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Lieutenant Joe Hardy

Lieutenant Joseph Stephenson Davidson Hardy

 

Unit : Signals Platoon, HQ Company, 1st Battalion The Border Regiment

Army No. : 258048

Awards : Military Cross

 

Joe Hardy was born in Annan, Scotland, in 1917. He had eight brothers, all of whom fought during the Second World War, and three of them with the Border Regiment. He joined the 1st Border in 1933 and qualified as a signaller, which proved to be his occupation for most of his military career. When the Battalion returned from Palestine in 1939, Hardy was promoted to Sergeant and continued to serve with the Battalion when posted to France in 1939. Like everyone, he spent several hours queing in the water at Dunkirk for a boat to take him back to England. Just as his time to be evacuated came he found that a young officer was organising the men being loaded onto boats, Hardy felt that the man had clearly been doing this job for a very long time and had all the looks of someone who could not take much more before he went under. Hardy insisted that this officer should be the first man into the next boat whilst he took over the duties, which he continued to perform for an unknown length of time before he in turn handed the responsibility over to another Sergeant. Hardy returned safely to Britain. He later said "...compared with Arnhem, Dunkirk was a quiet weekend."

 

Promoted to Lieutenant, Hardy took part in the invasion of Sicily on the 9th July 1943. The following is his account of events, courtesy of British Airborne Forces Association (Vic) Inc.

 

"CRASH ! The sound of my torch, which I had dropped, rending the canvas, on it's way to the ground below, did nothing to boost my confidence, as I entered the glider. We, of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, together with the 1st Parachute Brigade, assembled in Tunisia, North Africa, were a major part of the Allied Army, taking off in stages, to invade the soft under-belly of Hitler's European fortress. This assault, on July 9th, 1943, preceded the northern thrust into France by almost 12 months. Our destination - Syracuse, a major port on the extreme southern tip of Sicily.

 

As the tracer bullets, so elegant in their upward trajectory, but so deadly in their impact, greeted our approach to the coast, we cast off - too early. We landed, not a few hundred yards inland, but in the sea, about 200 yards from the shore and in the dark. The weather was stormy and the inexperienced American aircrews, carrying a navigator only in the leading aircraft of each section, dropped their cargoes of 2,000 men, willy-nilly, into the sea or scattered them far apart over the mountainous countryside.

 

The main fuselage of my glider sank immediately below the water level,  kept near to the surface only by the span of the wings. Somehow, I managed to force open the door and releasing my equipment pulled myself out. An air lock, fortunately, enabled those guys trapped inside to gulp down air and, remembering the incident with the torch, as I swam along,  I kicked the canvas, tearing it in several places. This enabled the trapped men inside to tear the canvas and exit the aircraft."

 

As the glider was only 200 yards from the shoreline, it was vital that they made it to land before daybreak when they would become an easy target for the machine-gunners who they knew were nearby. Hardy went ashore with Captains Stafford and Black to take out these positions, despite their being armed with just three revolvers and 54 rounds of ammunition.

 

"Three of the survivors and I, were able to swim to the shore, minus our equipment and boots, which we shed for ease of movement. I did, however, cling on to my revolver.  Once on shore we were confronted by a  high, virtually perpendicular cliff, which was impossible for us to climb in the darkness."

 

As they waited for first light, a Wellington bomber crashed nearby leaving Stafford badly wounded, but miraculously neither Hardy or Black were hurt. Shortly after the Battalion Commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Britten, arrived on the scene, and as soon as the light permitted he and Hardy climbed the cliff face.

 

"Waiting until the light was favourable, we scaled the cliff and at the summit we found three Italians, manning a machine gun. Every soldier who has served overseas, picks up smatterings  of native "lingo's", not, of course, all necessarily the same language. Being no exception, in a commanding voice, I observed "La guerra finito. Mussolini kaput. !" Thankfully, they readily surrendered and I took the opportunity to relieve one of them of his footwear. Taking their weapons, after brief instructions on how they operated, we prepared to take the fight to the enemy. The CO,  who by this time, had joined us and taken control, decided that we must locate those members of our Battalion in our immediate zone of conflict and organise them into a coherent fighting force. Leaving the other members of our small force to defend the area we had occupied, he and I set off through what was, potentially, enemy territory. After stealthily  descending a  hill,  I peered over a wall situated at the bottom. To my astonishment, the quarry beneath was filled with approximately eighty people, a minority being female, the rest armed soldiers. I then boldly descended to the quarry floor and instructed them to destroy their weapons by hurling large rocks at them, while the weapons  were supported in an angled position. I then turned my back on them and thankfully departed the scene."

