Riddle of the real Blackadder

Grim reality of the Great War: The devastated landscape during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917
Grim reality of the Great War: The devastated landscape during the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917
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Blackadder really did go forth in the First World War ... and his legacy is something of a Sussex mystery.

Forget the cynical, cowardly opportunist immortalised on television by Rowan Atkinson. This soldier was decorated for bravery.

Robert John Blackadder was born in 1884 in Broughty Ferry, Scotland, and graduated at University College, Dundee, in 1903.

He worked as an accountant before travelling to London and enlisting in the Queen’s Westminster Rifles as a rifleman, or private soldier, in 1906.

In 1908 he transferred to the 3rd County of London Yeomanry, a volunteer cavalry unit, before again transferring in 1910 to the Punjab Light Horse and moving to India. He subsequently left the Armed Services in 1911, returning to England where he resumed working as a Chartered Accountant in London.

Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, Blackadder re-enlisted, joining the 16th Battalion of the County of London Regiment. He was wounded by shrapnel on July 5 1915 and a month later, on August 18, having been previously promoted to Lance Corporal, Blackadder was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant into the North Scottish Royal Garrison Artillery.

He saw action at some of the most significant battles of the First World War, including Ypres and the Somme:

Blackadder was present during the German Spring Offensive of 1918 and the Second Battle of the Somme where he was awarded the Military Cross as an Acting Captain with the 151st Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery.

The citation reads: “The Military Cross awarded to Lieutenant (Acting Captain) Robert John Blackadder, RGA, for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Beaurains, on 18th March 1918.

“During the withdrawal of the battery, the enemy commenced a heavy bombardment of the battery position and the successful withdrawal of all the guns and stores was largely due to his energy, coolness and resource.”

Blackadder survived the war and was demobilised in June 1919.

But there the rich trail of information offered by Forces War Records runs cold. We know he died in Sussex in June 1968 at a ripe 84, but the intervening half-century is a blank.

At the Battle of the Somme in 1916, Blackadder noted in his diary: “Very wet weather still continues and trouble with guns on the soft ground.

“The three guns do the work of the battery and keep up the fire well. No. 4 out of action owing to glands leaking, so right section did all the firing which was still fairly heavy every day.

“No. 1 gun was out of action for twelve hours after firing 65 rounds in an hour. No. 4 gun was dismantled and owing to heavy rains the pit again flooded axle deep. Dugouts both at battery and bullets falling in and all looked somewhat hopeless in the water and mud.”

Any information readers might be able to supply on Blackadder would be welcomed, from what brought him to Sussex to where he might be buried. Please email rupert.taylor@jpress.co.uk