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13 November 2014

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You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > Tunneller William Hackett

William Hackett pic courtesy Royal Engineers Museum

Tunneller William Hackett

The tragic story of the Nottingham miner awarded a Victoria Cross after refusing to leave an injured colleague.

Sapper William Hackett, from Sneinton, was the only tunneller to ever get the Victoria Cross. He was awarded it posthumously having been killed in 1916.

Hackett was one of 10,000 other tunnellers whose work was an official secret until the 1960s.

William Hackett pic courtesy Royal Engineers Museum

William Hackett in uniform

The art of tunnelling

The idea behind tunnelling was to blow up the enemy trenches from below. It was seen as a more effective way of gaining an advantage because it was so difficult to out flank the enemy above ground.

A tunnel would be dug and filled with explosives then detonated.

Philip "Moff" Moffatt, a Royal Engineer based at Chetwynd Barracks in Chilwell, says: "What they were trying to do was tunnel beneath Givenchy (in France) towards the German lines.

"It was a tactical game of cat and mouse. They were both trying to tunnel towards each other as well as blow mines to destroy the enemy."

They worked in a space the size of a kitchen cupboard and it was impossible to stand up.

Sapper Hackett's story

William Hackett enlisted in Royal Engineers tunnelling companies in October 1915, after being rejected three times by the York and Lancaster Regiment for being over age - he was 42 years old.

Before joining up he had worked as a miner for 23 years in the Nottingham and Yorkshire coalfields.

William Hackett's family pic courtesy Royal Engineers Museum

William Hackett's family

In June 1916 he was operating in Givenchy.

"Sapper Hackett and four others were tunnelling towards German lines when the Germans blew up a mine," explains Moff Moffatt.

"Sapper Hackett, being the miner, grafted for 20 hours and saved three of his comrades. Unfortunately he was left with one, Private Thomas Collins. Knowing the nature of sliding earth and the loneliness Private Collins faced, being mortally wounded, Sapper Hackett stayed with him."

On several occasions a rescue party could have saved William Hackett but not Collins and the miner decided to stay with him. However, there was another explosion and both were buried alive.

A lasting tribute

The Victoria Cross was presented by King George V to his widow, Alice at Buckingham Palace on 29 November 1916. 

In 2008 a fund-raising campaign was launched to build a memorial that would be dedicated to the men of the Royal Engineer tunnelling companies who died in World War One including Sapper William Hackett.

last updated: 04/11/2008 at 09:21
created: 27/10/2008

You are in: Nottingham > History > Local history > Tunneller William Hackett

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