Jackers, the man who won Olympic gold and four DSOs

Arnold Jackson was not picked for the 1912 Olympics but found a way round it. He entered the games as a private athlete – and won a 1500 metres gold medal in "the greatest race of all time". Jackson went on to fight at the Somme, rising from 2nd Lieutenant to Brigadier General, and become one of the most decorated soldiers of the war.

Son of an Inland Revenue official and grandson of a Bengal Cavalry general, Arnold Nugent Strode Jackson was born in Addlestone, Surrey, in 1891.

"On the whole, I think I prefer golf"

Jackson went to Malvern College and Brasenose College, Oxford, where he studied law, rowed, played football and was president of the athletics club.

Jackson, whose uncle founded the Amateur Athletic Association, was still an undergraduate in 1912 when he cut short a fishing holiday in Norway and caught a train to Stockholm for the Olympic games. Having not made the GB team, 'Jackers' entered privately, the last time competitors were allowed to do so. Even by the standards of the time, his preparation had been relaxed; a regime of massage, walks and golf.

The Americans dominated the 1500m and had seven athletes in the final. At the bell they held the first three places and with 50 yards to go they ran abreast in an attempt to stop other runners getting past. But Jackson ran wide and reeled the Americans in with a late burst, winning with an Olympic record of 3:56.8.

At 21, he was the youngest Olympic 1500m champion, an achievement that stood until 2008. Jackson appeared non-plussed, saying afterwards: "On the whole, I think I prefer golf, hockey, boxing and hiking to athletics."

Organised the first Kentucky Derby

A year later, he visited America with the Oxford and Cambridge team and was working as a barrister when war came.

Jackson joined the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment as a 2nd lieutenant and was attached to the 13th Battalion The Rifle Brigade, which saw action at Pozieres, Guillemont and in the Battle of the Ancre on the Somme. He was promoted to captain on the first day of the offensive and was acting major when he won the first of four Distinguished Service Orders (DSOs) in 1917. He was also mentioned in despatches six times. One of his DSOs came just before the end of the war when he was an acting lieutenant colonel, leading his men into machine gun fire.

Jackson’s war meant he was never to run again; he was wounded three times and left lame. He was became a full Lieutenant-Colonel in May 1918 and Acting Brigadier in October 1918. Jackson was awarded the CBE for his part in the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 then while working again as a barrister joined the British Olympic Council.

In 1921, he emigrated to America, where he worked in industry and as a JP in Connecticut. In 1935 he organised the inaugural Kentucky Derby Festival and during World War II ran an inspection board in charge of anti-­sabotage measures.

After the war he became an American citizen and returned to England after the death of his wife Dora. He died in Oxford aged 82.

Remembering the Somme

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The Royal British Legion is calling on communities across the UK to take the time out from their daily lives to honour those who fell. We have created a Somme 100 toolkit which contains everything you need to organise a Remembrance event in your community.

Make your own commemoration to one of the casualties of the First World War by simply placing a virtual poppy in their memory on our Every Man Remembered website.

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