It has often been mused that the worst soldiers in the garrison make the best soldiers on the battlefield. It would seem that while some men take particular disdain to military discipline, they are more than prepared for a good fight. Such was the case of Jack Hinton. At the beginning of WWII, he made his way to Greece with the 2nd New Zealand Division.
As the Germans approached his company near Kalamata, the Allied decision to abandon Greece had already been made. This decision was of little consequence to Hinton who was looking for a fight. A General threatened him with court-martial for failing to obey orders to surrender. Hinton, however, retaliated by threatening the General with his own court-martial for his defeatest talk. He then charged into the city with a makeshift squad of 12 men. Encountering another officer, again he was ordered to surrender. Looking at his men, Hinton sternly replied: “to hell with this, who’ll come with me.” A defiant action which led to him earning the Commonwealth’s highest military honor.
Volunteering for Action
Jack Hinton was born in 1909 Southland, New Zealand. By all accounts, he was a typical local boy going to school and working on his family’s land when possible. However, at the age of just 12, he got into a heated argument with his father and ran away. At the age of 13, he signed up to serve as a deckhand on board a Norwegian whaling ship. Perhaps it was the hard life on the vessel that toughened Jack up.
He eventually reconciled with his father and took work again on the family farm. In the 1930’s he did various jobs from railroad construction to mining where he earned a reputation as a hard worker and leader of men. By the time war broke out he was over 30 years old and hardened by the realities of life. Thus, it should come as little surprise that he enthusiastically volunteered to do his duty.
Enlisting with the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, he was quickly recognized for his leadership and maturity, being one of the older recruits. He became a Sergeant, and by January 1940 he was headed to the Middle East. It did not take long for Hinton’s disdain for authority to show itself. When asked by a Major General how his men were shooting during practice Hinton replied, “How would you expect them to bloody well shoot? Not enough bloody rations, stinking heat, and sand.” The General asked Hinton to repeat himself which he did word for word. It was this spirit that carried Hinton on to national fame.
The Battle for Greece
On April 6, 1941, the Germans invaded Greece where the 2nd New Zealand Division was stationed. As was par for the course, the Germans rapidly advanced with superior numbers and equipment upon the Allies. After initial resistance, the Allies were overwhelmed, and the decision had been made to evacuate all possible men at the port of Kalamata. By April 28, the 2nd New Zealand was awaiting evacuation when elements of the 5th Panzer Division showed up. Wanting to aide the defense, Hinton pleaded his case to jump into action to General Leonard Parrington. It was then that the humorous exchange over court-martials took place. The General threatened Hinton for failing to obey orders, and Sergeant Hinton threatened the General for talk of giving up.
In defiance of the General, Hinton put together a squad of 12 men and headed straight for the Germans. The makeshift squad encountered heavy enemy fire as they approached the town. Meeting another officer, Hinton and his men were ordered by the officer to retreat. In typical fashion, Hinton replied, “to hell with this, who’s coming with me.” He charged toward the nearest enemy machine gun position and lobbed in two grenades killing the entire crew.
With bayonets fixed, Hinton then led his men to charge the crew of a 6″ German gun with equal success. The weapon remained in their possession as the Germans retreated into several houses. Hinton gave pursuit. Wiping out the resistance in the first house courtesy of the blade, Hinton proceeded to the second for more of the same. After clearing the second house, additional German forces showed up. It was there that Hinton took a wound directly to the abdomen and fell. Not one to give up easily, he survived his injuries but was taken prisoner as a result.
From POW to VC
After recovering from his wounds, he was imprisoned at Stalag IX-C in Germany where his defiance of authority was equally as strong. Hinton made several escape attempts and was in solitary confinement when the news of his Victoria Cross reached the camp. The Germans allowed him to be paraded around the prison where he received a VC ribbon from the camp’s commandant. He was then escorted directly back to solitary.
By 1945, the Germans were losing the war, and in April of that year, the Germans evacuated the prison. Feigning illness, Hinton was left behind to die. However, Hinton was far from done fighting. He rose to his feet and found keys to the gates and politely let himself out. He then made contact with the advancing Americans, borrowed an American uniform and assisted in the capture of three villages. Soon, the Americans realized who was with them and while they appreciated his efforts the war hero was off to England to receive his proper award.
On May 11, 1945, he received his Victoria Cross from King George VI at Buckingham Palace. It was there at the same ceremony that fellow Kiwi Charles Upham received his second Victoria Cross.
By August of 1945, Hinton was back home – a national hero. He returned to his hard-working roots where he continued to pursue various business ventures.
Only time could take down this indomitable man as he passed away in 1997 at the age of 87. His place in military history secure, Jack Hinton died a national hero and shining example of inexplicable gallantry.