Rest in Peace
Field Marshal Lord Harding
Field Marshal The Lord Harding of Petherton.
GCB. CBE. DSO. MD. Born.1896. Died 1989 aged 93yrs.
EXTRACT FROM OBITUARY BY JRL ANDERSON IN THE INDEPENDENT
"Harding treated his task as a military emergency.
His handling of the situation provoked
many criticisms - the worst tempered of them talked of
"shameful excesses" and "murderous
colonialism", not appreciating the difficulties the
Governor faced. On the one hand he had to
suppress what was rebellion and also to keep his own troops
He never got the credit he deserved for
becoming master of a difficult situation, and much of
the criticism - due to the British Government of the day,
if to anyone - fell unjustly upon him.
In the desert, contemporary accounts speak of his "unshakeable
inspiring influence amid
violent eddies and currents in troublous days. He was
as popular a CIGS as ever the army has
had, extremely competent and at the same time kindly and
If his peerage was the reward (in 1958)
of his services in Cyprus it was also a tribute to a
great solider who had fought his way to the top and who
from one war to another made no
enemies except the enemies of his country".
THE TIMES 21 JANUARY 1988:
"Field Marshal Lord Harding of Petherton,
GCB, CBE, DSO and two Bars, MC who died on
January 20 at the age of 92, was the first man in history
of the British Army to begin his career
as a Territorial and end it as Chief of the Imperial General
Soldiering, though he came to it by chance,
was his life and love. Yet he had to wait until after
the war for public recognition. Through the accident of
war and wounds he failed to hold one of
the wartime supreme commands, though his reputation among
his fellow soldiers was
He came to direct the fortunes of the
Army at critical periods during the cold war and he held
the governorship of Cyprus in troubled times at the end
of the 1950s.
Born in February 1896 in Somerset, Allan
Francis Harding began his working life as a clerk in
the Post Office Savings Bank in London, after leaving
Ilminster Grammar School. It was in
London that he was introduced to Territorial soldiering,
and he joined the Finsbury Rifles, the
11th Battalion the County of London Regiment. In May 1914
he was commissioned, and by
the following year he was on his way to Gallipoli as a
platoon commander. He quickly made
his mark as a soldier, and in 1917 he obtained a regular
He was then gazetted to his county regiment,
the Somerset Light Infantry. Serving in
Palestine he was given command of a machine gun battalion
and thus, at 22 became a
lieutenant-colonel. After the war, during which he won
the MC he reverted to his substantive
rank of lieutenant, and it was not until 1938 that he
was appointed Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel,
thus regaining the rank he had held 20 years earlier.
He bore this long wait uncomplainingly.
The period between the wars impressed
several lessons on Harding. He learned to
appreciate the potential of armour. The following year
at the Staff College he was fortunate
enough to have Bernard Montgomery and Richard O'Connor
as instructors. In 1934-35 he
gained valuable experience of politico-military problems
as Brigade Major in the international
force supervising the Saar Plebiscite.
In 1936 at the War Office he was concerned
with studying the problem of countering a threat
to Egypt from Italian - held Cyrenaica.
But the outbreak of war found him frustratingly
far from the scene of action, serving with his
regiment on the North West Frontier in India. It was not
until October 1940 that he was sent to
the Middle East as GSOI 6th Division. Even then divisional
HQ played no part in General
Wavell's offensive against the Italians, but Wavell made
Harding his personal liaison officer
with General O'Connor, commander of the Western Desert
Force (later 13 Corps), and
Harding stayed with O'Connor throughout the fighting,
so impressing him that he secured his
services as his Chief of Staff thereafter.
Harding continued to hold this onerous
appointment under O'Connor's successors General
Beresford-Pierse and General Godwin-Austen; he was lucky
not be among the party when
O'Connor and General Sir Philip Neame were captured by
the Germans in March 1941.
During operation "Crusader" which relieved Tobruck
in November 1941, Harding was a tower
of strength, with his imperturbability and clarity of
mind, in an exhausting and confusing series
of battles. At one point Corps HQ was almost surrounded
by the enemy, but managed to fight
its way through to join the beleaguered Tobruk garrison.
