Arthur Seaforth BLACKBURN VC, CBE, ED

BLACKBURN, Arthur Seaforth

Service Numbers: 31, SX6962
Enlisted: 19 August 1914, Morphettville, South Australia
Last Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Last Unit: 2nd/3rd Machine Gun Battalion
Born: Woodville, South Australia, 25 November 1892
Home Town: Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia
Schooling: Pulteney Grammar, Saint Peter's College, University of Adelaide
Occupation: Solicitor
Died: Natural causes, Crafers, South Australia, 24 November 1960, aged 67 years
Cemetery: AIF Cemetery, West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide
Arthur Blackburn's grave is adjacent to three other South Australian VC winners; Phil Davey, Roy Inwood (all from the 10th Battalion) and Jorgen Jensen (50th Battalion) Section: LO, Road: 4N, Site No: 0A
Memorials: Adelaide B1 Torrens Training Depot*, Adelaide HB15 Pulteney Grammar School WW1 and WW2, Adelaide HB26 - Supreme Court***, Adelaide MG3e* North Terrace Sesquecentenary Pavement Plaques WW 1 VC Winners, University of Adelaide WW1 Honour Roll Mitchell Bldg*, Woodville B1 St Margaret's Anglican Church Lych Gate*
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World War 1 Service

19 Aug 1914: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 31, Morphettville, South Australia
20 Oct 1914: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 31, 10th Infantry Battalion, HMAT Ascanius, Adelaide
20 Oct 1914: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 31, 10th Infantry Battalion, Enlistment/Embarkation WW1
25 Apr 1915: Involvement AIF WW1, Private, SN 31, 10th Infantry Battalion, ANZAC Gallipoli
23 Jul 1916: Involvement AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 10th Infantry Battalion, Pozières
10 Apr 1917: Discharged AIF WW1, Lieutenant, 10th Infantry Battalion

World War 2 Service

18 Jun 1940: Enlisted 2nd AIF WW 2, SN SX6962, Adelaide, South Australia
19 Jun 1940: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Lieutenant Colonel, SN SX6962
8 Jun 1941: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Lieutenant Colonel, SN SX6962, 2nd/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, Syria - Operation Exporter
28 Feb 1942: Involvement 2nd AIF WW 2, Brigadier, SN SX6962, Java Task Force, Australia's Northern Periphery
18 Jul 1946: Discharged 2nd AIF WW 2, Lieutenant Colonel, SN SX6962, 2nd/3rd Machine Gun Battalion

Arthur Blackburn's Victoria Cross Citation

23rd July 1916

For conspicuous bravery.

He was directed with 50 men to drive the enemy from a strong point. By dogged determination he eventually captured the trench after personally leading four separate parties of bombers against it, many of whom became casualties. In the face of fierce opposition he captured 250 yards of trench. Then after crawling forward with a sergeant (Inwood) to reconnoitre, he returned attacked and seized another 120 yards of trench establishing communication with the battalion on his left

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Biography

Arthur Blackburn VC was arguably Australia’s most notable ‘citizen soldier’ serving his nation with distinction in two World Wars and in public life.

Blackburn enlisted in the 10th Battalion AIF as a Private soldier shortly after the outbreak of War in August 1914. He went into camp at Morphettville Racecourse and joined 1 Section, A Company 10th Battalion; "The Adelaide Rifles".

A Company's Platoons had been formed as the Battalion's Scouts and Arthur Blackburn and his colleagues were to be among the first ashore at the Gallipoli landings. Indeed, Blackburn and another Scout, footballer Phil Robin, were credited by Charles Bean with having reached the farthest inland of any Australian troops, as far as is known.  That small group of men paid a heavy toll.  See the accompanying photograph; of the nine men four were killed in the immediate aftermatch of the landing including Phil Robin.  Another was to die later in France, and yet another became a delayed casualty immediately after the war.

Later in the campaign, Arthur Blackburn was commissioned as an officer having served there for the duration of the operation. He remained in the 10th Battalion and was a platoon commander when the Battalion arrived on the Western Front. After a brief period near Armentieres in Flanders, the 1st Division moved to the Somme in readiness to support the great offensive that began on 1 July 1916.

