b. 17/12/1895 Harefield, Middlesex. d. 01/12/1978 Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.
Robert Edward Ryder (1895-1978) was born in the Harefield Workhouse, Middlesex on 17th December 1895. His father, Charles, was variously a labourer, cowman and night watchman at Harefield Hospital. His mother was Jane nee Howard. They married at St Mary the Virgin, Harefield on 21st December 1878. Robert was one of thirteen children and was the third youngest child.
Robert was educated at Harefield Council School and also attended the local Sunday school. He was also a Boy Scout. He was also a skilled amateur boxer, and from 1910 was employed driving a hay cart to London overnight. In 1913, he became a bricklayer and later worked as a labourer at the United Asbestos Works, Harefield. During the winter of 1913, he married Bessie Gabrielle Carty, and they lived in Harefield, and they had three or possibly four children.
Robert enlisted on 3rd September 1914 and joined 12th Battalion on 25th September. Robert was admitted to Colchester Military Hospital between 9th-17th February 1915 with catarrh and went to France on 25th July, where he was sentenced to 21 days Field Punishment No 1 on 1st September 1915.
On 26th September 1916 at Thiepval, France, Private Ryder's company was held up by heavy rifle fire and all his officers had become casualties. For want of leadership the attack was flagging when Private Ryder, realising the situation and without a moment's thought for his own safety dashed, absolutely alone, at the enemy trench and by skilful handling of his Lewis gun succeeded in clearing the trench. This very gallant act inspired his comrades, made the subsequent advance possible and turned what could have been failure into success.
He received a gunshot wound to the left hand, fracturing the proximal phalanx, on the same day, and was evacuated to Britain via No 3 Canadian General Hospital on 28th September on HMHS St Denis, where he was treated at Norfolk War Hospital, until 14th October, when he transferred to the Auxiliary Hospital, Union House, Swainsthorpe, Norwich. He returned to duty on 18th November and served in 6th (Reserve) Battalion from 27th November. The VC was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 29th November.
He was appointed unpaid Lance Corporal on 6th January 1917 and was promoted to Lance Corporal on 27th February. He was awarded the Italian Bronze Medal for Military Valour on 26th May 1917. On 4th June, he was admitted to Barnwell Military Hospital, Cambridge from hospital in Chatham to be treated for gonorrhoea and was discharged to duty on 3rd September. He returned to France on 12th September, posted to the Base Depot BEF next day and to 11th Battalion on 14th September.
He was promoted to Corporal in February 1918, and then acting Sergeant on 10th March. He received a gun shot wound to the left buttock on 7th April 1918 and was admitted to 2/3rd Home Counties Field Ambulance on 10th April and 5th General Hospital, Rouen on 12th April. He was evacuated to England on HMHS Grantully Castle next day. He was treated at Bagthorpe Military Hospital, Trent Bridge, Nottingham. He sprained his left knee while recovering at the Command Depot in Tipperary, Ireland and was admitted to the Special Military Orthopaedic Hospital, Blackrock, Dublin on 23rd July. He had treatment for his left knee there until discharged “no longer fit for war service” on 14th February 1919.
Shortly after his discharge, he stopped a pair of runaway horses in Uxbridge High Street as they headed towards children coming out of school. He struggled to find work after the war but was eventually taken on as a builder’s labourer for five years. He then took temporary work with Milton Urban District Council on new sewerage schemes. Sadly, his wife’s health began to decline and Robert struggled to support her and the children. She died in 1936 in Wandsworth.
Robert married for a second time to Rose Frearson nee Fairbrother in Uxbridge later that year. Rose had been previously married and had three previous children. On 10th September 1939, Robert re-enlisted as a sergeant instructor in the Royal Sussex Regiment and transferred to the Royal Engineers in Derbyshire in May 1940. He was discharged on 21st August 1944.
Robert and Rose emigrated to Hartland, Canada with their daughter, Brenda aboard RMS Queen Elizabeth on Boxing Day 1946, arriving in January 1947. He worked in a lumber mill and bought a farm in New Brunswick. He farmed there until 1953, when he was forced to sell following an accident when a tree fell on him. They returned to England, and settled in Long Eaton, Nottinghamshire. Sadly, the marriage ended in divorce, and Rose returned to Canada in 1955. Robert then took a job in the Ordnance Factory, Chilwell, Nottinghamshire.
Robert married for a third time to Alice Edna Thornley nee Houldsworth in 1960 in Basford, Nottinghamshire. Robert was one of the 12 VC holders invited by the Ministry of Defence to attend the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme from 1st – 3rd July 1966. Robert needed his wife to support him as his leg needed constant attention. During the VC/GC Reunion in 1966, he and his wife had their suitcase stolen. The thief may have thought his medals were in the case, but Edna had them in her handbag.
Robert died at home at 62 Annesley Road, Hucknall, Nottinghamshire on 1st December 1978 after a long illness and a spell in Nottingham General Hospital. He was buried in St Mary the Virgin Churchyard, Harefield, Middlesex. He was buried close to his boyhood hero, Lt General Gerald Goodlake VC, whose grave he visited as a child.
Edna fell on hard times after Robert’s death, but refused to sell his medals, which at the time were valued at £12,000. News leaked out of her financial issues, and £600 was donated, but she appealed for them to stop. In addition to his VC, he was also awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953, Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal 1977 and the Italian Bronze Medal for Military Valour. Edna donated the medals to the Imperial War Museum in February 1979 in accordance with her husband’s wishes. The medals are now part of the Ashcroft Gallery.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ST MARY THE VIRGIN CHURCHYARD, HAREFIELD, MIDDLESEX.
Robert Edward Ryder's medals including VC at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum (Aug 2014)
War Illustrated, 23rd December 1916
Harefield War Memorial (Bill Mullen)