John Hackett (British Army officer)

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Sir John Winthrop Hackett
John Hackett.jpg
General Sir John Hackett
Born(1910-11-05)5 November 1910
Perth, Western Australia
Died9 September 1997(1997-09-09) (aged 86)
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1933–1968
Unit8th King's Royal Irish Hussars
Commands heldBritish Army of the Rhine (1966–68)
Northern Army Group (1966–68)
Northern Ireland Command (1961–63)
Royal Military College of Science (1958–61)
7th Armoured Division (1956–58)
20th Armoured Brigade (1954–55)
Trans-Jordanian Frontier Force (1947–48)
4th Parachute Brigade (1943–44)
Battles/warsArab revolt in Palestine
Second World War
AwardsKnight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order & Bar
Military Cross
Mentioned in Despatches (6)
Other workUniversity administrator, author, commentator

General Sir John Winthrop Hackett, GCB, CBE, DSO & Bar, MC (5 November 1910 – 9 September 1997) was an Australian-born British soldier, painter, university administrator, author and in later life, a commentator.

Early life[edit]

Hackett, nicknamed "Shan", was born in Perth, Western Australia. His Irish Australian father, also named Sir John Winthrop Hackett (1848–1916), originally from Tipperary,[1] was educated at Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., 1871; M.A., 1874), and he migrated to Australia in 1875, eventually settling in Western Australia in 1882, where he became a newspaper proprietor and editor and a politician.[2] His mother was Deborah Drake-Brockman. Her parents were prominent members of Western Australian society: Grace Bussell, famous for rescuing shipwreck survivors as a teenager and Frederick Slade Drake-Brockman, a prominent surveyor and explorer. Deborah had three sisters and three brothers.[3]

On 3 August 1905, at 57, Hackett Sr married 18-year-old Deborah Drake-Brockman (1887–1965)—later Deborah, Lady Hackett; Deborah, Lady Moulden; and Deborah Buller Murphy—a director of mining companies.[3] They had four daughters and son. Hackett senior died in 1916. Lady Hackett remarried in 1918[4] and moved to Adelaide to live.[citation needed]

Hackett junior received secondary schooling at Geelong Grammar School in Victoria and then travelled to London to study painting at the Central School of Art. He then studied Greats and Modern History at New College, Oxford, earning an M.A. As his degree was not good enough for an academic career, Hackett joined the British Army and was commissioned into the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars in 1933, having previously joined the Supplementary Reserve of Officers in 1931.[5] During his military training, he completed a thesis in history with a focus on the crusades and the Early Middle Ages, particularly Saladin's campaign in the Third Crusade, for which he was awarded a B. Litt. He also qualified as an interpreter in French, German and Italian, studied Arabic and eventually became fluent in ten languages.[6][7]

Early career[edit]

He served in Mandate Palestine and was mentioned in despatches in 1936,[1] and then with the Trans-Jordan Frontier Force from 1937 to 1941, when he was twice mentioned in despatches.[1]

Second World War[edit]

Hackett fought in the British Army in the Second World War Syria-Lebanon campaign: he was wounded and was awarded the Military Cross.[1] During his recovery in Palestine, he met Margaret Fena, the Austrian widow of a German. Despite the difficulties involved, he persisted and eventually gained permission from the authorities. They married in Jerusalem in 1942.[7]

In the North African campaign, he commanded 'C' Squadron of the 8th Hussars (his parent unit) and was wounded again when his M3 Stuart tank was hit during the battles for Sidi Rezegh airfield. He was severely burnt when escaping the stricken vehicle.[8] He received his first Distinguished Service Order for this event.[citation needed] Whilst recuperating at GHQ in Cairo, he was instrumental in the formation of the Long Range Desert Group, the Special Air Service and Popski's Private Army.[1]

In 1944, Hackett raised and commanded the 4th Parachute Brigade for the Allied assault on Arnhem, in Operation Market Garden. In battle at Arnhem Brigadier Hackett was severely wounded in the stomach, was captured and was taken to the St. Elizabeth Hospital in Arnhem. A German doctor at the hospital wanted to administer a lethal injection to Hackett because he thought that the case was hopeless.[9]:27 However, he was operated on by Alexander Lipmann-Kessel, who, with superb surgery, managed to save the brigadier's life.[9]:44

