John Winthrop Hackett Junior (1910 - 1997)

John Winthrop Hackett Junior (1910 - 1997) was born on 5 November 1910 in Perth, Western Australia, the son of Sir John Winthrop Hackett Senior, an Australian judge and owner of two newspapers. His father's family was originally from Tipperary. He went to Geelong Grammar School (where Prince Charles briefly went) and then to New College, Oxford which later made him an honorary fellow, reading both greats and modern history under Richard Crossman. He had hoped to become a don but his degree wasn't quite good enough and so joined his great grandfather's old regiment, the 8th King's Royal Irish Hussars in 1931. He served in Palestine (where he was mentioned in despatches in 1936) and then joined the Trans-Jordan Frontier Force from 1937 - 41 and was mentioned in despatches twice. He then served in Syria (where he was wounded and received the MC), meeting his Austrian wife Margaret on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and marrying her in St George's Cathedral in Jerusalem. The Western Desert followed, where he was wounded again, receiving the DSO, and while recuperating at GHQ helped in the formation of the Long Range Desert Group, SAS and Popski's Private Army. Next, he was selected to raise the 4th Parachute Brigade and commanded it in Italy where he was wounded again. This was followed by Operation Market Garden, where he was seriously wounded and taken prisoner during the Battle for Arnhem but escaped and was taken in by a courageous Dutch family and then ferried to freedom by the Dutch resistance. He received a bar for his DSO for his exploits at Arnhem.

General Hackett in 1944

General Hackett in 1983
He returned to Palestine in 1947 to command the TJFF where he had the delicate task of disbanding the force in order to pave the way for British withdrawal, a task he handled with great skill. He then spent his leave in Austria, attending a semester in postgraduate medieval studies at Graz University. After attending the Imperial Defence College in 1951, he commanded the 20th Armoured Brigade in 1954 before being promoted to Major General and command of the 7th Armoured Division. He was a fluent German speaker and was active in promoting Anglo-German relations and the study of Germany by those serving in BAOR. He left Germany in 1958 to become Commandant of the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham and was promoted to Lieutenant General in 1961 as well as becoming GOC, Northern Ireland. He also delivered the Lees Knowles lectures at Cambridge, generally acclaimed for their academic standing and was very well received. In 1963, he moved to the MoD as Deputy Chief of the General Staff responsible for forces organisation and weapon development. He was formidable in committee and knew exactly what his role entailed, fencing with people at all levels of Government if the cause warranted it. He suffered a great deal of unpopularity as the leading figure in the reorganisation of the Territorial Army. It was a controversial decision therefore to promote him to general and give him command of BAOR and the parallel command of NATO's Northern Army Group, but his ability to speak several languages made him an international figure, as did his friendship with foreign soldiers such as General Kielmansegg of the Bundeswehr. In 1968 he wrote a highly controversial letter to The Times, critical of the British Government's apparent lack of concern over the strength of NATO forces in Europe but signed the letter wearing his NATO hat rather than his British one. The furore it caused appealed to his particular sense of humour.

By that point he had realised that the very top job, Chief of the Defence Staff would be denied him – he was too clever for politicians and perhaps the Army as well, also being a little abrasive at times, having a lack of subtlety when compared to others who have filled the role. Retiring from the Army in 1968 led him to become the Principle of King's College, London and he made the transition from soldier to academic very easily. He participated in the student marches in 1973 over the erosion of student grants, a move that earned him some criticism from senior academics but showed he still had the courage of his convictions when he had to stand up for something he believed was right. He was equally at ease with undergraduates as he was with subalterns. After his retirement from King's (to which he returned in 1977 as a Visiting Professor in Classics) he devoted himself to writing and lecturing, being always in demand as an after dinner speaker as he was clear and forthright but not pompous. He became known on a much wider basis through his appearances on radio and television. In 1977 he wrote 'I Was A Stranger' recalling his exploits at Arnhem while in 1978 he co-authored 'The Third World War', a novel about a possible global conflict in 1985 and in 1982 followed with a companion volume, 'The Third World War: The Untold Story' which predicted the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the strategic importance of oil in the Middle East. The following year he wrote a book on the British Army entitled 'A Profession of Arms' (which was produced as a television programme) and edited 'Warfare in the Ancient World' in 1989. He died on 9 September 1997.

Awards: MBE (1938), MC (1941), DSO (1942) and Bar (1945), CBE (1953), CB (1958), KCB (1962), GCB (1967).

Arthur, Max. 'Obituary – General Sir John Hackett' located as of 15 July 2007 at, was originally in The Independent, 11 September 1997, p. 12. - an obituary of General Sir John Hackett (as of 15 July 2007), originally in The Times, 10 September 1997, p. 21.

Barker, Dennis. 'Obituary – General Sir John Hackett' located as of 15 July 2007 at, originally in The Guardian, 10 September 1997, p. 15.

Pictures courtesy of

Long Range Desert Group - Behind Enemy Lines on North Africa, W.B. Kennedy Shaw. A thrilling history of the Long Range Desert Group, one of the most famous of the many Special Forces that popped up in the British Army in the Middle East during the Second World War, although it is often seen in the background of other stories. Written in 1943 by the Group's Intelligence Officer, this book brings the exploits of the LRDG to life, and brings it into a justified foreground position. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Antill, P. (1 August 2007), John Winthrop Hackett Junior (1910 - 1997),

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