Field Marshal Sir John Harding, 1st Lord Harding of Petherton GCB CBE DSO MC

Allan Francis 'John' Harding was born on 10 Feb 1896. He was educated at Ilminster Grammar School and King's College London. He worked in the Civil Service until 1914 when he joined the 11th (County of London) Battalion (Finsbury Rifles) of the London Regiment. In the First World War he was attached to the Machine-Gun Corps. He fought at Gallipoli in August 1915 and transferred to the Somerset Light Infantry on 22 Mar 1917. He won the MC in the Third Battle of Gaza in Nov 1917. He did not adopt the name John until after the war. He was posted to India in 1921 and promoted to captain on 11 Oct 1923. He was a company commander with the rank of major in the 2nd Battalion in May 1935 and reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel on 1 Jan 1938.

He commanded the 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry at the beginning of WW2, in Waziristan, then was on the staff of Middle East Command in Sep 19140. He was a brigadier on the staff in the Western Desert in Dec 1940 and took command at one stage, making the decision to hold Tobruk. He was promoted to Colonel on 9 Aug 1941 and commanded the 7th Armoured Division in Sep 1942 taking an active part leading his forward HQ at El Alamein where he was wounded. He subsequently served in Italy as Chief of Staff to General Alexander, and promoted to major-general in July 1944. He was further promoted to lieutenant-general on 19 Aug 1946 and commanded British forces in the Mediterranean before going on to command in the Far East in 1949. He was there during the Malayan Emergency. By Aug 1951 he was Commander-in-Chief of the army on the Rhine. The following year he was Chief of the Imperial General Staff, advising the government on the Mau Mau uprising. He reached the rank of Field Marshal on 21 July 1953 and retired in Sep 1955.

He was Colonel of his old regiment, the Somerset Light Infantry from 13 April 1953 and the Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry from 6 Oct 1959. He had been Colonel of other units; The North Somerset Yeomanry, 6th Queen Elizabeth's Own Gurkhas, and the Life Guards.

On 3 Oct 1955 Harding was appointed Governor of Cyprus. EOKA had begun their armed struggle against British rule on 1 April 1955 (a day still marked by a national holiday in Cyprus). Harding took strict measures to tighten the security situation. To this end he instituted unprecedented measures including curfews, closures of schools, the opening of internment camps, the indefinite detention of suspects without trial, and the imposition of the death penalty for offences such as carrying weapons, incendiary devices or any material that could be used for a bomb. A number of such executions took place, often in controversial circumstances. Michalis Karaolis was convicted of murdering a local constable, and Andreas Dimitriou also convicted for attempted murder. They were both hanged in Nicosia on 10 May 1956, an act that led to great resentment and retaliation. Many in Britain and other countries were also outraged. Harding attempted negotiations with Archbishop Makarios III but these ended badly and Makarios was exiled to Seychelles. On 21 Mar 1956 EOKA made an assassination attempt on Harding's life which failed. The time bomb which was placed under his bed failed to go off. Harding offered a reward of 10,000 pounds for General George Grivas, leader of EOKA. Facing growing criticism in the UK about his methods and the lack of their effectiveness, Sir John Harding resigned on 22 Oct 1957, and was replaced by Sir Hugh Foot.

He was created Baron Harding of Petherton in Jan 1958. Harding was married to Mary Rooke in 1927 and they had one son, John Charles Harding who was the 2nd Baron Harding. Lord Harding died at his home in Nether Compton, Dorset on 20 January 1989.

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by Stephen Luscombe