When Godwin-Austen was relieved of his
command of 13 Corps after the debacle following
Rommel's riposte from Agheila in 1942, in which Godwin-Austen's
orders for withdrawal were
countermanded by General Ritchie at Auchinleck's instigation,
Harding insisted on being
relieved too, a move characteristic of his honesty and
After a brief period of frustrating non-combatant
activity in training and on the staff, Harding
was soon back in action in command of the 7th Armoured
Division, the "Desert Rats", on the
eve of Alamein. Though an infantryman Harding had all
the temperament of a cavalry officer,
and during the battle itself he was an inspiring example.
When his division attempted to force its
way through minefields he went forward himself to
see whether or not a gap had been cleared. The driver
of his jeep was killed at his side, but he
pressed on. In the pursuit which followed the battle he
was far-seeing in his decisions, always
fretting at the delays his anxious superiors imposed on
He was, typically, standing on top of
his brigade commander's tank, urging the latter to get
armour forward to assail the enemy when a shell landed
nearby, knocking him off the tank and
severely wounding him. Any attempt to evacuate him by
ambulance over the rugged country
was sure to prove fatal, so his men worked all night to
construct an emergency landing strip.
Next day, while the fighters of the Desert Air Force fought
running battles with the Luftwaffe
overhead, he was evacuated by air ambulance to Egypt.
His three DSOs gained in 1941, 1942 and 1943 are an eloquent
testimony to his fighting
record in the desert.
After recovering from his wounds Harding
was appointed to command the 8th Armoured
Corps, then training for the Normandy landings. But his
known skill as a staff officer called him
from this congenial task to be Alexander's Chief of Staff
in 15th Army Group, and he spent the
rest of the war in the Mediterranean. Immediately after
the war he commanded 13th Corps in
Trieste in troubled times. During the war he had adopted
John as a christian name by deed
poll, having been styled thus from the earliest days by
his Army friends.
After a brief "rest" as GOC
Southern Command, Harding went to Singapore as commander
Far East Land Forces in 1949. With the Korean war, the
French Indo-China war, and the battle
against communist insurgents in Malaya, it was a tense
time throughout. Harding was always
highly aware of the need for some regional organisation
which later took shape as Seato.
His appointment to the British Army to the Rhine in 1951
was an equally critical one. NATO
was in its infancy; the ground force shield in western
Europe had to be built up; British
formations had to be brought to life again and thoroughly
prepared for war. Harding brought a
sense of urgency to the situation and his great experience
of high command breathed new life
into units that had become used to the undemanding life
of an army of occupation.
When, in November 1952, Harding was called
to take over from Field Marshal Sir William
Slim as CIGS he left a BAOR which was tuned for battle.
The boy who started life as a savings
bank clerk had now reached the top of a widely different
profession. But his time as CIGS was by no means a settling
into the comfortable upholstered
seat at the top, and marking time for his pension. He
was a man with a vision of how the Army
should develop in the long term, and a time of international
instability which led to continually
changing requirements made it difficult to achieve many
of his far sighted plans. While
therefore relishing his job, Harding was often solely
In 1955 he was about to retire to life
in the country when he was summoned by the
government to take on one of his toughest assignments.
The Conservative administration had
got itself into an international impasse over Cyprus where
the situation was deteriorating. It
was decided to appoint a military governor and commander-in-chief
with direct responsibility
for everything that went on in the island.
Harding had to address himself to projects
of economic and social development, and to
broadcasting. On the political front he performed the
singular feat of winning the confidence of
Archbishop Makarios, the leader of the Enosis movement.
When in 1956 Makarios was deported to the Seychelles after
talks with Mr Lennox-Boyd, the
Colonial Secretary had failed, Harding was left to battle
against the EOKA terrorists. By 1957,
judging that EOKA was on its legs, Harding accepted an
offer of a ceasefire from EOKA. Its
leader, Grivas, was made an offer of free passage to Greece.
He did not avail himself of it, but
his capacity for mischief was much reduced, and a period
of comparative quiet followed.
In talks held in London later in 1957 Harding pressed
for the release of Makarios under
generous terms. This view eventually prevailed, though
the emergency regulations in Cyprus
were only slightly relaxed.
In final retirement, Harding, who was
created first Lord Harding of Petherton in 1958, served
as chairman of the Horse Race Betting Levy Board and was
also chairman of the Plessey
Company. Away from these duties he tended his Somerset
garden. He was also Colonel of
the Somerset Light Infantry (from 1960 The Cornwall and
Somerset Light Infantry).
His wife, Mary, died in 1983. He leaves a son.