b. 11/06/1873 Nottingham. d. 27/06/1916 Givenchy, France
William Hackett (1873-1916) was born at Patriot Street, Sneinton, Nottingham, on 11th June 1873. His father was John Hackett, a bricklayer’s labourer, who later became a brewer. His mother was Harriet nee Ward and they had married in 1859 in Nottingham. William had six siblings in all and was the second youngest.
It is understood that William never attended school, and certainly was illiterate, as comrades in France had to write letters home for him. He was employed in factories in Nottingham until aged 18, when he became a miner in the Mexborough area of Yorkshire. He worked at Denaby Main for 23 years filling mine tubs and then at Manvers Main as a dataller, laying and repairing tracks. He was known as “Youthey” because he called all the youngsters “youth”. He married Alice nee Tooby on 16th April 1900 at Conisbrough Parish Church, and they went on to have two children: Arthur born in 1901 and Mary Winifred born in 1903.
William tried to enlist with the York and Lancaster Regiment three times, but was rejected with suspected heart trouble and because of his age. He was accepted by the Royal Engineers and enlisted on 1st November 1915. His training lasted only two weeks at Chatham, because he was already a skilled miner. He went to France on 21st November 1915 and joined 172 Tunnelling Company, but transferred to 254 Tunnelling Company on its formation on 15th May 1916.
On 22nd-23rd June 1916 at Shaftesbury Avenue Mine, near Givenchy, France, he was entombed with four others in a gallery owing to the explosion of an enemy mine. After working for 20 hours, a hole was made through fallen earth and broken timber, and the outside party was met. Sapper Hackett helped three of the men through the hole and could easily have followed, but refused to leave the fourth, who had been seriously injured, saying," I am a tunneller, I must look after the others first." Meantime, the hole was getting smaller, yet he still refused to leave his injured comrade. Finally, the gallery collapsed, and though the rescue party worked desperately for four days the attempt to reach the two men failed. Sapper Hackett well knowing the nature of sliding earth, the chances against him, deliberately gave his life for his comrade.
He died officially on 27th June 1916 and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium. However, he could not have survived that long after the tunnel collapsed on 23rd June. The man with him, Thomas Collins, is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial and his date of death is given as 22nd June 1916, even though its known he was alive on the 23rd. Field Marshal Evelyn Wood VC, described Hackett’s actions as “the most divine-like act of self-sacrifice of which I have read.”
His widow, Alice, living in Mexborough, received a cheque for £67 from the officers and men of her husband’s Company. His VC was presented to his widow by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 29th November 1916. She was awarded a pension of £1/1 per week from 15th January 1917 and used most of the money in the education of her children. She would remarry to Harry Flinders in 1919 in Doncaster.
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. The VC was purchased from one of his sisters in 1965 and is held by the Royal Engineers Museum, Chatham, Kent. The location of his other medals is not known.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL ENGINEERS MUSEUM, CHATHAM, KENT.
BURIAL PLACE: ON PLOEGSTEERT MEMORIAL, HAINAUT, BELGIUM. PANEL 1
William Hackett's VC on display at the Royal Engineers Museum, Chatham, Kent (April 2014).
Union Jack Club Memorial, London (Thomas Stewart)
Vehicle named after Hackett at Royal Engineers Museum
The Tunnellers Memorial, Givenchy
Mexborough War Memorial, Yorkshire
War Illustrated, 26th August 1916