 

An alternative account of his story and that of the occupants of Glider No.57 was included with the Battalion war diary:

 

The glider took off from Strip C at 1915 hrs and circled to get into formation for about twenty minutes.  As soon as all the gliders were in the air a course was set out to sea.  Before take-off the crew were all instructed what to do in case of the glider coming down in the sea, on the correct landing zone, or a crash landing off the zone.  The crew were all Bn HQ personnel, Lt Col Britten MBE, Capt N.A.H. Stafford, Capt G.G. Black, Lt J.S.D. Hardy, Sjt Burton, L Cpl Toman, L Cpl Smith, Pte Clark, Pte Ditte, Pte Cull, Cpl Day and Sgm Gilbert.  The two pilots were Lt Loughran and an American pilot.

 

The trip was uneventful, and the glider, with a fairly heavy load, flew very well.  The load included a handcart and five folding cycles, as well as two No.18 sets, carried by the signallers.

 

Two islands, which we took to be Linosa and Malta were the only land sighted until about 2000 hrs [2200 hrs?], when the coast of Sicily could be plainly seen off the port side.  There was a little flak, but none of it came very near us at all.  Our pilot cast off at what we, the crew, thought was the correct place, but which, was as near as the tug was willing to go without taking evasive action.  We were actually quite a way out at a height of only 1300 ft.  We glided all along the South coast of the Cap du Porco, heading straight for the LZ, but could not make landfall.  Lt Loughran gave us "prepare to ditch", but his order was not heard at the back of the glider.  The front emergency doors were jettisoned, and the rear doors still locked when the glider actually hit the water.

 

The fuselage filled absolutely immediately, but there was no panic at all.  About half of the crew came through the doors, the remainder through the roof.  The first man out started to split the roof as soon as they were clear, and thereby saved the lives of those still inside.

 

We formed up on the wings a little shaken, but really no worse, and were about to make a plan of action when we and another glider some 50 or 60 yds away were engaged by two MG posts on the cliffs.  The enemy fired a few illumination rockets towards us, but their lights did not make the fire much more accurate.

 

Our only arms were three revolvers and about 18 rounds of amn, so it was useless trying to get all the crew ashore as a fighting unit.  We decided to make for the shore in twos and threes, those of us that were armed keeping together to try to do something about the enemy posts.  On arrival in shore we found ourselves at the bottom of a cliff face where it was impossible to get higher to get into position anywhere near the enemy posts.  We decided to lay up until the following morning.

 

At 0220 hrs on the morning of the 10th, a bomber, which must have been hit by flak, dropped its bomb load in the water about thirty yards away from us, then crashed into the sea itself.  Capt Stafford was wounded in the neck and the hand.

 

At first light we moved along the cliff face then climbed to a ledge fifteen or twenty feet higher.  We found all the crew except three, gathered them together, and decided to swim out to the gliders to try to get some water and tinned food.  Two or three of us were fairly successful, so the situation, apart from lack of arms, was not too bad.  We also managed to get some of the first aid kits from the gliders.

 

At 1000 hrs Lt Col Britten decided to attempt to break through to the Bn area, a distance of six to eight miles, so he and Lt Hardy left at 1400 hrs, hoping to meet up with the Bn by first light the next day.  We covered about 1000 yds in the first two hours, this in stockinged feet over the rocks was better than we had hoped, but we thought this too slow, so we pocketed our revolvers and decided to walk boldly through.

 

We met Lt Green at about 1700 hrs, he had a batch of thirty or forty prisoners, but no definite information about the Bn as a whole.  We filled our water bottles, had some tea and pressed on.

 

At one place on our way we looked over a wall and saw some 60 Italians, soldiers and civilians.  The soldiers were armed so we bluffed them that we had the situation in hand, took their arms and made them destroy them, explaining as best we could that as far as they were concerned the war was over.  We could not of course take them prisoner.  They gave us quite a cheer as we left.

 

As darkness set in we were stopped by two men of the Glider Pilot Regiment, they told us they were with a pl of the S. Stafford Regt.  As their forming up area was more or less the same as ours they joined us, together we made for Waterloo.

 

The rest of our journey was more or less uneventful and we reported to Bde HQ at about 2000 hrs.  By this time our feet were pretty tender, so we de-booted the first of the many PW.

 

We joined Major T.P.H. du Boulay at about 2100 hrs in the Bn area where we rested for the night.  The Bn moved into SYRACUSE at about 0800 hrs the next day, and from there parties were sent out to collect the wounded, and arm the unarmed men with enemy weapons.

 

Capt Stafford was collected at about 1000 hrs on the 11th and sent off to the CCS on George Beach.  The remainder moved to the Bn area on cycles with as much kit as could be collected from the gliders in an old Italian car.

 

17 Jul 43.

BNAF.

(sgd) J. Hardy Lt.

1st Bn The Border Regiment.

 

 

At Arnhem, Hardy described his landing on Sunday 17th September as: "it was not at all easy for our pilot to pick a stretch of turf to make his landing that did not have a glider wing sticking into it from the left or right hand side, but he managed it. There was gliders all over the place... Happy to be safely on the ground, the fact that we were 60 miles behind enemy lines seemed of little importance."

