Orders, Decorations and Medals (8 September 2015)
Date of Auction: 8th September 2015
Sold for £8,500
Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000
‘Robert was one of life’s gentlemen and never told anyone that he was the holder of the George Cross and it was a rare privilege if you got him to mention it in any way. He was a quiet man, kept himself to himself but was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who needed it.’
Robert Wild’s nephew, Dennis.
The G.C. (Exchange E.G.M.) pair awarded to Robert Wild, who was decorated for his gallant rescue work during a fire at the Dunlop Cotton Mills in Rochdale in July 1926
George Cross (Robert Wild, D. R. Cotton Mills Ltd., Rochdale, 22nd October 1926), in its Royal Mint case of issue; Coronation 1953, very fine or better (2) £4000-5000
FootnoteE.G.M. London Gazette 22 October 1926:
‘In recognition of his gallantry in extinguishing with his bare hands the fiercely blazing clothing of a fellow workman which had become accidentally ignited.’
Robert “Bob” Wild was born in Rochdale, Lancashire on 19 October 1906, the son of Robert Wild and his wife Alice (nee Ogden). His father was employed locally as a dyer at Highams.
The eldest of seven children, young Robert was raised in the Halfpenny Canal Basin area of the town and was educated at the Parish Church School in Tweedale Street.
Aged 14 he found employment as an apprentice electrician at Dunlop Cotton Mills at Sudden in the south-west of Rochdale, one of the world’s largest cotton mills with a high demand for electricity.
On 10 July 1926, he was working in the sub-station of the mills when a fellow electrician, Ted Matthews, had his clothes set alight by a shower of sparks. As cited above, Wild went to his rescue, as a result of which he sustained first degree burns to his hands, face and upper body. He was admitted to Rochdale Infirmary and it was sometime before he was able to return home.
Duly recovered, Wild was invested with his E.G.M. by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 17 February 1927; he would return to the same venue to receive his G.C. from King George VI on 21 February 1942, by which stage, owing to the war, he was working in the armaments industry.
Wild married Sarah Carey at Rochdale Parish Church in December 1938 and the couple lived at Brimrod Lane; after the war, she ran an off-licence in Barton Street, Rochdale, her husband assisting her in the evenings on returning from work; he had returned to his job at Dunlops and remained similarly employed until his retirement in 1972.
As a member of the V.C. and G.C. Association, and a regular attender of reunions, Wild received a book of vouchers to purchase shoes, a suit, an evening suit and an overcoat, but he was reluctant to use it; at one such reunion, he was seated next to a V.C. recipient who commented that without the vouchers he would not have any footwear, a prompt for Wild to conclude that if a V.C. winner could take advantage of the vouchers, then so should he.
He was a deeply modest man, a glimpse of that modesty being found in the following story related by his nephew, Dennis Wild:
‘Sometime in the late 60s - early 70s on a Friday night he would go along with me to the Royal Bowling & Billiard Club (nicknamed ‘The Gentlemen’s Club’), Manchester Road, Castleton, Rochdale of which I was at that time President. Several members who knew Robert persuaded him to bring his George Cross to the Club one Friday. That night there were many more members present as word got around that he was bringing his medal.
The game on the billiard table was stopped, the players on this occasion were happy to do so, and the Club Steward, Mr. John Gibbson, placed the George Cross on the table. Members and guests formed a queue round the table, some even asked if they could touch it.
“Yes, just do as you wish,” said Robert as he stood shyly at the end of the bar. All the members and guests came and shook hands with him. It was a very moving experience. He then asked in the most apologetic way if I could run him home. He was very emotional in the car and said, “People can be most kind when they want to be.” ’
Wild, who was a keen angler and member of the Dunlop Rifle Club, died at his home in Oldham Road, Rochdale on 6 May 1976; he was cremated and his ashes interred in his grandparents’ grave in Rochdale Cemetery.
Sold with a quantity of original documentation, including a letter to the recipient from the Central Chancery of the Orders of Knighthood, dated 24 January 1942, acknowledging safe receipt of his E.G.M.; a photograph of the recipient wearing his G.C., with a Director of Dunlop; Royal Society of St. George membership card, dated 23 October 1957, in the name of ‘Robert Wild, G.C., Honorary Member’; a copy of The George Cross, by Brigadier the Rt. Hon. Sir John Smyth, Bt., V.C., M.C., signed by the author and the recipient, and cuttings from Dunlop’s in-house magazine regarding the award of his G.C. in 1942.