St Elizabeth Hospital

After a period of recuperation, he managed to escape with the help of the Dutch underground. Although he was unfit to be moved, the Germans were about to move him to a prisoner-of-war camp. He was taken by 'Piet van Arnhem', a resistance worker from Ede, and driven to Ede. They were stopped on the way but Hackett had extra bloody bandages applied to make him look even worse than he was. Piet told the checkpoint that they were taking him to hospital. They were let through despite the hospital being in the opposite direction from which they had just come.[9]:39

He was hidden by a Dutch family, called de Nooij, who lived at No. 5 Torenstraat in Ede. The address no longer exists because of development. The family nursed the brigadier back to health over a period of several months; he then managed to escape again with the help of the underground. He remained friends with the de Nooijs for the rest of their lives and visited immediately after they were liberated by bearing gifts. Hackett wrote about the experience in his book I Was A Stranger in 1978. He received his second Distinguished Service Order for his service at Arnhem.[1]

Later life[edit]

He returned to Palestine in 1947 where he assumed command of the Trans-Jordan Frontier Force. Under his direction, the force was disbanded, as part of the British withdrawal from the region.[1] He attended university at Graz, as a postgraduate in post-mediaeval studies.[1] After attending Staff College in 1951, he was appointed to command the 20th Armoured Brigade and, on being promoted to Major General, assumed command of the 7th Armoured Division.[1] In 1958, he became Commandant of the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham, and was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1961.[1] He became General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Northern Ireland Command, in 1961[10] and was knighted (KCB) on 2 June 1962.[11] In 1963, he was appointed to Ministry of Defence as Deputy Chief of the General Staff, responsible for forces organisation and weapon development and became the leading figure in the reorganisation of the Territorial Army, which made him unpopular. He relinquished his appointment as Deputy Chief of the General Staff on 4 February 1966.[12]

On 14 April 1966, he was appointed command of the British Army of the Rhine and the parallel command of NATO's Northern Army Group, and his ability to speak several languages made him a natural choice, as did his friendship with foreign soldiers such as Johann von Kielmansegg of the Bundeswehr.[13]

In 1968 he wrote a highly controversial letter to The Times that was critical of the British government's apparent lack of concern over the strength of NATO forces in Europe but signed the letter as a NATO officer, not as a British commander.[1]

After retirement from the Army, he continued to be active in several areas. From 1968 to 1975, he was Principal of King's College, London. He proved to be a popular figure, addressing gatherings of students on several occasions and attending at least one NUS demonstration for higher student grants.[citation needed] In 1978, he wrote a novel, The Third World War: August 1985, which was a fictionalized scenario of the Third World War based on a Red Army invasion of West Germany in 1985. It was followed in 1982 by The Third World War: The Untold Story, which elaborated on the original, including more detail from a Soviet perspective. An American author, Max Brooks, has cited Hackett's work as one source of inspiration for his novel, World War Z.[14]

His (British) military decorations included the Knight Grand Cross of the Bath, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Distinguished Service Order and Bar, Military Cross, and six times Mentioned in Dispatches.[citation needed] His obituary in The Times called him a man of "intellect and prodigious courage."[15]


Dates may not be reliable and are for guidance only.

  • Popski's Private Army, 1950, ISBN 0-304-36143-7 (Foreword only)
  • The Profession Of Arms, 1963, ISBN 0-02-547120-1
  • I Was A Stranger, 1978, ISBN 0-395-27087-1
  • The Third World War, 1978, ISBN 0-425-04477-7
  • Third World War: Lecture, 1979 ISBN 0-85287-132-5
  • Arnhem Doctor, 1981, ISBN 0-85613-324-8 (Foreword only)
  • The Third World War: The Untold Story, 1982, ISBN 0-283-98863-0
  • The Middle East Commandos, 1988, ISBN 0-7183-0645-7 (Foreword only)
  • Warfare In the Ancient World, 1989, ISBN 0-283-99591-2
  • The Desert Rats: History of the 7th Armoured Division, 1990, ISBN 1-85367-063-4 (Introduction only)
  • The Devil's Birthday: Bridges to Arnhem, 1944, 1992, ISBN 0-85052-352-4
  • The History of the Glider Pilot Regiment: An Official History, 1992, ISBN 0-85052-326-5
  • One Night In June, 1994, 1853104922 (Introduction only)
  • Map of the D-Day Landings, 1994, ISBN 0-7028-2668-5 (Foreword only)
  • To Save A Life, 1995, ISBN 1-898094-10-1

Honours and awards[edit]