 

"On my way to the RV, I came across two very young soldiers who had the idea that everything was so very normal that the obvious thing for them to do was to take off their equipment and brew a cup of tea. I explained, in the way that an ex-Sergeant usually explains things - that was, by screaming as loudly as I could - that we were about sixty miles behind the enemy lines, that we were surrounded by German troops, and that this was not really the time for an afternoon tea party. I managed to keep a very straight and very stern face for the few seconds that it took them to get on their way, and as soon as they were out of earshot I allowed myself a good hearty laugh. It was a terrific morale booster to see two kids, who, in a situation of that sort, thought the most important thing was a cup of char."

 

On Monday 18th September, Hardy was ordered to mount a Jeep and join "B" Company at Renkum; on the way he captured two Germans in quite a theatrical fashion; "I saw the outline of two soldiers... walking towards Arnhem... then I tumbled to the fact that they were not B Company men at all... Jock slammed the brakes on, and I half-leapt and was half-thrown over the bonnet of the jeep, landed at the feet of the two German boys with my automatic pointed at their guts, and the only stupid thing I could think of to say was "How about it chum?"... Two Dutch interpreters questioned the Germans, and they told us that they were a part of a unit that was marching along the Utrecht-Arnhem road..."

 

For his later actions with "B" Company, Lieutenant Hardy was awarded the Military Cross:

 

On 18th September 1944 at ARNHEM, Lieutenant HARDY, as signal officer, was ordered to lay cable from Battalion H.Q. to B Company which was an isolated detachment two miles from the remainder of the Battalion. Shortly after arrival in this Company area the enemy attacked in considerable strength and the Company was surrounded. Lieutenant HARDY immediately assumed duties as Second in Command of the Company, and under intense mortar and machine-gun fire he toured the Company area encouraging the men to greater efforts. When orders eventually reached the Company to break out and rejoin the Battalion, Lieutenant HARDY personally led the first troops, and though still under intense fire he succeeded in breaking out and was largely responsible for the successful withdrawal of B Company back to the main Battalion position. Had this withdrawal not been successful the whole Battalion position would have been gravely jeopardised. Throughout the entire operation Lieutenant Hardy's vigour and contempt of danger were an inspiration and source of encouragement to all around him.

 

"B" Company made good their escape by keeping as quiet as possible and creeping along the riverbank until they were out of the clutches of the enemy. Of the moment that "B" Company arrived back at the Battalion's positions, Hardy later remarked, "We were greeted as conquering heroes. After all, we had knocked off quite a lot of the enemy; we had been surrounded by a far superior force; and we had fought our way out. It hardly seemed necessary at the time to tell people that we had sneaked out through the back entrance."

 

Later in the battle for Oosterbeek, Lieutenant Hardy had assumed the responsibility of directing artillery support after the Forward Observation Officer had been killed. On Sunday 24th September, he asked for fire to be brought down in front of "C" Company's positions, and expecting to receive the customary reply from the Light Regiment that they were out of ammunition, he instead found himself talking to an American officer in command of a Regiment of heavy guns. These duly opened fire with great accuracy and broke up the attack on "C" Company.

 

On the night of the withdrawal, Lieutenant Hardy was at Divisional HQ and ordered to set free the last of the carrier pigeons which had been brought in with the Division. There was little food left for it and the eyes of hungry soldiers had been looking its way, so it was decided that it should be given a chance to survive. Hardy asked Major Cousens, the acting Commander of the 1st Border, what he should write, "Anything you like" was the reply. He wrote his message, set the pigeon free, and as luck would have it the bird managed to find its way to VIII Corps HQ. The message they found attached read: "Have to release bird owing to shortage food and water. About eight tanks laying about in sub-unit areas, very untidy but not otherwise causing much trouble. Now using as many German weapons as we have British. MG 34s most effective when aimed towards Germany. Dutch people grand but Dutch tobacco rather stringy. Great beard-growing competition on in our unit, but no time to check up on the winner. Please repeat to Brig R. H. Bower and REAR HQ HSG."

 

Joe Hardy safely withdrew across the Rhine with the rest of the Division. He later reflected on the operation: "Many historians writing of the Battle of Arnhem are inclined to classify the whole affair as a failure, the fact that we had to 'pull out' I suppose helps them to think that way. Most of us that fought there do not take that point of view at all. We were supposed to hold the bridge for twenty four hours, and it was held for much longer than that. We were supposed to find in the Arnhem area very few Germans, all of whom were supposed to be anything but first class troops. There was not supposed to be any German armour in the area. In effect, there was quite a lot of enemy troops in the area, on top of which there was a complete Army of them that came at us from the west, and a Battalion that was actually in the dropping area..."

 

After the war, he joined the Durham County Fire Brigade before leaving for Australia in 1956. Joe Hardy died in Melbourne on the 1st January 2005.

 

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