2384 Private Robert Holtham Hardy of Coburg enlisted in July 1915 aged 18 years and 11 months. He was a jeweller by trade and lived with his parents John and Jane Hardy in Tinning Street, Brunswick.
Robert Hardy was wounded in France on 10 August 1916 and ten days later was admitted to the 2nd London General Hospital suffering from severe shrapnel wounds to both eyes, a severe fractured tibia and injuries to his side, neck and chest. His eyes were so badly injured that not only was he blinded but had both eyes removed before being admitted to St Dunstan’s Hostel for Blinded Soldiers in Regent’s Park where he remained until his injured leg turned septic and he was readmitted to hospital before being returned to Australia in July 1917. (Another great website featuring St Dunstan's can be found here.)
Immediately upon his return, the citizens of Coburg rallied to raise money for Hardy and the benefit (concert, supper and dance) held in November 1917 at the Coburg Town Hall raised £50.
Argus, 22 November 1917, p.8
Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 9 November 1917, p.3.
Brunswick and Coburg Leader, 30 November 1917, p.1.
Although the fate of a blind returned serviceman might seem dismal, Robert Hardy had benefitted from an occupational massage training program set up at St Dunstan’s to help blinded soldiers rehabilitate and find a useful occupation and sense of purpose on their return to their home countries. It seems clear that Robert Hardy benefitted from this program, because on his return to Coburg (his parents were now living in Sydney Road) he set up as a masseur. (1924 electoral roll)
Robert Hardy after his return from the war. Found on The Stanley Low Legacy website.
In the middle 1920s Robert Hardy married a Coburg girl, Ada Clift, and they had a daughter Stella. They lived firstly in Victoria Street, Coburg, but then moved to Caulfield where he died on 9 August 1931 aged only 34. True to his Coburg roots, Robert Hardy is buried at Coburg Cemetery. His father John predeceased him, dying in 1924. His mother Jane remained in Coburg and died there in 1952 aged 76. His wife Ada had a long life as a widow. She died in 1985 aged 93.
And just to show how one piece of research leads to another …
Recently a descendant of one of the Harder brothers of May Street, Coburg, contacted me to say that his grandfather was also a member of the Harder family, although he did not serve because of the end of hostilities. He was Dudley Grenfell Harder, known in the family as Dougie. He also told me that Dougie's brother Victor Harder had been persuaded to seek a commission with the British by his then-girlfriend’s father, William Hill. The girlfriend, Dorcas Hill, was a member of the local Red Cross Society and was there the night of the welcome home for Robert Hardy, as one of the entertainers.
Being curious by nature, I wondered what happened to Dorcas. Like so many other young women of that time, her sweetheart did not return from the war. (Victor was killed in action on 26 April 1918.) However, she did marry – in the middle 1920s – a returned serviceman, Lieutenant Edgar Sherwen MC. He was a Wimmera lad, hailing from Kaniva near the South Australian border, and had been a State School teacher before he enlisted. He had by then completed one year of a Science degree at the University of Melbourne and on his returned gained his Bachelor of Civil Engineering, completed with Repatriation Department assistance. The young couple lived firstly with her parents in Champ Street, Coburg, but soon moved away from the area. Edgar Sherwen went on to work for the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works and was at one time President of Melbourne Legacy.