18 September 1994, John Hackett receives a medal of honour in Ede, the Netherlands


Order of the Bath UK ribbon.svg Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) 1967
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) 1962[18]
Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) 1958
Order of the British Empire (Military) Ribbon.png Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) 1953[19]
Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) 1938
DSO with Bar.png Companion of the Distinguished Service Order and Bar (DSO and Bar) 1942[20]
Bar 1945[21]
Military Cross ribbon.png Military Cross (MC) 1941[22]
General Service Medal 1918 BAR MID.svg General Service Medal with palm for Mentioned in Despatches
Clasp 'Palestine'
39-45 Star BAR.svg 1939–45 Star
Africa Star BAR.svg Africa Star
Italy Star BAR.svg Italy Star
France and Germany Star BAR.svg France and Germany Star
Defence Medal ribbon.png Defence Medal
War Medal 39-45 BAR MID.png War Medal 1939–1945 with palm for Mentioned in Despatches
UK Queen EII Coronation Medal ribbon.svg Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953

Hackett was also mentioned in despatches six times:

1) 1936 Palestine
2) 1937 "Trans-Jordan Frontier Force"
3) 1937 "Trans-Jordan Frontier Force"
4) 1944 Italy[23]
5) 1945 Arnhem[24]
6) 1949 Palestine


  • The Biography of General Sir John "Shan" Hackett GCB DSO MC, by Roy Fullick 2003, ISBN 0-85052-975-1


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "John Winthrop Hackett Junior (1910–1997)".
  2. ^ Lyall Hunt (1983) 'Hackett, Sir John Winthrop (1848–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP).
  3. ^ a b Alexandra Hasluck (1983) 'Hackett, Deborah Vernon (1887–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP)
  4. ^ Elizabeth Kwan (1986) 'Moulden, Sir Frank Beaumont (1876–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP)
  5. ^ The Desert Rats, 7th Armoured Division, Robin Neillands, Aurum Press, 2005, p18
  6. ^ Barker, Dennis. 'Obituary – General Sir John Hackett' The Guardian (Manchester), 10 September 1997, p. 15.
  7. ^ a b c Hans Molier, Sir John Winthrop Hackett (1910–1997), 10 August 2012, translated by Fred Bolle,
  8. ^ From Horses to Chieftains, Richard Napier – Woodfield Publishing 1992 ISBN 1-873203-17-9 p159
  9. ^ a b c Hackett, John (1978). I was a stranger. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-395-27087-1.
  10. ^ "King's Collections : Archive Catalogues : Military Archives".
  11. ^ "No. 42683". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 June 1962. p. 4309.
  12. ^ "No. 43892". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 February 1966. p. 1397.
  13. ^ "No. 43950". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 April 1966. p. 4389.
  14. ^ Max Brooks (27 September 2011). World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Random House Digital, Inc. ISBN 978-0-307-88868-6. Retrieved 16 June 2012.
  15. ^ Obituary: General Sir John Hackett The Times, September 1997[dead link]
  16. ^ General Sir John Winthrop Hackett, GCB, CBE, DSO, MC, MA, D.Litt, ParaData: The history of the Parachute Regiment,
  17. ^ Hackett, John Winthrop "Shan" (Service number: 52752),
  18. ^ Knight Commander of the Military Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, London Gazette, 25 May 1962
  19. ^ Commander of the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Supplement to the London Gazette, 1 June 1953
  20. ^ Distinguished Service Order, Supplement to The London Gazette, Tuesday 11 August 1942, Issue 35665, dated 13 August 1942
  21. ^ Bar to Distinguished Service Order, Supplement to The London Gazette, Tuesday 22 May 1945, Issue 37091, dated 24 May 1945
  22. ^ Military Cross: Third Supplement to The London Gazette, Friday 17 October 1941, Issue 35316, dated 21 October 1941
  23. ^ M.I.D. (Italy): Supplement to The London Gazette Issue 36668 published on 22 August 1944
  24. ^ M.I.D. (Arnhem): Supplement to The London Gazette Issue 37274 published on 18 September 1945

External links[edit]


Military offices
Preceded by
Kenneth Cooper
GOC 7th Armoured Division
Succeeded by
Geoffrey Musson
Preceded by
Douglas Packard
General Officer Commanding the British Army in Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Richard Anderson
Preceded by
Sir John Anderson
Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Harington
Preceded by
Sir William Stirling
Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine
Succeeded by
Sir Desmond Fitzpatrick
Academic offices
Preceded by
Sir Peter Noble
Principal of King's College, London
Succeeded by
Sir Richard Way