John Harding, 1st Baron Harding of Petherton

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For other people named John Harding, see John Harding (disambiguation).
The Lord Harding of Petherton
Field Marshal Lord Harding
Born (1896-02-10)10 February 1896
South Petherton, Somerset
Died 20 January 1989(1989-01-20) (aged 92)
Nether Compton, Dorset
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch  British Army
Years of service 1914–1955
Rank Field Marshal
Commands held Chief of the Imperial General Staff
British Army of the Rhine
Far East Land Forces
Southern Command
XIII Corps
VIII Corps
7th Armoured Division
Battles/wars First World War
Second World War
Malayan Emergency
Cyprus Emergency
Awards Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Distinguished Service Order & Two Bars
Military Cross
Mentioned in Despatches
Legion of Merit (United States)

Field Marshal Allan Francis "John" Harding, 1st Baron Harding of Petherton GCBCBEDSO & Two Bars, MC (10 February 1896 – 20 January 1989) was a British Army officer who fought in both World Wars, the Malayan Emergency, and later advised the British Government on the response to the Mau Mau Uprising. He also served as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and was Governor of Cyprus from 1955 to 1957 during the Cyprus Emergency.

Early life[edit]

Born the son of Francis Ebenezer Harding and Elizabeth Ellen Harding (née Anstice) and educated at Ilminster Grammar School and King's College London,[1] Harding started as a boy clerk in December 1911,[2] earning promotion to assistant clerk in the Post Office in July 1913[3] and then to full clerk in the Second Division of the Civil Service in April 1914.[4]

Army career[edit]

Harding left his civilian career to join the 11th (County of London) Battalion (Finsbury Rifles) of the London Regiment, a unit of the Territorial Army, as a second lieutenant on 15 May 1914.[5] During the First World War he was attached to the Machine Gun Corps and fought at Gallipoli in August 1915.[5] He transferred to the regular armed forces as a lieutenant in the Prince Albert's (Somerset Light Infantry) on 22 March 1917 and was assigned to the Middle East theatre of operations.[6] He took part in the Third Battle of Gaza in November 1917 and was subsequently awarded the Military Cross.[7]

After the war Harding adopted the name "John" and in 1921 was posted to India.[6] Promoted to captain on 11 October 1923, he joined the general staff at headquarters Southern Command in 1930 before becoming Brigade Major of the 13th Infantry Brigade in 1933.[6] He became a company commander with the 2nd Battalion of his Regiment with promotion to major on 1 July 1935.[6] After a tour as a staff officer in the Directorate of Operations at the War Office, he was further promoted to lieutenant colonel on 1 January 1938.[6]

The Second Battle of El Alamein, at which Harding commanded 7th Armoured Division, during the Second World War

Harding served in the Second World War initially as Commanding officer of 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry, in which capacity he served in Waziristan and was mentioned in despatches,[8] before joining the staff of Middle East Command in September 1940 and then becoming Brigadier on the General Staff of Western Desert Force in December 1940.[9] He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services in that role.[10] When Generals Richard O'Connor and Sir Philip Neame were captured in April 1941, Harding took temporary command of Western Desert Force in which capacity he took the decision to hold Tobruk, was promoted to the substantive rank of colonel on 9 August 1941[11] and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).[12]

He went on to be Brigadier General Staff XIII Corps (the new name adopted by the former Western Desert Force) in August 1941 and, having been mentioned in despatches in early 1942[13] and awarded a Bar to his DSO in February 1942,[14] he became Deputy Director of Military Training Middle East Command that same month in which capacity he was again mentioned in despatches in Summer 1942.[15]

He was appointed General Officer Commanding 7th Armoured Division in September 1942[9] and during the Second Battle of El Alamein in October 1942 led his forward headquarters from a tank and then a jeep and was subsequently wounded by shell splinters.[9] He was awarded a second Bar to his DSO for this in January 1943.[16]

He returned to the UK in November 1943 to take command of VIII Corps before being posted to Italy in January 1944 to become Chief of Staff to General Sir Harold Alexander commanding 15th Army Group.[9] He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath on 16 June 1944 for his service in Italy,[17] and promoted to the substantive rank of major-general on 13 July 1944.[18] He went on to take command of XIII Corps in Italy in March 1945 arriving in Trieste just after the German surrender.[9] He was also awarded the Legion of Merit in the Degree of Commander by the President of the United States for his conduct during the war on 14 May 1948.[19]

British troops responding to the Mau Mau Uprising in the 1950s

Promoted to lieutenant general on 19 August 1946,[20] Harding succeeded General Alexander as commander of British forces in the Mediterranean in November 1946.[9] He became General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Southern Command in July 1947 and went on to be Commander-in-Chief, Far East Land Forces on 28 July 1949[21] at the early stages of the Malayan Emergency.[1] Having been promoted to full general on 9 December 1949,[22] made Aide-de-Camp General to the King on 21 October 1950[23] and advanced to a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath in the King's Birthday Honours 1951,[24] Harding became Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine on 30 August 1951.[25][26]

Harding was appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff on 1 November 1952:[27] in this capacity he advised the British Government on the response to the Mau Mau Uprising.[1] He was promoted to field marshal on 21 July 1953,[28] and retired on 29 September 1955.[29]

Harding was also Colonel of the North Somerset Yeomanry from 2 February 1949,[30] Colonel of the 6th Queen Elizabeth's Own Gurkha Rifles from 18 May 1951,[31] Colonel of the Somerset Light Infantry from 13 April 1953,[32] Colonel of the Life Guards from 26 April 1957[33] and Colonel of the Somerset and Cornwall Light Infantry from 6 October 1959.[34]

