Some 5,000 chaplains served in the British Army during World War 1 and of these, 179 died. Our Ypres battlefield tours often visit Talbot House, where we learn of the work of chaplain Philip Clayton. Ernest Cross was another remarkable character and was chaplain to the 8th Devons, whose story we often tell on our Somme tours. One of the most famous of the World War 1 chaplains was Theodore Bayley.
The army required chaplains to carry out specified tasks, such as the conduct of church parades and overseeing the burial of the dead and in doing so, they were ordered to remain behind the lines and out of danger. Many chaplains, however, found this role inadequate. To carry the word of God to the men of the army, many chaplains believed that they must share the dangers of the troops and be with them at their hour of need when they experienced fear, suffered pain or were dying.
One of these chaplains was Theodore Bailey Hardy. Hardy was born in Exeter in 1863 and was the son of a textile merchant. After graduating from London University, he became a schoolmaster and was not ordained until 1898. He continued in his career as a teacher, becoming the Headmaster of Bentham Grammar School. When war broke out in 1914 Hardy was a parish priest in the Lake District and immediately volunteered his services as a chaplain, but at 51 was turned down as too old. However, as the army greatly expanded, Hardy eventually secured a position as a chaplain in 1916. He was initially based at the army base at Etaples, but by the end of the year secured the position he wanted as chaplain to two front line units, the 8th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment and the 8th Battalion the Somerset Regiment.
The role of army chaplain increased in complexity as the war continued. In addition to carrying out official army expectations and endless funerals, many found themselves drawn more and more into soldiers’ welfare; representing soldiers’ concerns, assisting with the wounded and providing daily comforts. On arriving in France, Hardy sought advice from an experienced member of the Chaplain’s Department. He was told to, “Take a box of fags in your haversack and a great deal of love in your heart and go up to them. Laugh with them, joke with them. You can pray with them sometimes, but pray for them always.”
Hardy had no doubt that his responsibilities lay in being with the men he ministered to and in sharing their dangers. By the end of the war his fearless courage in carrying out his duties resulted in him being one of the most highly decorated men in the army. His courage in organising parties to bring in wounded, in placing himself in the most dangerous places and his refusal to leave even a single wounded man behind, became legendary. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Military Cross in 1917. In one action Hardy’s battalion was driven out of Rossignol Wood by German troops on the Somme in April 1918. After it was assumed that all of the survivors had evacuated the wood and were back in their own lines, Hardy came running out of the trees and reported that a wounded man had been left behind. He returned with a sergeant and brought the man in from within ten yards of a German position. Following this action he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Theodore Hardy was wounded in October 1918 and died a week later in hospital in Rouen, where is buried in St Sever Cemetery.