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H. D’O Bernard (1878 – 1954)

Henry D’Oyly Bernard

(2nd  March 1878  – 23rd Nov. 1954)

Bernard aged 42.

Henry Bernard was one of a number of Devon-born problemists who made a major contribution to the art at a national and international level.

H. D’O Bernard was born on 2nd March 1878, the first child of Arthur Francis and Mary L. Bernard. At that time, his father was 27 and his mother 21 years of age, and the family lived at a house called The Abbots in the East Devon village of Combe Raleigh, just a mile from Honiton. Arthur had been born in nearby Sidmouth, while Mary’s somewhat more exotic birthplace was somewhere in Eastern India.

Family home with village church in background.

Two views of the Bernard family home in Combe Raleigh, built c. 1790 and taken here c. 1900 when Arthur Bernard was a magistrate on the Honiton circuit. The tower of the 15th century village church can be seen in the background of the left hand picture.       (from the collection of Alfred Newton)

In 1880, when Henry was 2, a sister, Ruth Capel Bernard, was born, and this small family was supported by four female servants, an indication of a very comfortable background. The name Henry Doyly, being one of the nobles who signed Magna Carta in 1215, also suggests the family had historic connections or pretensions. As White’s Devonshire Directory of 1850 lists a Rev. William Bernard as being lord of the manor of Combe Raleigh, this may well be true.

By 1901, he had a further three siblings, all living at home in Combe Raleigh; Charles, 19, a lieutenant in the Lancashire Artillery, Muriel, 15, and Marjorie, 13, the household kept going with the help of a cook, maid, parlourmaid, housemaid and kitchenmaid. However, Henry himself, now 24, had married Elionor (sic) 4 years older than himself, and who, like his mother, had been born in India, in the North West Provinces. Also, the couple had moved to London, living at No. 36, Primrose Mansions, south of the River Thames bordering on Battersea Park.

By 1911, he had risen to Clerk in Principal in the Probate Registry, working in Somerset House, the national headquarters of registration of births, marriages and deaths. He had moved to 101, Albert Bridge Road, Wandsworth in the Parish of Battersea, London. He had a daughter, Ursula aged 8, and a son, Nigel aged 4.

Henry had learned the game at home, but, as was typical of Devon’s rural communities at the time, having few opportunities for over-the-board games, he turned to problem composition as an outlet for his new enthusiasm. He specialised in 2-movers and made his mark in the field of mutates, in which field he was a true pioneer and was described in his BCM obituary as “a persistent and leading figure”. He proved “its most artistic and thematic interpreter with his glorious 1st Prize in the Chess Amateur of 1918 – 19″.

He was highly self-critical and expected the same standards of others. On one occasion, when acting as judge to the Western Morning News problem competition, he famously returned all entries to the Chess Editor, refusing to award any prize at all, deeming them all just not good enough.

He worked as a civil servant in London, at one time serving at the Probate Registry in the department of Receiver of Wills.

Bernard in later life.

He had suffered all his life with asthma, and later in life, to alleviate the associated symptoms, moved to Monaco, from where he kept in close touch with the British chess problem world. He was made a Fellow of the British Chess Problem Society, and made several generous gifts to its Permanent Fund, successfully avoiding any cash-for-honours scandal, and made generous donations to other bodies, including the BCM.

He died in Monaco in the winter of 1954.

His problems may be found today in magazines, books and newspapers around the world, and are a lasting tribute to this true Devon Pioneer.

Left: Henry Bernard in later life.

Bibliography:                                                                                                                                                                                                  BCM 1955.

Watts, W. H. (Ed.)   Chess Pie BCF. 

Gaige, J: Chess Personalia McFarland 1987.

White:  Devonshire Directory 1850. 

Kelly’s Directory. 

House pictures from English Heritage NMR.

© R. H. Jones. 2010 All rights reserved.