Private Herbert BLACKWELL


Regiment/Service:
Royal Fusiliers
Unit:
22nd Battalion
Service Number:
2055
Date of Death:
17 February 1917
Age:
23
Cemetery / Memorial:
Cemetery Reference:
I. F. 4.


Personal History:

Herbert was born on 21st April 1893, the son of George Henry (Cabdriver) and Martha Emma (née Taylor) Blackwell. In 1901 the family were living at 7 Midland Terrace, Buxton (Census RG 13/3269). Herbert had an older sister and brother, Annie Elizabeth and Harry.

By 1911 (Census RG 14/21233) Herbert had gained two younger siblings, Percy and Ella, and the family had moved again, to 15 Fairfield Road, Buxton. Herbert was working in the same employment as his father - "Cabdriver".
In 1913 the family seem to have emigrated to Canada and in 1914 were living at 583 Parliament Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. However, unlike his brother, Harry, Herbert did not join a Canadian Regiment so it is possible he did not go with them. The SDGW database states that at the time of his enlistment he was living in Manchester. After the tragic loss of the first son the rest of the family returned from Canada in order to be with extended family.

Herbert's older brother Harry was killed six months later at Vimy on 15th August 1917 (see Footnote below)

Military History:
Herbert enlisted into the Royal Fusiliers at Horsham, Sussex (according to the SDGW database). He Medal Index Card shows that he was not eligible for the 1914/15 Star, so did not enter France until after 1915. Sadly, his Service Papers have not survived.

The 22nd (Service) Battalion (Kensington) of the Royal Fusilers had been formed at White City, on 11th September 1914, by the Mayor and Borough of Kensington. In June 1915 it was attached to 99th Brigade, 33rd Division and landed at Boulogne in November 1915. On the 25th November 1915 the Battalion transferred with Brigade to 2nd Division. Presumably, Herbert joined them later as a reinforcement or replacement.

In 1916, as part of the overall Battle of the Somme, the 2nd Division were in action during The Battle of Delville Wood, (15th July - 3rd September 1916) and The Battle of the Ancre, (13th - 18th November 1916). Although the Battles of the Somme officially ended in November 1916, throughout the ensuing bitterly cold winter, smaller scaled conflicts continued in the area of the River Ancre. The Battle of Boom Ravine was one such conflict. The 2nd Division, with the 18th on its left , launched an attack in the Grandcourt/Miraumont region. The Germans had been alerted to the attack and the artillery and machine gun reception was heavy, causing many casualties. Strong reinforcements had been brought up by the Germans so gains had been limited at heavy cost.

""The 22nd and 23rd Battalions (99th Brigade, 2nd Division) were also engaged on the same day. The 22nd assembled in battle position between East and West Miraumont roads and began the assault with A and B Companies, D forming a defensive flank from the old British line to the final objective. In so doing, the company advanced along the east side of East Miraumont road and came under a heavy fire from machine guns on the right. For a moment it looked as though the attack would fail utterly because of this check; but Sergeant Palmer (see Footnote below) cut his way through a stretch of wire under a heavy and sustained machine-gun fire, and rushed the trench running up to the north-east, on the company's right. He established a block at a point where the trench turned eastward and thus covered the right flank of his battalion's advance. With a handful of men he held the position for three hours, during which the Germans delivered seven heavy attacks. When the supply of bombs gave out he went back to headquarters for more, and while he was away the post he had won and so skilfully defended was driven in. He was badly shaken by a bomb explosion; but he collected a few men, drove back the Germans and restored the essential flank-guard. He was granted a well-deserved V.C. for this act of courage and skill.

Meanwhile A and C Companies found the wire uncut in front of them. One platoon west of West Miraumont Road was surrounded and captured. But the troops had reached the road south of South Miraumont Trench when an outflanking movement from the right caused them to fall back to the first objective, which was consolidated with elements of the 1st King's Royal Rifles and the 23rd Royal Fusiliers. This engagement was marked by numerous acts of gallantry. The Lewis gun section, who bore the brunt of the German counter-attack from South Miraumont Trench and brought back eight of its fourteen guns, though three-quarters of the team had been killed or wounded, deserves mention; and the fine work of D Company had had its influence on the action to the end. Well posted in an advanced position, it prevented the Germans debauching on East Miraumont Road. But the battalion lost very heavily. At noon only three officers remained. Major (John) Walsh, who had joined the battalion in February, 1915, and had had command of a company since March, 1916, was mortally wounded. A natural leader of men, he was a great loss to the battalion. The 23rd Battalion, who co-operated on the right and carried their objectives, were also severely hit, losing 13 officers and 227 other ranks. The battalion held their final position during the following day until relieved."

In addition to the Officers, Herbert was of 95 of his Battalion to be killed in action on the 17th February, another 6 died of wounds during the following week. He is buried in the nearby Regina Trench Cemetery.

                                   


Footnotes:
· Herbert's older brother Pt. Harry BLACKWELL was killed at Vimy on 15th August 1917, serving with the Canadian Infantry.

· L/Sgt. Frederick PALMER was awarded the VICTORIA CROSS for his actions on that day.

Sources:
· "The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War" by H. C. O'Neill, (1922) pp.156 & 157. (Available online)
· I am grateful to Steven Eeles for the extracts from the Battalion History
· 'Boom Ravine' by Trevor Pidgeon (Series: Battleground Books) ISBN: 9780850526127 (Published: 12 January 1998)


Commemorated on:
Link to CWGC Record
Pt Herbert Blackwell's Grave
poppy
... about The Battle of Boom Ravine in a New York Times report