Saturday 30 March 2024

The Reverend Theodore Bayley Hardy, VC, MC, DSO (1863 – 1918) – Anglican Church Minister and School teacher who served as a British Army Chaplain in WW1

Rev’d Hardy was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. In addition to the VC, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Military Cross, making him one of the most decorated non-combatants of the First World War.

Portrait of Rev Hardy by
Howard Somerville
Born on 20th October 1863, Theodore’s parents were George Hardy and his wife, Sarah, a school teacher.   The family lived in Barnfield House, Southernhay, Exeter, Devonshire, UK. 

Following the death of George Hardy, the house became a preparatory school for young gentlemen and was run by Theodore’s Mother.

Educated at the Royal Commercial Travellers School, Pinner, Middlesex from 1872 to 1879, the City of London School from 1879 to 1882 and at the University of London, Theodore became a school master. 

In Ireland in 1888, Theodore married Florence Elizabeth Hastings.   

He was ordained as an Anglican Church minister on 18th December 1898 and combined his teaching work with his duties as a Curate.

From 1891 to 1907, Theodore was an Assistant Master at Nottingham High School, where one of his pupils was D. H. Lawrence - a Junior School house there is named in Theodore’s honour. From 1907 to 1913, Theodore was Headmaster of Bentham Grammar School in West Yorkshire. 

Theodore’s wife Florence became ill and died after a year of illness in 1914. Following his wife’s illness, he had to give up teaching and became the rector of Hutton Roof, near Kirby Lonsdale in Westmoreland.

51 when war broke out, Theodore volunteered at once but was turned down as being too old. Eventually, in August 1916, he was accepted for army service as a Temporary Chaplain to the Forces, 4th Class and attached to 8th Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment. 

On his way to the Western Front, Theodore met the Rev’d Studdert Kennedy, known to the troops as 'Woodbine Willie'.  Kennedy's simple advice, which Theodore followed closely, was this:  'Live with the men. Go everywhere they go. Share all their risks and more if you can do any good. Take a box of fags in your haversack and a great deal of love in your heart. Laugh with them, joke with them; you can pray with them sometimes, but pray for them always.'

Theodore lived with the troops in the forward trenches, dodging the constant gun fire and sniping, handing out sweets and cigarettes, writing letters for the troops and helping carry the wounded to safety. Seeking to better earn the trust of the men, Theodore took to visiting them at night in the trenches, whilst conducting his chaplaincy duties by day. He often went without sleep and a visiting General once commented that Rev'd. Hardy appeared to be 'asleep on his feet' during his own service. During the Battle of Arras in April 1917, the Senior Chaplain found on several occasions that Theodore had been working continuously for 48 or even 36 hours and had to order him to get some sleep.

On 31st July, the Battle of Passchendaele* (July 31–November 6, 1917) began with an attack in which the 8th Battalion suffered 177 casualties of all ranks. All this time Theodore was with his men, helping the stretcher bearers remove the wounded from the mud of No Man’s Land at night. After several nights he was reported missing and was eventually found lying asleep in a water-filled shell hole into which he had collapsed from exhaustion. 

In October 1917 Theodore was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) 'for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty', while rescuing wounded men from no-man's land throughout the night, despite himself suffering a broken wrist. 

*The Third Battle of Ypres also known as the Battle of Passchendaele

The DSO was followed by the award of the Military Cross (MC) in December 1917, for repeatedly going out under heavy fire to help the stretcher bearers during an attack. Finally his Victoria Cross was awarded for outstanding bravery at Rossingal Wood on the Somme in April 1918.

Hoping to remove Rev’d. Hardy from further danger, the King suggested that he return home and become his  personal Chaplain.  Seeking to reward Hardy for his service, the Bishop of Carlisle offered him a Cumbrian parish with a magnificent rectory. But Theodore would have none of it; determined to stay with his men, he declined both offers and returned to his battalion.

In the spring of 1918, the Lincolns fought on the Somme, where Theodore's devoted and fearless actions on 5th, 25th and 27th of April 1918 resulted in him being awarded the Victoria Cross (VC).  On 27th April, he persuaded a Sergeant to help him rescue a wounded man who had fallen within 10 yards of an enemy pill box, the whole time under enemy fire. When told that he had been nominated for the VC Theodore said, "I really must protest".

On 10th October 1918 at night, Theodore was seriously wounded by machine gun fire while with the Lincolns as they were crossing a footbridge accompanying a fighting patrol of the 8th Somersets on 8th October 1918 on the Selle River near Cambrai. The first soldiers to reach Hardy remembered him saying quietly: 'I’ve been hit. I’m sorry to be a nuisance.' He was evacuated to No. 2 Red Cross Hospital at Rouen and died on 18th October, three days before his 55th birthday and less than four weeks before the Armistice.

The Reverend Theodore Bayley Hardy was buried in St. Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen, France, Grave Reference:  block S, plot V, row J, grave 1. 

Presentation of the Victoria Cross to the Reverend Theodore Bayley Hardy, VC, DSO, MC by HM King George V (1865–1936) in France - painted by Terence Tenison Cuneo (1907–1996) - Royal Army Chaplains' Museum

Sources:  Find my Past, Wikipedia and