One hundred and twenty years ago tomorrow, on January 28, 1901, Wellingtonian Major William James Hardham, serving in the Boer War, saw one of his soldiers fall wounded and his horse killed.
So he acted. Hardham rode into heavy fire, dismounted and put the wounded Trooper John McRae, of Masterton, on his own horse and ran alongside to get him to safety.
Hardham became the first New Zealand-born man to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
He was an extraordinary soldier and man.
Born in Otaki in 1876, Hardham was educated and grew up in Wellington going to Mount Cook School.
He made his debut as a rugby player for Wellington in 1897.
Hardham became a farrier, blacksmith and part-time soldier. He volunteered to serve in the Boer War. Posted to the 4th Contingent, nicknamed the Rough Riders, he was just 24 when he and his company were ambushed by about 20 Boer soldiers while on patrol near Naauwpoort - and he performed the heroic rescue of McRae.
Hardham was presented his Victoria Cross by George, Prince of Wales, who was visiting South Africa at the time.
Two months later he was discharged and he returned home.
He volunteered again, although he did not return to South Africa.
Back in New Zealand as a civilian he was a keen rugby player and was part of the Wellington team that won the Ranfurly Shield off Auckland in 1904. In all, Hardham represented Wellington more than 50 times.
He became part of the rugby administration with the Wellington Rugby Football Union. A competition trophy, the Hardham cup, played for in Wellington senior club rugby, is named for him.
Hardham volunteered to return to service in World War One serving as a captain in the Wellington Mounted Rifles regiment of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Egypt and at Gallipoli. The regiment was not part of the initial landings at Gallipoli arriving later, on May 12 (without their horses). During an attack on Anzac Cove the company fended off attackers.
During a battle for No.3 Post Hardham was seriously wounded in the chest and a hand.
He returned to New Zealand and while he recovered he was the Commandant of Queen Mary Hospital in Hanmer Springs.
He re-enlisted returning to active service in Palestine in 1918 but after poor health he was discharged at the end of the war at the rank of Major.
After loyally serving in the armed forces for years he returned to Wellington where he worked for The Dominion newspaper and the Public Works department.
Hardham died in 1928, aged 51, of stomach cancer and is buried at the Karori Soldiers Cemetery.
John McRae, the man Hardham rescued, was promoted to Lieutenant the following year. He remained in South Africa after the war, married and had a family. He died there in 1963 aged 87.
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