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Robert Walker Oldroyd's War

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posted on 2024-06-05, 18:58 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

Robert Walker Oldroyd was born on the 1st of June 1914 in the Thornhill Lees area of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. We don't know a great deal about his childhood in the 1920s, except that he began work at the Slazenger Sports factory in Horbury, West Yorkshire during his teens. On the 6th of May 1931, he joined the Territorial Army as a reservist aged 16, at Ossett, West Yorkshire. His enlistment form noted his profession as a hockey stick bender!

After enlistment, he was posted to the 4th Battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI). The KOYLI was a common regiment for men from Robert's part of West Yorkshire, and many of his relatives had served in it during the First World War. Throughout the 1930s, he attended regular Territorial Army camps, and his photos show happy days spent with friends.

His life was quickly affected by the rising tensions of the summer of 1939. On 1st July 1939, a month after his 25th birthday, he was transferred to the 2/4 Battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. This was formed after the Territorial Army split the 4th Battalion KOYLI to form 1/4 and 2/4 Battalions. On 2nd September, he was 'called to colours' and transferred to active service, a day before Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. On the 4th of September, Robert was promoted to Sergeant.

The spring of 1940 brought deployment to Europe. On the 26th of April 1940, Robert was sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force. As part of the 46th Infantry Division, Robert's unit was sent to France to initially aid with labouring and pioneer duties. As such, it was very lightly equipped.

As panic ensued in May 1940 with the German invasion of France and Belgium through the Ardennes Forest, the 2/4 Battalion KOYLI was moved up to the canal network outside of Lille to assist in its defense. It was badly prepared for the German forces it encountered and suffered heavy casualties.

The withdrawal from France was chaotic, and Robert's Battalion found itself separated from others in the 46th division, the 2/4 Battalion being on the southern side of the German advance into France. Unable to retreat from Dunkirk, Robert fought west across France where his Battalion was engaged in heavy fighting in defense of bridges across the Seine at Pont-de-l'Arche. On the 18th of June 1940, he was evacuated from France as part of Operation Aerial, from either Cherbourg or St. Nazaire.

We know little about his service following this, except that he spent time in Howick, Northumberland, and St. Andrews, Scotland, likely rebuilding after the BEF's heavy fighting.

The summer of 1940 brought happier days, and in August 1940 Robert and Annie Blackburn were married in West Yorkshire, a loving marriage which would last 50 years. On the 8th of November 1940, Robert was released from his Army service, having been made 'Class W (T)', which alluded to him having a skilled trade due to his factory work. Army forms show that he was moved to civilian industries to work as an aircraft fitter.

Annie also contributed on the home front and worked in a munitions factory for the duration of the war. The couple lived in Reading, where the industries they both worked were based. They never took to the south, as Annie traveled back to Yorkshire for the birth of their daughter Marilyn in December 1943, not wanting her to be born in Reading!

Following the war, Robert and Annie returned to West Yorkshire and settled in the town of Horbury. The 1950s offered the opportunity for Robert to work in South Africa for Slazenger, which he did for four years before returning home with chests full of curiosities and books that the family still treasure. He continued to work for Slazenger-Dunlop until his retirement in the late 1970s.

Annie would go on to work at Sykes leather factory in Wakefield, where the footballs were made for the 1966 World Cup! The war was never spoken about at home, though many photographs of Robert's army service were passed on to the family. The intense fighting of the spring of 1940 made a clear impact on him and was not a topic that was ever brought up.

In 2020, our family gained access to his war records and have been able to learn even more about Robert and Annie's fascinating lives.


Item list and details

Image 1 - Robert Walker Oldroyd at an Army training camp with 4th Battalion Koyli circa 1938/39. Image 2 - Annie Oldroyd (Blackburn) circa 1945. Image 3 - Robert and Annie on their wedding day, August 1940.

Person the story/items relate to

Robert Walker Oldroyd and Annie Blackburn (Oldroyd)

Person who shared the story/items

Alfie Norris

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

They are my great-grandparents

Type of submission

Shared online via the Their Finest Hour project website.

Record ID