Captain Toby Smart, 53rd Sikhs
Officer, Private, Deserter and Hero
At the outbreak of the 1914-18 War Captain Toby Smart, of the 53rd Sikhs, was serving on the North-West Frontier of India whilst attached to the Khyber Rifles. He did not relish the prospect of spending the war in India when great battles were being fought in France, so Smart applied for leave and left India for good in December, 1914. As soon as he arrived in England Smart decided to join up in the Queen’s, and he was sent to the Depot at Guildford, where he was known as No. G/4034 Private Thomas Hardy.
He had not informed his unit in India that he hand no intention of rejoining his regiment, and after exhaustive inquiries had been made and no trace found of him Captain Smart’s name was removed from the Army List.
At Guildford Hardy had given his age as twenty-eight and went through the same training as hundreds of other who were joining up with him. Very quickly he proved himself to be a soldier of above average ability, but kept his identity to himself.
After the battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915, Private Hardy joined the 2nd Battalion as a bomb-thrower and found himself in action at Festubert on 16th May. The Queen’s were on the right of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers in 22nd Brigade, which was one of the leading brigades in the 7th Division attack. Private Hardy must have been on the left flank of the Queen’s, for he joined a party of eight volunteers which Company Sergeant Major Barter of the Royal Welch Fusiliers had collected together in an attempt to clear the German trenches.
With these eight men Barter “proceeded to deal out death and annihilation on so wholesale a scale that in a very short time he had cleared five hundred yards of hostile trenches and captured three officers and one hundred and two men. He subsequently found and cut eleven of the enemy’s mine leads situated about twenty yards apart.”
For his gallantry Company Sergeant Major Barter was awarded the Victoria Cross, and Hardy died of wounds that he received. In Barter’s opinion Hardy would have been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal had he survived. In a newspaper interview Barter said later:
“Private Hardy was about ten yards from the first German trench when he got wounded. It was a terrible blow in the right shoulder. Some of your 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 left-handed.’ The next thing I saw was Hardy rushing off to our right, and with a bravery that seemed his characteristic, he commenced to slam 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 have been impossible to find. We all loved him. I have never seen a happier man. He seemed to live to beat the Germans.”
In that action Hardy was just one of 454 all ranks of the 2nd Battalion who became casualties. It is strange that no mention is made of him in the Regimental History, for there is no doubt that his bravery is a gallant even if an unorthodox one. His Majesty The King was graciously pleased to restore to Captain Smart the rank which he had forfeited when he deserted to become Private Hardy.
In July 1956 a Mrs. Rawson, whose husband served in the 3rd Battalion, visited the Depot, then Stoughton Barracks, Guildford, she was a cousin of Captain Smart and had come to learn what facts we knew so that she could tell her grandson of the bravery that Private Hardy had displayed forty years ago.