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December 18th 2017    Category: General

In 1995, when the site of the Battle of Shrewsbury became seriously endangered by a plan to build a road across it, I telephoned Robert Hardy (I knew him only because our two daughters had become firm friends while at school) and asked if there was anything he could do to save the site. He was then chairman of the Battlefields Panel at English Heritage. His reaction was immediate and positive, and within days he had driven up from London with the Chairman of the National Army Museum in Chelsea, and together with a local brigadier and members of the Civic Society spent a week with us, tramping round the fields surrounding the church of St. Mary Magdalene, built as a memorial to those who died in the battle. It did not take them long to be convinced that this was where the battle had taken place; Mr. Hardy returned to London, and within weeks the site became a battlefield and thus was saved for posterity. Today the Battlefield 1403 enterprise (opened by Mr Hardy in 2008) entertains thousands of visitors; there is a dedicated walk around the battlefield, an information centre, shop and café.

It was during subsequent visits, in support of the Battlefield, that I became aware of Mr Hardy’s deep interest in Wilfred Owen; I invited him to take the part of Orator in the performance of Arthur Bliss’s Morning Heroes, performed at Shrewsbury School in 1998 (as part of the 80 Years On events) and from then on he was a regular participant in Owen-related events. He was generous to a fault and never charged for his time. He brought a professional lustre to any event and, of course, attracted large audiences.

Robert Hardy was a scholar with an encyclopædic knowledge of mediæval warfare, especially the long bow: he kept all the long bows found on the Tudor war ship Mary Rose in his cellar while they dried out. He had a deep love of literature, and his ability to recall and quote long passages from Shakespeare was phenomenal.

He could on occasion be somewhat crusty, but he was an exceedingly kind and generous man. He was also a wonderful mimic and loved nothing better than to regale us with fabulous stories of his time in the theatre and cinema.

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