot, where it spent the summer training alongside the 85th, 193rd and 219th Battalions. The four units formed the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade, which departed for England on October 13 aboard SS Olympic. While the 193rd and 219th were dissolved several months after arriving overseas, the 85th and 185th remained intact. As the Brigade’s senior unit, the 85th crossed the English Channel to France on February 10, 1917 and was assigned to the 4th Division’s 12th Brigade two months later.
Meanwhile, the 185th remained in England, where it trained in anticipation of deployment as part of the newly formed 5th Canadian Division. On April 24, 1917, Roderick assumed command of “D” Company. The summer’s training was not without incident. On August 13, Roderick received significant burns to his legs, hands and face when a trench smoke bomb exploded near him during a trench attack drill. He spent one month recuperating at Bramshott Military Hospital. Discharged on September 20, he returned to active duty on October 4.
The significant number of casualties incurred on the battlefield during 1917 forced Canadian military officials to disband the 5th Canadian Division. As a result, the 185th was disbanded in early 1918 and its personnel reassigned to the 17th Reserve Battalion, which serviced Nova Scotian units at the front. The vast majority of the 185th’s personnel found their way into the 85th’s ranks in the ensuing months.
Captain Roderick Jackson was among the officers selected for service with the 85th as a “supernumerary.” He crossed the English Channel to France on March 12, 1918 and joined the unit in the field two weeks later. At the time of his arrival, the 85th’s Commanding Officer was none other than his former platoon commander, Lieutenant Colonel James L. Ralston. Roderick assumed command of one of the battalion’s companies and experienced his first combat service with the 85th at Arleux (June) and Fampoux, France (July).
Roderick was in the line with 85th during the Battle of Amiens (August 8 - 11). In fact, his actions on the battlefield earned him the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”:
“He led his company to its objective in face of heavy machine gun fire, and made good the ground gained. Two days later he again led his men through a machine gun barrage, directing their fire, and although wounded carried on to the objective. He continued at duty until consolidation was completed. His work throughout earned the confidence of all under him.”
On August 31, Roderick was promoted to the rank of Major. He remained at duty following Amiens despite having received a shoulder wound, and was once again in the line when the 85th participated in the Canadian Corps’ attack on the Drucourt-Quèant Line in early September. His second major battle in a month, his performance under fire earned Roderick the Bar to the Military Cross:
“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the attack on the Drucourt-Quèant Line on 2nd September 1918. After taking his own objective with his company, he went on with another company, which was greatly depleted, to the second objective. Encountering intense heavy fire here, he made a personal reconnaissance of the front, organized a party of grenadiers, and led them forward to the attack through heavy barrage, cleaning up enemy machine gun positions and enabling the assaulting wave to move forward. He personally rushed an enemy machine gun from the front. He then with the remnants of the two companies captured the final objective. He showed great courage and determined leadership.”
Shortly afterwards, Roderick’s health issues caught up with him. Plagued by a chronic cough and frequent colds throughout his overseas service, he was evacuated for medical treatment on September 14 but rejoined the battalion on October 1. Roderick received two weeks’ leave to England on October 17, following which he rejoined the 85th during the Canadian Corps’ final push into Belgium. He remained with the unit for one month following the November 11 Armistice and received a second leave to England on December 14.
Health issues resurfaced shortly after he crossed The English Channel and Roderick was admitted to hospital in England on January 18, 1919. He remained under medical care until the 85th departed England for Canada on May 5. Upon arriving at Halifax, he was admitted to Pine Hill Hospital, where military doctors recommended his release from military service due to poor health. On June 25, 1919, Major Roderick Colin Jackson was discharged as “medically unfit.”
Roderick and Lily returned to New Mexico, where Roderick assumed the first of several Presbyterian ministry appointments. The family experienced its share of tragedy. Having mourned the loss of an infant daughter while residing in Nova Scotia in 1916, the couple lost a second daughter several years after returning to New Mexico. A third child, Evangeline Ida, survived into adulthood but never married, passing away at Stillwater, Oklahoma on January 18, 2000, at age 77.
For almost 30 years, Roderick ministered to congregations in several American mid-west and western states before retiring in 1948. The family made a trip to Belgium and northern France in 1938, at which time Roderick visited the battlefields where he fought, and the graves of several soldiers with whom he had served.
Roderick’s wife, Lily, passed away at Ponca City, Oklahoma on January 8, 1961. Major Roderick Colin Jackson passed away at Stillwater, Oklahoma on June 6, 1972, 18 days shy of his ninety-first birthday. He was laid to rest alongside his beloved wife, Lily, in Highland Cemetery, Winfield, Kansas.
Thanks to Bruce MacDonald of Antigonish, NS, for researching and writing Roderick Jackson's biography.
Pettyjohn, Wayne A. & Phyllis M.. “Warrior, Theologian, and Honorable Man: Major Roderick Colin Jackson.” Camaraderie: The Journal of the United States Branch, The Western Front Association. July 2004.
Service file of Major Roderick Colin Jackson. Library & Archives Canada, Ottawa: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 4754 - 15. Available online
I was very fortunate to be able to purchase the Roderick Jackson collection from a local Nova Scotia military antiques dealer in 2016. The collection, which includes many personal and war time photos, albums, and artifacts, is quite remarkable and is certainly an interesting piece of Nova Scotia military history. From what I understand, the military antiques dealer had just purchased the collection from a collector in Florida and had it shipped back to Nova Scotia. At some point previous to that, the collection left the Jackson family during an estate auction after Roderick and Lily's daughter, Evangeline, passed away. She was an only child and had no children of her own.