Hackett – Sapper William (Youthey)

11 June 1873 – 27 June 1916

William was born in Sneinton, Nottinghamshire. At the age of 18 he started work filling mine tubs at Denaby Main, moving to Manvers Main after 23 years to work as a dataller, laying and repairing tracks. He was known as “Youthey” due to his habit of referring to young people as “youth”.

Upon the outbreak of the war, he tried to enlist three times but was rejected due to a heart defect, and his age. In 1915 he was accepted by the Royal Engineers. His training was short due to his experience as a miner and he joined 254 Tunnelling Company on its formation on 15 May 1916. He was one of 10,000 tunnellers whose work was an official secret until the 1960s.

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.

Field Marshal Evelyn Wood VC described Hackett’s actions as: “the most divine-like act of self-sacrifice of which I have read.”

His medal is held by the Royal Engineers Museum, Gillingham, Kent.

Filed under: WW1