OUR PATRON’S PASSING
Our fellow Member, Friend, and the Patron of our Association, Colonel (Dr) Solomon Matthew Bard, OBE ED passed away peacefully at Wolper Hospital, Woollahra, Sydney, NSW, on 8 November2014 at the age of 98 years.
“Solly”, as he was affectionately known to us all, was the first Chairman of our Hong Kong Volunteer and Ex PoW Association of New South Wales from 1994 to 2006, when he accepted our invitation to become our Patron. Prior to 1994, he had chaired the small group of Far East Ex PoWs which preceded our Association by a few years.
Solly’s first thirty years were lived in fast changing and tumultuous times. He was born to a Russian Jewish family on 26 June 1916 (New Style calendar) in the small town of Chita in Siberia, a year before the Russian Revolutions of February and October 1917.
In June 1924, the family left Soviet Russia for a new life in Harbin in Manchuria, a town of mixed nationalities with a marked Russian character. Here he attended a Russian school, was enrolled in a music school, and was later invited to join Harbin’s semi-professional symphony orchestra.
In 1932 the Japanese Army occupied Harbin, and set up the puppet state of Manchuria. By year’s end, Solly was sent to Shanghai where he attended Thomas Hanbury Public School to learn English and prepare for the entry examinations to Hong Kong University, which he entered in January 1934. A year later his parents emigrated permanently to South America.
Graduating from Medical School in December 1939, he was commissioned in the Field Ambulance of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps in 1940. Early in the battle for Hong Kong in December 1941 he was attached as medical officer to the British artillery unit manning the gun emplacements on Mount Davis, and after the Surrender spent the next three years as a prisoner of war in Sham Shui Po Camp.
Solly’s achievements during the rest of his long life are far too numerous to recount here, where its context is mainly rooted in the military aspects of his career. He was pre-eminently a multi-talented man, who wrote only a few years ago (see below) “Looking back at my life, I have been lucky to be able to pursue three occupations - medicine, music and archaeology – the last two initially as hobbies, later to become full-time professions.”
Other than a medical doctor, and head of the University of Hong Kong’s Health Service, he was a gifted musician, as violinist and flautist, and as a conductor and interpreter of both Western and Chinese music, serving in both capacities for many years in Hong Kong and Sydney. He was also an archaeologist and historian, conducting “digs” and authoring many books and reports, as well as being an honorary advisor in archaeology and history to the Hong Kong museum service for many decades and later in Sydney as honorary volunteer curator with the Australian and Jewish Museums. His services as Executive Secretary to Hong Kong’s Antiquities and Monuments Office on its establishment in 1973 were yet another example of his versatility and achievements in a post which had to be worked up from scratch and cried out for a person with his energy and passion for fieldwork.
As a post-war Volunteer officer in Hong Kong, Solly served as regimental medical officer for many years, his valuable services recognized by his appointment as Honorary Colonel of The Royal Hong Kong Regiment (The Volunteers) 1982-84 and again in 1990.
After coming to live in Sydney in 1993, he was the natural choice for chairman of the existing group of Far East (not solely Hong Kong) ex PoWs which, in 1994-95, became our present Association under its current name (it also serves as the Australian branch of the main Regimental Association in Hong Kong). As well as being our Chairman, Solly had also, up to as late as last year when he was almost 97, been the leader of our contingent in the annual “ANZAC Day” Marches
Solly’s was indeed a full life, its colour and variety captured in his book Light and Shade, Sketches from an Uncommon Life, published by Hong Kong University Press in 2009, owing to the perseverance of its then Director who overcame Solly’s prolonged reluctance to write anything that smacked of self-advertisement by craftily suggesting that he should try to write vignettes or chapters in place of an autobiography, to be sent to him as he felt like it! Thereby, Solly’s several “lives”, described against the background of historic events and personalia, were captured the more effectively for posterity.
Apart from Solly’s undoubted talents, the mainspring of his achievements was a personal warmth, a wide interest in humanity, and boundless enthusiasm, matched to a quiet but powerful energy and a dogged persistence. Whilst his sensitive and artistic temperament led him at times to an undue - but happily temporary - pessimism, a natural resilience ensured that he was never “down” for long!
As Solly’s friend and collaborator in fields of shared interests for nearly sixty years, namely in Hong Kong history, as brother Volunteer officers, and as committee members of our Association here in Sydney, I would like to close this slight appreciation of a great and good man by relating an extract from a letter I sent to the rest of the Committee in 2006 at the time he stepped down from being our Chairman and was requested, by a unanimous motion, to become our Patron:
Solly spoke with me this afternoon. He regards the outcome of our AGM as being "an unnecessary hullaballoo". He felt that "Patron" was inappropriate and out of place, as he still intended to be an active member of the Association. As he saw it, a “Patron” was always someone from outside, very senior in society, and normally inactive, citing the Royal Asiatic Society in Hong Kong whose Patron until 1997 was always the Governor. He said he was embarrassed to think how RHQ and the Overseas Branches might react at seeing his name on our Newsletter’s letter-heads as Patron of our NSW Branch. This comes of Solly's being essentially a very unassuming and modest man who invariably, and completely, under-estimates his weighty contributions to society at large and does not always realize how well he is regarded!
I said he was overlooking how we have all felt about his leadership and example these many years, and that if, despite all our explanations why we thought the honour was appropriate and peculiar to our Association (always something more than a branch of the regimental association) he could write to our new Chairman to decline the appointment. But I also asked him to give it a few days before putting pen to paper. In the end he found himself able to accede to our wishes!
James Hayes, Sydney, 11 November 2014