South Shields Local History Group

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Hackston, George (MN)

George Wale Hackston was born in South Shields on 16th August 1908.  He lived at 146 Coleridge Avenue.

On the 24th April 1940 he was sailing on the SS Haxby east of Bermuda when she was intercepted by the German auxiliary cruiser Orion.  The Orion was disguised as a Greek merchant ship.

SS Haxby in 1936 Wales

Firing a 75mm warning shot across the stranger’s bows, he signalled to her to stop and to maintain radio silence. The British captain chose to disobey both orders, refusing to stop and sending an RRR, ‘warship attack’ signal, leaving Weyher with little choice but to open fire. Despite the first four-gun salvo putting her two guns out of action, and setting her stern on fire, the freighter continued to try to escape, as her radio operator transmitted a steady stream of distress signals. Continuing to shell the vessel for six minutes, firing over seventy 150mm rounds, knocking out her radio room and setting her bridge and engine room ablaze, until boats were seen being lowered. As her crew prepared to abandon ship, Weyher ordered his gunners to cease fire. With the Orion’s cutters and motorboats assisting in the rescue work, the ship’s Master, Captain Cornelius Arundel, and twenty-three of his men, one of whom later died, were rescued, but sixteen others had lost their lives during the attack. Identified as the 5,207-ton freighter, Haxby, of the Ropner Shipping Company, en route, in ballast, from Glasgow to Corpus Christi, Texas, to pick up scrap metal for British steel mills, she had been carrying a crew of forty. Fiercely burning in several places and producing a gigantic pall of smoke that could probably be seen twenty miles away, the Haxby would not sink. The shells that had penetrated her hull had buried themselves in the sand she was carrying as ballast, and had exploded with minimal effect, with the sand then serving to plug the holes. Anxious that an Allied warship would spot the smoke and investigate it, Weyher decided to use a torpedo to finish off the burning freighter, with the resulting explosion cutting her clean in two, and sending her to the bottom.

George was a prisoner on the German ship Orion for two months and was then transferred to the Norwegian ship Tropic. Sea.  This ship was taken them to Germany when intercepted by the submarine Truant which rescued the Haxby’s crew.

In September 1940, after five months his mother received a telegram saying, “Safe and well”.


In January 1941, George was awarded the OBE though he was unaware of this as he was away at sea! 

George Hackston receiving his OBE

The official announcement states he, “showed great bravery and determination, sent out a signal giving the vessel’s position and remained at his post in the wireless room throughout the attack until the room was set on fire by a shell.  Later, when a prisoner aboard the raider he refused to obey her captain’s orders to decode an intercepted message.”

1941 Daily Record

In May 1941 he was awarded the Lloyds War Medal for Bravery.

OBE 1941

George Wale Hackston died in 1989 aged 81.

British Newspaper Archives
Keith Trotter

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