15 March 2013

Captain Hugh Cardinal Harford


Hugh Cardinal-Harford was born in 1877 in what has today become the Ampthill Square Estate in Camden. During the Boer War he was wounded quite badly in the stomach at Vaalkop in June 1901 but managed to eventually recover.

He later possibly attended the wedding of his mother to his new step-father, John Howell Junior of Hastings who, as part of an "& Son" construction company was responsible for very many of the finer buildings in and around Hastings.

When war was declared in 1914, Hugh was an Insurance inspector but quickly re-enlisted and joined the West Ham Battalion at Stratford during their formation in early 1915. I haven't yet been able to determine what particular connection there is to West Ham for Hugh. In 1906 he lived in Alderney Street in Pimlico and by 1911 he was living in Herne Hill. But the connection  must have been significant as his younger half-brother Reggie also joined the battalion in mid 1915, leaving his job as a Lloyds shipping clerk.

Both men were in D Company and well liked by all, with Hugh serving as Captain and Company Commander while Reggie was a popular Lieutenant and Platoon Commander. They both performed well as Officers and were there onboard the Princess Victoria heading to the Front in France in November  1915.

 Hugh on the left, sitting beside William Busby, in a close up from a photo of Busby's Platoon in D Company, taken in 1915 during training

They had only been there for a matter of days when Hugh's war changed. He was on horseback, leading his marching D Company towards the frontline when his horse suddenly took fright and dismounted him violently into a ditch. His injuries were clearly quite bad and he was evacuated to hospital for  recovery.

By May of 1916 he was back fit, but he didn't return to the West Ham Battalion. He did however bump into Lt William Busby, the local Scoutmaster from Forest Gate who was returning from his home leave. Busby made a note in his personal diary of how Hugh, by now promoted to Major, had been given "tremendous responsibilities..."

Hugh had been tasked with rounding up all the visibly underage boys who were serving in the Army, usually in a Front Line infantry unit of Kitchener volunteers. On average they were fifteen or sixteen years old, although some were even younger. As you can imagine, most of these lads were passionate about being there and therefore it was quite natural for them to be "most indignant" about being taken back to Etaples and held until they were sent back home to no-doubt worried parents.

Hugh's half-brother Reggie meanwhile served with the West Ham Battalion all the way through the Somme fighting, including leading his Platoon of D Company at Delville Wood where the casualties were horrendous. By the end of September he was making a transfer over to the new aspect of warfare, Tanks. 

Both men survived the war and Reggie was a regular visitor to Frank Keeble's farm in Essex for many years up until WW2. They had been good friends since meeting in early 1915 and had shared a dinner at the Trocadero back in 1916.

 
image courtesy of Michael Holden

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