The 10th Battalion was committed to its first major action on the Western Front in France on 22nd July 1916, when it formed up to attack at Pozieres. The next day, Arthur Blackburn was ordered to attack a section of German trenches. He led eight separate assaults, constantly being reinforced as casualties mounted, but eventually capturing the enemy positions albeit at great cost. Some 41 of Blackburn’s men including his Sergeant, Robert Inwood (/explore/people/372645)were killed. Sergeant Inwood’s brother Roy (/explore/people/44803)was to win another VC for the 10th Battalion in Belgium the following year. For his resolute leadership and personal bravery at Pozieres, Arthur Blackburn was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The fight for Pozieres where Blackburn won his VC, and nearby Mouquet Farm, cost the Australians 5,000 men killed and 23,000 wounded in five weeks. The 10th Battalion suffered the most of the four battalions of the 3rd Brigade. Their sacrifice was extended among the South Australian Battalions later in the battle, particularly the 27th and the 48th Battalions who captured and held the Windmill feature in succession at its culminating point on and beyond the 4th of August on the high ground north east of the town.

Arthur Blackburn was later invalided home to Australia with pleurisy, being discharged medically unfit in April 1917, and so survived the war. He became a founder of Legacy and the RSL in his mid 20s, and a Member of Parliament at age 26.

A lawyer by profession he was a partner with wartime colleague William "Bill" McCann (/explore/people/56545).  He subsequently served as SA’s State Coroner between the Wars. He re-joined the militia and in 1940, he raised and commanded the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion with distinction in the Middle East. He received the surrender of the Vichy French in Damascus at the end of the Syrian campaign. Along with another Adelaide lawyer / soldier, Cedric Isaacson, of the 2/27th Battalion, Blackburn was appointed to the Control Commission of Syria, conducting an inquiry into the conduct of the Syrian campaign.

When the 7th Division was recalled to defend Australia from the Japanese, Blackburn and his men were directed to Java in the course of the argument between Curtin and Churchill about where Australia’s two returning Divisions were to be deployed. Churchill had tried to have the convoy diverted to Burma. Curtin naturally enough looked to the defence of the nation first and foremost and refused Churchill's request. This became a turning point in Anglo Australian relations as Australia looked to the US in its war with Japan.

In the meantime, Blackburn and his men, on the Orcades, the fastest ship in the convoy, were re-directed as Singapore fell. They were to form "Blackforce" to join the futile penny packeting of Australian units through the Indonesian archipelago and in New Britain. Blackburn was promoted Brigadier to lead the force comprising ancillary units of the 7th Division. "Blackforce" was landed on the island of Java. They had no vehicles, weapons or ammunition - they were on other ships in the convoy.

Undaunted, Blackburn assembled his scratch Brigade, equipped them with a shipload of American stores and equipment intended for the Dutch but fortuitously abandoned on the docks.  Although promised extraction at a future date, they were effectively abandoned in one of several futile gestures that squandered men and equipment that would have been much more useful later in the defence of Australia against the Japanese.

Blackburn conducted an amazing but little known delaying defence of the island, with the Dutch having effectively capitulated around him until, without any hope of extraction, he surrendered the Force and they became prisoners of the Japanese. Most of Blackburn's men were sent to Singapore's infamous Changi prison and later many laboured on the dreaded Burma Railway or were sent to Japan. However Blackburn was sent to Manchuria via Taiwan. Although he survived that ordeal it took its toll on his health. At the end of the War he was repatriated to Adelaide, where people were shocked by his gaunt physical appearance.

He resumed public life, including a short period as RSL State President, a role he had held nearly 30 years earlier. However, his health deteriorated progressively and he died at Crafers in 1960 aged 68. He is one of four VC winners buried at West Terrace Cemetery. The Department of Veteran's Affairs Adelaide headquarters in SA is named after him.

Arthur Blackburn was perhaps the most ubiquitous citizen soldier the nation has produced.  His life is extensively documented in an excellent biography, "Arthur Blackburn, VC" by Adelaide journalist Andrew Faulkner.

The Flowers of the Forest - see link in Sidebar

Arthur BLACKBURN (/explore/people/930); Guy FISHER (/explore/people/373586); John GORDON (/explore/people/198723); Wilfid JOSE (/explore/people/173634); Eric MELDRUM (/explore/people/55797); Philip ROBIN (/explore/people/9135); Francis STOKES (/explore/people/60171); Malcolm TEASEDALE-SMITH (/explore/people/190689); Thomas WHYTE (/explore/people/170704)

 

Arthur Blackburn's Medals
 Victoria Cross, 1914/15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, 1939/45 Star, Pacific Star, Defence Medal, 1939-45 Medal Australian War Medal, King George Silver Jubilee Medal Coronation medal King George VI Coronation Medal Queen Elizabeth II Volunteer Decoration

Steve Larkins May 2013

Further photos added by Julianne T Ryan.  August 2014.  Lest we forget.

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