Charlie Robley of Rydal, New South Wales.

Percy Charles Robley & Emily Agnes Hovey on their wedding day.

They were married at St. Patrick's Church, Lithgow.

Percy Charles Robley generally known as Charlie, the son of William Robley and Sarah Hayes York and their eighth child, was born at Rydal in May 1890. As a child he was bright at school and had excellent handwriting. His teacher encouraged him to stay on at school and to train as a Pupil Teacher.

Until 1905 most teachers in government schools were trained on the job as pupil-teachers. Most pupil-teachers began their four-year course between the ages of 13 and 16; during school hours they taught a class full-time, and for an hour or so each day, out of school hours, they were instructed in teaching method and content by the head teacher. Preference for entrance to the training schools was given to pupil-teachers who had completed their course, but many graduating pupil-teachers immediately became teachers or assistant teachers.

Charles did this for a while, but the family financial position forced him to leave school and take a job. His first work was as a 'Billy Boy' making tea for the men working on the Railway Deviation to re-route the line west through a series of tunnels. This avoided the Great Zig Zag, where his father had worked as a young man, and was aimed to cut the time to make the journey from Sydney to Lithgow quite considerably. Following this work he was employed at the Lithgow Woollen Mills and prior to the family moving to Bowenfels he would walk over the hills from Rydal to his work.

When Major Mitchell, the Surveyor General of NSW, passed this way in 1832 he thought that where he crossed at Solitary Creek would be a good site for a village and the area was known by this name for a time. However, when a plan was laid before Governor Sir George Gipps and approved by him on 31 May 1843 he decided that that the village should be called Rydal. The English village of Rydal for a time was the home of the Poet Laureate William Wordsworth best known for his poem “The Daffodils”.

During the seasons of 1912 and 1913, Charlie travelled to McKay in Queensland to work as a ganger in the sugar canefields.

At the outbreak of the 1914 to 1918 war he tried to enlist in the armed forces, but was rejected as being too short to meet the minimum height requirements. However, when the Lithgow Small Arms Factory opened he started work there as a machinist.

In 1908 when the Commonwealth Government announced plans to build a small arms factory at Lithgow, six men were sent to the United States of America to the firm of Pratt and Whitney to learn how to make rifles. In December of 1909 Mr F. R. Ratcliffe of Pratt and Whitney arrived in Australia to assist in the planning of the factory. On 10 January 1910, the site of the factory was inspected by Lord Kitchener and was officially opened on 8 June 1912. Many of the materials required by the factory were supplied from other industries in Lithgow. Steel required for the production of guns, for example, was in part supplied by the Hoskins Brothers. Electrical power was initially generated on the site but was later obtained from the NSW Railways' Power Plant. Increasing demands were placed on the factory during the first World War with production doubling and then later re-doubling. The production of Lee-Enfield .303 rifles increased during this time from 15,000 per year to 80,000 per year. Over the period of the two world wars a total of 640,000 .303 rifles were made at the Small Arms Factory to assist the war effort.

At the end of World War I, production began to decrease due to the decreased demand for armaments. As a result, the Armaments Factory began to diversify its production to include stream-lined wires and metal aircraft engine parts. By 1931 more than half of the factory's production was linked to sound projection and sheep shearing machinery, Vickers Machine guns were also produced on site. In the years before World War II items such as golf clubs, handcuffs,rifles and machine guns were also made at the factory.

During his time at the Small Arms Factory Percy also worked, part time, as an Insurance Agent. It was while collecting premiums that he met his future wife, Emily Agnes Hovey ,the daughter of Harry and Mary Hovey of Lithgow. They were married in Lithgow in September 1916 at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Lithgow. Their children were subsequently raised as Catholics.

Their eldest child, Eileen Sarah, was born in Lithgow in August 1918 and their only son, William James, in May 1924. In about 1924 Charlie left the Small Arms factory and went to work at the Zig Zag Coal Mine which offered better wages. There he sustained injuries to his wrist in a mine accident requiring delicate surgery and a long period of rehabilitation. When he returned to work it was in the Mine Office as Assistant Check Weighman.

In 1928 came the great depression, the mine closed and Charlie along with others was out of work. To help support his family Charlie took odd jobs such as sleeper cutting and working in pine plantations, but times were hard and rather than taking the dole Charlie and his family lived on the small compensation paid for his wrist injury.

A daughter Kathleen was born in July 1929 and another daughter Phyllis in October 1930.

Meanwhile Emily's health deteriorated to the extent that Charlie took on all household duties, as well as going to the Mine each morning at 6am.and standing in line in the folorn hope of being offered work. In 1931 his luck changed and he found work as stores clerk with the Lithgow Municipal Council, a job he enjoyed until his retirement in May 1955. In 1959 he was awarded compensation of 12 pounds and 10 shillings a week for a lung complaint as a result of breathing coal dust in the Zig Zag mine.

Charlie died of the lung complaint after a long illness in February 1966 and his wife, Emily, died in January 1980 in Lithgow.

Lithgow Catholic Cemetery. No.2.

Written by John Robley, from the research of Eileen S Young

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