b. 23/02/1912 Northfleet, Kent. d. 23/01/1945 Brachterbeek, Holland.
Henry Eric Harden (1912-1945), known as Eric, was born on 23rd February 1912 at Northfleet, Kent, the seventh son of a family of eight. He proved himself to be a sportsman, excelling at tennis, football and swimming. He also played the violin. Right from the age of 10, he helped out in his brother-in-law’s butchers shop, taking over the shop when his brother-in-law died just as Eric was old enough to leave school. In his spare time he also developed an interest in medical matters and joined the St John’s Ambulance Brigade. In 1936, he married Maud Pullen and they had a son and a daughter.
Not a natural soldier, Eric was 30 before he was conscripted into the Royal Artillery in 1942. However, his medical training and experience was noted, and he was soon transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving with a Field Ambulance section. Unhappy with his routine and inactivity of service in Britain, he volunteered for attachment to the Commandos, and was appointed a medical orderly with A Troop of 45 Royal Marine Commando.
In June 1944 45 Royal Marine Commando took part in the Normandy landings and found itself fighting its way through the Norman bocage in the Merville area, where Harden was kept busy tending the wounds of his injured colleagues. Eventually 45 Commando was recalled to England for replacements and refitting in anticipation of a posting to the Far East. However, in January 1945 the unit instead was ordered to return to northwest Europe and Lance Corporal Harden soon found himself near the village of Brachterbeek in the Netherlands.
On 23rd January 1945 during Operation Blackcock, at Brachterbeek, Holland, three marines of the leading section of the Royal Marine Commando Troop to which Lance-Corporal Harden was attached fell, wounded. The Commando section had come under heavy machine-gun fire in the open field that morning, and the men were seriously wounded. One of the casualties was Lieutenant Corey. Under intense mortar and machine-gun fire Harden was wounded in his side as he carried one man back to the aid post, which had been set up in one of the houses along the Stationsweg in Brachterbeek. Against the orders of another Medical officer he then returned with a stretcher party for the other two wounded. Bringing in the second casualty the rescue party came under enemy fire which killed the wounded Commando. While finally bringing back the third man Lieutenant Corey, who had demanded he be recovered last, Harden was shot through the head and killed instantly.
Harden was buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in Nederweet, Limburg, Netherlands. There are two stone plaques, one in English and one in Dutch, in the village of Brachterbeek to commemorate his action. An earlier bronze plaque placed in 1947 was stolen in 1965. The Victoria Cross, awarded posthumously, was presented to his widow, Maud, by King George VI on 9th April 1946 and is now on display at the Museum of Military Medicine, Mytchett, Surrey.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: MUSEUM OF MILITARY MEDICINE, KEOGH BARRACKS, ALDERSHOT.
BURIAL PLACE: NEDERWEERT WAR CEMETERY, LIMBURG, HOLLAND.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT IV, ROW E, GRAVE 13
Picture - Thomas Stewart
National Memorial Arboretum
Henry Harden VC Bridge in Limburg, Netherlands.
Memorial marking the spot that Harden was killed.
National Memorial Arboretum
Harden Barracks, Catterick, Yorkshire
44 Factory Road, Northfleet (Harden's birthplace)
(Courtesy of David Platt)