Cyprus and later career[edit]

Harding's statue in Taunton

On 3 October 1955, Harding was assigned the post of Governor of the British colony of Cyprus. As Governor of Cyprus, Harding sought to restore the relations with the United Kingdom, by negotiating with both the Greek-Cypriot and the Turkish-Cypriot communities on the island, while the British Government was negotiating with the Greek and Turkish governments. Harding took strict measures to improve the security situation in Cyprus, EOKA having declared an armed struggle against the British on 1 April 1955. To this end, Harding instituted a number of unprecedented measures including curfews, closures of schools, the opening of concentration 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 in a bomb. A number of such executions took place often in controversial circumstances (e.g. Michalis Karaolis) leading to resentment, in Cyprus, the United Kingdom and in other countries.[35][36]

Implementing the policy of the British Government, Harding also attempted to use negotiations to end the Cyprus crisis. However, negotiations with Archbishop Makarios III were unsuccessful and, eventually, Harding exiled Makarios to the British Colony of Seychelles. On 21 March 1956 EOKA made an assassination attempt on Harding's life which failed as the time bomb under his bed failed to go off.[37][38] It was not long after this that Harding offered a reward of £10,000 for General George Grivas, the leader of EOKA.[39]

Facing growing criticism in the United Kingdom about the methods he used and their lack of effectiveness, Sir John Harding resigned as Governor of Cyprus on 22 October 1957 and was replaced by Sir Hugh Foot.[40]

In January 1958, Harding was created Baron Harding of Petherton.[25] In retirement he became Non-Executive Chairman of Plessey[1] as well being the first Chairman of the Horse Race Betting Levy Board.[25] His interests included his membership of the Finsbury Rifles Old Comrades Association in which he participated until late in his life.[25] He died at his home in Nether Compton in Dorset on 20 January 1989.[1]


In 1927 he married Mary Rooke; they had one son:[6] John Charles Harding, 2nd Baron Harding of Petherton.[41]


  1. ^ a b c d e "John Harding". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 6 January 2012. 
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 28568. p. 38. 2 January 1912. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: no. 28734. p. 4748. 4 July 1913. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 28828. p. 3676. 5 May 1914. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  5. ^ a b Heathcote, Anthony p. 167
  6. ^ a b c d e f Heathcote, Anthony p. 168
  7. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30514. p. 1802. 5 February 1918. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  8. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35195. p. 3496. 17 June 1941. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Heathcote, Anthony p. 169
  10. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35209. p. 3882. 4 July 1941. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  11. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35250. p. 4789. 15 August 1941. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  12. ^ The London Gazette: no. 35396. p. 7333. 26 December 1941. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  13. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35821. p. 5437. 11 December 1942. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  14. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35465. p. 893. 20 February 1942. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  15. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36065. p. 2853. 22 June 1943. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  16. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 35879. p. 524. 26 January 1943. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  17. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36564. p. 2857. 13 June 1944. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  18. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 36616. p. 3379. 18 July 1944. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  19. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38288. p. 2917. 11 May 1948. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  20. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37701. p. 4295. 23 August 1946. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  21. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38727. p. 4723. 30 September 1949. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  22. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38778. p. 5828. 9 December 1949. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  23. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39060. p. 5541. 7 November 1950. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  24. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39243. p. 3062. 1 June 1951. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  25. ^ a b c d Heathcote, Anthony pg 170
  26. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39334. p. 4867. 14 September 1951. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  27. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39689. p. 5863. 4 November 1952. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  28. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39916. p. 3985. 17 July 1953. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  29. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 40598. p. 5555. 30 September 1955. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  30. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 38530. p. 633. 4 February 1949. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  31. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39313. p. 4432. 21 August 1951. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  32. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 39811. p. 1783. 27 March 1953. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  33. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 41054. p. 2507. 23 April 1957. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  34. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 41834. p. 6270. 2 October 1959. Retrieved 2012-01-06.
  35. ^ "Deepening Tragedy". Time Magazine. 21 May 1956. Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  36. ^ Grivas (1964)
  37. ^ "The Field Marshal's Pea". Time Magazine. 2 April 1956. Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  38. ^ Grivas (1964), p. 68 & 69.
  39. ^ Grivas (1964), p. 69
  40. ^ "Time for a change". Time Magazine. 4 November 1957. Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
  41. ^ "Burke's Peerage". Retrieved 18 August 2012. 


  • Grivas, George (1964). The Memoirs of General Grivas edited by Charles Foley. Longmans, London. ASIN B0006DASLW. 
  • Heathcote, Tony (1999). The British Field Marshals 1736–1997. Barnsley (UK): Pen & Sword. ISBN 0-85052-696-5. 

External links[edit]

Military offices
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James Renton
GOC 7th Armoured Division
September 1942 – January 1943
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George Erskine
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Richard McCreery
November 1943 – January 1944
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Richard O'Connor
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Sidney Kirkman
March 1945 – May 1945
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Post Disbanded
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GOC-in-C Southern Command
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Sir Ouvry Roberts
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C-in-C Far East Land Forces
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Sir Charles Keightley
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Sir Charles Keightley
Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine
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Sir Richard Gale
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Sir William Slim
Chief of the Imperial General Staff
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Sir Gerald Templer
Government offices
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Sir Robert Armitage
Governor of Cyprus
Succeeded by
Sir Hugh Foot
Peerage of the United Kingdom
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New Creation
Baron Harding of Petherton
Succeeded by
John Charles Harding