Part 2 of our feature about former Bentham Grammar School head Theodore Bayley Hardy and his explots in the Great War.
Theodore Bayley Hardy became head of Bentham Grammar School in 1908. But in August 1916 at the age of 53 he was accepted for army service as a temporary chaplain to the forces – to make up for those chaplains lost in the Battle of the Somme.
He was attached to two battalions, the 8th Lincolns and the 8th Somerset Light Infantry and over the next two years was to become the most decorated non-combatant in the Great War.
And on October 11, the Somersets and Lincolns were in the thick of the action, fighting along the River Selle.
As ever Hardy was with them.
Soldiers later recalled he had turned up as usual very quietly. He had scrambled down a bank and crossed a plank bridge at Briastre just completed by engineers over the river.
For once the men were looking forward with more optimism. The enemy seemed to be on the retreat and there was even talk of peace by Christmas.
As day dawned, Hardy told the soldiers he had to go. A short time later they heard machine gun fire and realised their beloved chaplain had been shot.
A bullet hit him in the thigh and as men rushed to his aid his only reply was: “I’m sorry to cause you so much trouble boys, but I think I have been hit.”
Under heavy fire, a stretcher party managed to evacuate him. He was evacuated to a hospital in Rouen where he died of pneumonia on October 18, two days before his 55th birthday. It was just three weeks before the Armistice.
When Elizabeth Hardy wrote to the stretcher bearers thanking them for their bravery, they wrote back: “Yes, it was difficult, but we would go through hell itself for our dear old padre.”
In his wonderful book, It’s Only Me, David Raw tells a remarkable tale of a man who was so unassuming that he tried to cover up the decorations he wore on his tunic.
“He never sought recognition, just the chance to do the job he wanted to do”, said David.
“The more research I did, the more I began to recognise what a wonderful man Theodore Hardy was. Wherever I looked, there was the clear evidence of a man devoted to duty and his fellow man.
“A man who loved his family but also found so much time for others and I think his great displays of heroism reflect on the values and faith that he believed in.”
When doing his research Hardy’s granddaughter, Patricia, showed David her grandfather’s pocket New Testament which he carried everywhere in his breast pocket.
It had numerous annotations and gives a remarkable insight into his beliefs and motivation.
So too did letters written by colleagues and the men he served with.
One letter recalled the chaplain’s courage.
“He was never regardless or unconscious of danger, but his spirit rose supreme above it.”
David was fortunate to have access to such original material and it inspired him to write the biography of T.B. Hardy, It’s Only Me.
Now David has uncovered so much more new material that he has been approached by his publisher to revise and update It’s Only Me.
He said: “Theodore Bayley Hardy was more than just a hero; he was a great thinker and a person who put the lives of others very much to the fore. The revised book will give further insight into the man was once memorably described as ‘the bravest of the brave’.
David Raw, now happily retired, divides his time between homes in Scotland and Cumbria, from where he continues to write.
He has written another acclaimed war book, The Bradford Pals, published by Pen & Sword.
He gives talks to local history groups and also takes parties on tours of the First War battlefields. He is planning a centenary tour to the Western Front between August 2 and 7.
To find out more information and to obtain a copy of his books you can contact David on 07710 270640, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.