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  • Claire Jordan

I am a tunneller; I must look after the others first.

Can't ever let the last week of June go by without thinking of Sapper Hackett.

108 years ago this week, under a field in Givenchy, Royal Engineer William Hackett and four other tunnellers were entombed in a tiny pocket of air when their mining gallery was collapsed by an enemy mine explosion.

After twenty hours of frantic digging, a space was made through fallen earth and broken timber, and the rescue party reached them.

Hackett helped three of his fellow tunnellers through the small gap, but 22 year old Tom Collins was too badly injured to be able to get out.

They all knew the pocket would soon collapse and Tom would be utterly trapped.

43 year old lifelong miner Hackett knew exactly what was going to happen and could have gotten out before the inevitable, but he refused to leave the younger lad to die alone.

All the while, the pocket was getting smaller, and finally the gallery folded in on them.

The rescue party worked desperately for a further four days, but all attempts to reach the two men failed and finally, it had to be accepted that Hackett and Tom could not possibly still be alive.

Hackett deliberately gave his life for his friend and in recognition of his incredible bravery and compassion, he was posthumously awarded the VC.

"I am a tunneller," he had said, "I must look after the others first."

After his death, his widow and children were in serious financial difficulties, and a national appeal was organised to help them.

Thousands of people, many of them Sappers or their families who had very little themselves, sent money.

So much was raised that Hackett's son could then be sent away to a better education than he might otherwise have received, and therefore he was able to find a job away from the coal mines in which his Dad had himself laboured for so many years.

William Hackett had always wanted a different world for his son; by giving his life for his friend, he had managed to buy that too.

William's wife Alice and their children Arthur and Mary.

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