b. 21/12/1847 Plymouth, Devon. d. 01/11/1897 Hatch Beauchamp, Somerset.
John Rouse Merriott Chard (1847-1897) was born on 21st December 1847 in Boxhill, near Plymouth, Devon, the son of William Wheaton Chard and Jane Brimacombe. His father originally hailed from Pathe, Somerset. He had two brothers: William Wheaton and Charles Edward, and five sisters: Charlotte Maria Herring, Mary Jane, Jane Brimacombe, Florence and Margaret Edith. His elder brother became a Colonel in the Royal Fusiliers and his younger brother was a clergyman.
John was educated at Plymouth New Grammar School, Cheltenham College and Woolwich, where he enlisted with the Royal Engineers in 1868. He was stationed for a time in Bermuda and Malta before being sent to South Africa, arriving on 5 January 1879. He then joined with No 5 Company.
He did not arrive at Rorke's Drift until 19 January and was the senior officer present on 22/23 January 1879, having been left in command by Major Spalding. In his citation published on 2nd May 1879, he was recognised alongside Lieutenant Bromhead for his role in setting an example to his men in the defence of Rorke’s Drift. It was noted that the defence of the station would not have been conducted if not for the intelligence and tenacity of both men. To quote the citation – “that the success must in a great measure be attributable to the two young officers who exercised the chief command on the occasion in question.” Chard became one of the eleven VC’s that were awarded that day/night, being part of the most awarded for a single action.
Chard was given a brevet majority following Rorke’s Drift, and Queen Victoria aksed for his name alongside those of Bromhead, Melvill and Coghill to be inscribed on the Colour pole of the 24th Regiment of Foot (later South Wales Borderers). Soon after the end of the defence of Rorke’s Drift, he was taken ill with a fever, and was transported to Ladysmith to recover. He was well enough to participate in the Battle of Ulundi later that year. On 16th July 1879, he was presented with his VC by General Sir Garnet Wolseley at St Paul’s Mission Station in Kwazulu-Natal.
Towards the end of 1879, in October, he was ordered back to England, where he was met with a telegram from Queen Victoria asking him to meet her at Balmoral. He would visit her again at Balmoral in February 1880. In his later Army career, he served as a Lieutenant Colonel in Singapore between 1892 and 1896, before returning to Scotland where he took up a post in Perth.
Soon after his return, he was again summoned to visit the Queen at Balmoral. Sadly, shortly after his visit in the early part of 1897, he fell ill with cancer of the tongue. He retired from the Army in August 1897, and travelled down to Somerset to stay with his brother in the village of Hatch Beauchamp. He died there on 1st November 1897, aged just 49. He was buried in St John the Baptist Churchyard, Hatch Beauchamp and there is now also a memorial stained glass window in his memory. His medals eventually sold into private hands, before in the 1970s, they were purchased at auction by Stanley Baker, the actor who played Chard in the film “Zulu”. Baker owned the medals until his death in 1976 though he believed incorrectly that the medal was a replica. After Baker’s death the medals remained in private ownership, until they were purchased by the Ashcroft Trust and are now displayed alongside Robert Jones VC’s medals in the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM.
BURIAL PLACE: ST JOHN THE BAPTIST CHURCHYARD, HATCH BEAUCHAMP.
John Chard's VC and Anglo-Zulu War Medal displayed at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (December 2014)
South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon
Rochester Cathedral in Kent
Chard VC Memorial Window at St John the Baptist, Hatch Beauchamp, Somerset
Othery Church, near Taunton (Steve Lee)