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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Hardy, Benjamin Gower (1898–1944)

by Harry Gordon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Benjamin Gower Hardy (1898-1944), by unknown photographer, 1941-44

Benjamin Gower Hardy (1898-1944), by unknown photographer, 1941-44

Australian War Memorial, 081385

Benjamin Gower Hardy (1898-1944), motor driver and soldier, was born on 28 August 1898 at Marrickville, Sydney, third child of Benjamin Gower Hardy, a perfume manufacturer from England, and his Australian-born wife Emily, née Cole. Ben was described as a 'diligent and consistent' pupil at Randwick Public School. Employed as a driver with Dalgety & Co. Ltd, he lived at Willoughby with his sister and widowed mother. He never married. A tall, shy man, he repaired appliances and motorcars for his neighbours, brought home stray pets and was a keen fisherman. He was also a marksman with the Chatswood Rifle Club and won its championship in 1926.

On 25 September 1941 Hardy was mobilized as a private in the Citizen Military Forces. Considered too old for active service, he was attached full time to the 7th Garrison Battalion where he soon became recognized as an authority on the Vickers machine-gun. He later served with lines-of-communication and garrison units before being posted in February 1944 to the 22nd Garrison Battalion, based at No.12 Prisoner of War Group, 2 miles (3.2 km) from Cowra.

The 22nd guarded a camp, roughly circular in shape and divided into four segments, containing prisoners of war from Japan, Italy, Formosa and Korea. They were a strange mix: the Italians had with few exceptions settled easily into life at the camp; the Japanese, who found the shame of their capture almost unbearable, were generally sullen and uncooperative. The Italians occupied two sections, Japanese privates and non-commissioned officers were crowded into the third—known as 'B' Compound—and the fourth was inhabited by Japanese officers and a small number of Koreans and Formosans.

About 2 a.m. on 5 August 1944 most of the 1100 prisoners in 'B' Compound set fire to their huts and attempted to break out, across the barbed-wire entanglements which enclosed them. For a long time they had been hoarding baseball bats, kitchen knives, garden tools and other potential weapons, but the trigger for the eruption had come on the 4th when they learned of an imminent arrangement to separate the N.C.O.s from the privates, who were to be taken to a camp at Hay.

As the Japanese rushed the fences, using blankets to blunt the barbed-wire spikes, their huts exploded in flames. Hardy and Ralph Jones pulled greatcoats over their pyjamas and sprinted to their Vickers-gun which was mounted on a trailer. They reached the gun as hordes of prisoners raced towards it with the intention of turning the weapon against the garrison. With Hardy firing and Jones feeding the ammunition, they manned the Vickers until they were engulfed by their assailants and bashed to death. The Japanese took over the gun and swung it around, but it jammed—probably because they neglected to swing the ammunition belt with it. Hardy was buried in the war graves section of Cowra general cemetery. In September 1950 he was posthumously awarded the George Cross 'for outstanding gallantry and devotion to duty' in the face of 'an overwhelming onslaught of fanatical Japanese'. His aged mother died a few days after the award was publicly announced and his sister Beatrice was presented with the decoration by the governor-general Sir William McKell.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Wigmore (ed), They Dared Mightily (Canb, 1963)
  • H. Gordon, Die Like the Carp! (Syd, 1978)
  • H. Gordon, Voyage from Shame (Brisb, 1994)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 1 Sept 1950
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 1 Sept 1950.

Citation details

Harry Gordon, 'Hardy, Benjamin Gower (1898–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 24 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Benjamin Gower Hardy (1898-1944), by unknown photographer, 1941-44

Benjamin Gower Hardy (1898-1944), by unknown photographer, 1941-44

Australian War Memorial, 081385