b. 12/12/1889 Pontypridd, Wales. d. 23/08/1962 Warsop, Nottinghamshire.
Robert James Bye (1889-1962) was born at 13 Maritime Street, Graig, Pontypridd, Wales on 12th December 1889. Both of Robert’s parents had been previously married. His father, Martinore Bye was a collier and as Martin Bye had married Hester Hicks in 1868 in Bristol and they had two children – Martin and Elizabeth (born in 1869 and 1870 respectively). His mother Sarah Ann nee Edwards married James Dungey, a coal miner, in Merthyr in 1875 and they had three children – Annie, William and Sarah Jane. In 1881, Martin was sent to prison for three months for stealing a sheep and served his time in Corn Hill Gaol in Shepton Mallet, Somerset.
Martin and Sarah Ann married in 1883, after the deaths of their spouses in 1879 and 1882, and they had six children of their own including Robert. His siblings were David, Margaret May, Vivian, MacDonald and Martin.
Robert was educated at Penrhiwceiber School and was employed as a miner at Deep Dyffryn Colliery, Mountain Ash and at other pits. He married Mabel Annie Lloyd at Pontypridd on 14th October 1912 and they had five children – Robert, Jenny, Mabel, Desmond and Mary.
Robert enlisted in the Welsh Guards on 3rd April 1915 and was stationed initially at White City, London before moving to Esher, Surrey, where the Battalion was quartered in the grandstands of Sandown Park racecourse. In June 1915 it moved to Wellington Barracks in London and paraded at Buckingham Palace on 3rd August to receive its colours from the King. Robert went to France with the Battalion, departing Waterloo Station on 17th August and landing at Le Havre next day. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on 13th March 1916, Corporal on 21st September 1916, and Sergeant on 4th April 1917.
On 31st July 1917, on the Yser Canal, Belgium, Sergeant Bye displayed the utmost courage and devotion to duty during an attack on the enemy's position. Seeing that the leading waves were being troubled by two enemy blockhouses, he, on his own initiative, rushed at one of them and put the garrison out of action. He then rejoined his company and went forward to the assault of the second objective. When the troops had gone forward to the attack on the third objective, a party was detailed to clear up a line of blockhouses which had been passed. Sjt. Bye volunteered to take charge of this party, accomplished his object, and took many prisoners. He subsequently advanced to the third objective, capturing a number of prisoners, thus rendering invaluable assistance to the assaulting companies. He displayed throughout the most remarkable initiative.
He was the first Welsh Guards VC, as the Regiment only formed in February 1915. The VC was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 26th September 1917. He was discharged on 1st February 1919, but re-enlisted with the Sherwood Foresters on 21st August, joining 1st Battalion on 5th November 1919. He served with the Battalion at the Naval Academy, Flensburg-Murwik, Germany during the Schleswig Plebiscites of 1920. He was a member of the VC Guard at the Interment of the Unknown Warrior on 11th November 1920. He was discharged on 2nd July 1921 for medical reasons.
The family moved to the Warsop area of Nottinghamshire, where Robert returned to mining at Warsop Main, Firbeck and Welbeck Collieries. He was a member of the Warsop British Legion and a founder member of the Warsop Vale Branch, often acting as parade marshal on Remembrance Day parades. During WWII, he was a Sergeant Major in the Sherwood Foresters guarding a prisoner of war camp in Derbyshire before medical discharge in 1941. He then served in the Home Guard, and was a temporary policeman in Mansfield.
Just before Christmas 1945, in a domestic incident, Robert was stabbed in the back by his son, Desmond. Robert recovered, and retired from the mines in 1955, already showing signs of pneumoconiosis. He moved to his daughter Mary’s house at 49 Hammerwater Drive, Warsop. He had only been there a few days when he suffered a heart attack and died on 23rd August 1962. He was buried in Warsop Cemetery. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. The medal are held by the Welsh Guards RHQ, Wellington Barracks, London.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: WELSH GUARDS RHQ, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: WARSOP CEMETERY, WARSOP, NOTTINGHAMSHIRE. GRAVE 2129
Welsh Guards RHQ, London (Thomas Stewart)
War Illustrated 22nd September 1917
Pontypridd (Thomas Stewart)