Whilst searching for biographies of officers of The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment in The Times, I came across a story that grabbed my attention entitled ‘Thomas Hardy of Festubert’.
The story begins with an incongruous entry in the London Gazette, 4th June 1915:
‘The King has approved the removal from the Service of the undermentioned Officer of the Indian Army:- Captain Hugh Sale Smart. Dated 29th December 1914’
Hugh Sale Smart was born on 3rd February 1885 in Kurnool, India, where his father Alexander was a Colonel with the Royal Engineers. Hugh was educated at Clifton College, Oxford, as well as spending time in Germany and being tutored privately. In 1904 he applied for a commission, and on gaining this in August 1905 was appointed to the South Staffordshire Regiment. After two years he transferred to the 53rd Sikhs, and thereafter also spent time with the Khyber Rifles on the Afghan frontier.
Serving on the Indian frontier when war broke out, he made three applications to rejoin his old regiment, but on each occasion was turned down. In December 1914 he was granted leave but when it expired, failed to rejoin his regiment. This subsequently led to his dismissal. It appears that, desperate to see action, Hugh had instead travelled back to England. There he enlisted as a Private in the 2nd Battalion The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, under the alias ‘Thomas Hardy’. Here his story may have ended, but for his death at Festubert in May 1915.
In May 1915 the 2nd Queen’s were part of the 22nd Brigade, 7th Division. Also in that Brigade was the 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers. It seems that ‘Private Hardy’ was attached to them for training in bomb throwing. On 16th May, in the attack at Festubert, the bombing parties were heavily utilised in clearing the networks of German trenches. For his efforts during this action Company Sergeant Major (later Lieutenant) Frederick Barter of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers was awarded the Victoria Cross. The true story of ‘Thomas Hardy’, as one of the volunteers who assisted Barter, came to light soon after. The following extract is taken from Deeds That Thrill the Empire:
“Hardy was a man of splendid physique, obviously a gentleman, and so proficient in his military duties that Barter, with whom he soon became on intimate terms, began to suspect that he was an officer who had left the service possibly under a cloud, and had enlisted under an assumed name. His suspicious proved, in the main, to be correct, for one day ‘Hardy’ admitted to him that his real name was Smart, and that he had been a captain in the 53rd Sikhs, and that, being on leave in England at the time when war broke out, he had decided not to return to India, but to join a British regiment as a private in order to make sure of getting to the front. He begged Barter to keep the fact a secret while he lived, but, should he be killed in action, he might then consider himself at liberty to make it public. In the bomb attack, Private ‘Hardy’ showed such splendid courage that, in Lieutenant Barter’s opinion he would, had he survived, have certainly awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. “He was,” said he, in conversation with a representative of a London paper, “about ten yards from the first German trench when he got wounded. It was a terrible blow in the right shoulder. Some of our men bound up the wound, and I shouted, ‘Hardy, go back!’ I could see, however that he was determined to go at the enemy. ‘Hardy’ answered: ‘It’s all right, for I am left handed.’ The next thing I saw was ‘Hardy’ rushing off to our right, and, with the bravery which seemed his characteristic, he commenced to slam the bombs at the enemy. He carried on like that for about twenty or thirty yards, and he was eventually shot through the head, half of which was blown off. He died a hero’s death, and no one regretted his end more than I did, for I was probably attached to him more than anyone else, and was afforded opportunities of seeing his sterling worth. Hardy was a man of splendid physique – I should say he was quite six feet high, and there can be no doubt of this, that he was six feet of real manhood. A more fearless fellow it would be impossible to find. We all loved him. I have never seen a happier man. He seemed to live to beat the Germans.”
Following his death it seems that word of Private Hardy’s true identity soon reached the War Office. His service record at The National Archives contains a letter that states: ‘The General Officer Commanding IV Corps [Rawlinson] said Private Hardy was recommended for the Victoria Cross and notwithstanding the fact that he made a false answer on attestation he strongly recommended him for a posthumous Victoria Cross. The Adjutant General, British Army in the Field, forwarded the correspondence for such action as might be desirable, but it was ascertained that the F.M. C-in-C did not recommend the issue of the Victoria Cross and that had Private Hardy lived he would have been granted the Distinguished Conduct Medal.’
The issue of Captain Smart’s dismissal from the Indian Army was obviously discussed at a high level, and the following notice appeared in the London Gazette, 6th August 1915:
‘The King has approved the cancellation of the removal from the service of Captain Hugh Sale Smart, Indian Army (killed in action 17th May, 1915), which was notified in the London Gazette of 4th June, 1915, with effect from the 29th December, 1914.’
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Deeds That Thrill the Empire
The Illustrated War News
The National Archives