Honouring a First World War army chaplain hero on Remembrance Sunday

news banner the Revd Stuart Turner CF with 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment in 2016The Revd Stuart Turner CF, Army Chaplain to the Defence School of Communications and Information Systems at Blandford Garrison, reflects on the centenary of the death of the Revd Theodore Bayley Hardy VC DSO MC, who died of wounds in France on 18 October 1918, less than a month before the armistice.

He says: ‘Although the Revd Theodore Bayley Hardy VC DSO MC became one of the most highly-decorated non-combatants of the Great War, this former school master was described by one of his pupils as, “the last person you would expect to win a VC”.  In 1914, Hardy was a quiet, unassuming 51-year-old vicar from the Cumbrian fells.  He applied to serve as a chaplain but was rejected several times due to his considerable age.  Hardy was eventually accepted into service after the war took its toll on the younger generation of chaplains, especially during the slaughter of the Battle of the Somme.  

‘In the Autumn of 1916, he found himself deployed as chaplain to a transit camp on the coast of France.  This was not enough for Hardy, who felt called to serve at the front.  The army agreed to transfer him to the Lincolnshire Regiment in December 1916.  Hardy lived with the troops in the forward trenches, dodging the constant gunfire, handing out sweets and cigarettes, writing letters for the troops and helping to carry the wounded to safety.  Seeking to better earn the trust of the men, he took to visiting them at night in the trenches, while conducting his chaplaincy duties by day.  He often went without sleep and a visiting general once commented that Hardy appeared to be “asleep on his feet” during his own service.

news banner the Revd Theodore Bayley Hardy VC DSO MC

‘On the 31 July, the Battle of Passchendaele began with an attack in which the Lincolns suffered 177 casualties of all ranks.  All this time Hardy was with his men, helping the stretcher bearers extricate the wounded from the mud at night.  In October 1917, Hardy was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”, for rescuing wounded men from no-man's land throughout the night, despite himself suffering a broken wrist. This was followed by the award of the Military Cross (MC) in December 1917, for repeatedly going out under heavy fire with the stretcher bearers.

‘In the spring of 1918, the Lincolns fought in the Somme and Hardy was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for a series of fearless actions, including rescuing a wounded man from within 10 yards of an enemy pill box despite being under constant fire.  On the 9 August, King George V personally presented Hardy with his medal in France.  Hoping to remove him from further danger, the King suggested that Hardy return home and become his chaplain.  Hardy declined the King's offer. Determined to stay with his men, he returned to his battalion.

‘On 10 October 1918, Hardy was hit by machine gun fire whilst crossing a bridge at night.  The first soldiers to reach Hardy remembered him saying quietly: “I’ve been hit. I’m sorry to be a nuisance.”  Hardy died on 18 October, three days before his 55 birthday and less than four weeks before the armistice.  Hardy was buried in the cemetery at St Sever, near Rouen, and his medals are held by the Museum of Army Chaplaincy at Amport House.

‘Hardy was undoubtedly an inspiration to the men with whom he served, as well as to future generations of military chaplains.  He was one of three army “padres” (an army chaplain) to win the VC during the First World War; 67 who were awarded the DSO; and a further 449 the MC.  Hardy is also one of the 179 army chaplains who died in the Great War.  In recognition of their sacrifice, King George V conferred the prefix “Royal” on the army chaplains’ department. 

‘In this centenary year, several events marked the wider contribution of army chaplains during the First World War and Hardy's service, such as the laying of a VC pavement stone near his birthplace in Exeter on 5 April 2018 by the county council and the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department

‘As the centenary of the end of the First World War is remembered, let us also show honour by reflecting on those who offer peace and comfort to those serving on the front line, then and now.’