Born in Conisbro’ on 11 June 1893, the youngest son of a Rotherham-born coal merchant and his Irish-born wife, Robert Henry Sharp was accepted in May 1905 as a boarder at King Edward VI. Grammar School, Retford, at a cost of £2 6s 8d per term, where he joined his elder brother, Stephen Oswald Sharp (appropriately nicknamed Sos).
An exceptional sportsman, within weeks he had won events at his first School Sports Day, being awarded the Leslie Cup and associated medal the following year. In 1909 he also received the Rose Bowl, awarded by votes of other pupils for the best man all round in games and sports. On leaving in 1910, aged 17, it was recorded that he had played cricket, football and hockey for the School’s First XI, been appointed a monitor, and became 1st flute in the school orchestra.
Within months, Bob and his elder brother Sos were summonsed to court for racing donkeys along Filey Sands, after a local RSPCA official claimed that “one of the asses collapsed, and showed signs of extreme exhaustion.” The bench halted, and then dismissed the case, following evidence given by Miss Elsie Carr, of Barnsley, who stated that she “rides to hounds with the Earl of Fitzwilliam Hounds” and “[the donkeys] showed no signs of exhaustion whatsoever.”
Becoming an agricultural student at Wye College, Kent (and continuing his cricketing), he graduated from there in 1913, and bought a fruit farm at Pershore, near Worcester. Following the outbreak of war, in November 1914 Bob applied to become an officer in the Worcester Regiment, the Colonel describing him at interview as “A smart looking young man & gentlemanly humour.”
Passed as medically fit, after training he was granted a Regular Army Infantry commission in the rank of temporary Second Lieutenant on 22 December 1914 with the 12th (Service) Battalion of the Worcester Regiment, and sent to Fowey, Cornwall, “training Derbyites.”
Following a brief engagement, he married 22-year-old Nora Earnshaw Lister of Park Edge, Doncaster, in April 1915 at Doncaster Parish Church, and within 3 months was promoted to temporary Lieutenant. Shortly after receiving news that Sos had been killed while leading his men into battle on the
first day of the Battle of the Somme (1 July 1916), Bob applied to the Royal Flying Corps, and in August was sent to Reading for initial training as a pilot. A frequent visitor to his parents’ home of Kenilworth, on Avenue Road, his first daughter, born in Doncaster shortly after Stephen’s
death, was named Stephanie in his honour.
On 3 March 1917, Bob was appointed a Flying Officer in the RFC, and days later joined No. 42 Squadron with the Expeditionary Force in France, just as they were changing over to the RE8 aircraft (even though a Flying Officer, Bob apparently wasn’t a “Landing Officer,” managing to write off a BE2e in April). By October he had become a Flight Commander, and in late- November 1917 the whole squadron was sent to Italy, in support of Italian batteries against
German and Austrian forces. They returned to France on 14 March 1918, only days before the massive German Spring Offensive along the Western Front.
Following fierce fighting, Bob was posted to No. 1 (T) Wireless School back in England at the end of March, his Service Record commenting, “Recommended for a rest. Should be noted as likely to make (Corps) Squadron Commander in the future.” Confirmed as a Captain on creation of the new Royal Air Force, in May he once again took up operational flying duties, carrying out anti-submarine patrols with No. 251 and 256 Squadrons’ DH6 and DH9 aircraft along the east Yorkshire coast.
Shortly before the Armistice in November 1918, Bob was awarded a Bronze Medal for Military Valour (Al Valore Militare) by the Italian government, in recognition of outstanding gallantry in action against the enemy. This was supplemented by reward of a Distinguished Flying Cross in the January 1919 New Year’s Honours List.
Transferred to the unemployed list in May 1919, a return was made to his civilian occupation of farming, but this time in Essex. Here, into the 1930s, he also played as a member of Boreham and Witham cricket teams plus Chelmsford hockey team, eventually being selected to play for Essex County (cricket) and South Essex County (hockey) in the mid-1920s.
By 1936, Bob had moved with his family to Westbury-on-Trym, near Bristol, but in March 1940 he once again gave up civilian employment – now being recorded as a “Manufacturer’s District Representative” – and returned to duties in military uniform for another World War. Becoming a Flight Lieutenant in the Administrative and Special Duties Branch of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, he was “Released from the Active List” just months before that
war’s eventual end, aged 52.
Moving to Trowbridge in the early 1950s, and then just up the road to Bradford-on-Avon, Robert Henry Sharp, DFC, died on 15 March 1961, aged 67. His wife had pre-deceased him three years earlier, and Bob’s estate was left to his son, Robert Michael Sharp, by that time a successful dental surgeon.