Topic: Albert Reid Blackburn

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Albert Reid Blackburn (Service no. 39010) was a First World War soldier with links to Wharenui and Riccarton

Early Life and family

Albert was born on 15 February 1894 into a family that would have been well known in the Riccarton borough. The Blackburn Brewery or Riccarton Brewery as it was sometimes known was a family concern located at the family property on 91 Cutler's Road (now Matipo Street). The brewery supplied many local public houses in the area by horse and cart. An artesian well on Cutler's Road apparently made this brewer's beer much sought after.

Albert's parents Richard and Emma Blackburn came out from England to Christchurch and started a family beginning with William Valantine (b. 10 February 1881). The next son John Benson (b. 16 April 1882) was followed by; Richard (b. 23 September 1883), George Henry (b. 11 November 1886), Thomas Voice (b. 13 June 1888), Morris (b. 23 October 1889), Samuel (b. 24 February 1891), Pansey (b. 7 July 1892), Albert Reid and finally Elizabeth (b. 27 October 1895). Some of the sons were employed in the business after they had completed their schooling. All of the children went to West Christchurch School beginning with the Infants School and then going on to West Christchurch Upper (the school is now Hagley Community College).

Albert's father became a licensee for the central city bar 'His Lordship's Hotel' (sometimes referred to as 'His Lordship's Larder') in June 1890. No doubt this became a strain with an ever growing family and his own business to run and in September 1891 he gave up the position and the Hotel was renamed 'Richardson's Hotel'. Richard passed away in his brewery on 22 December 1898 at the age of 51 and in his will he gave everything including proprietorship of the brewery to Emma. He was buried in the Riccarton churchyard. The burden of running the brewery and raising a family on her own may have prompted Emma to sell the brewery in August 1906. It appears that it didn't sell but that a William Vincent came in to run the brewing side of the business. A further attempt to sell-up was made in January 1914. In September that year Emma sued Mr Vincent for failure to pay rent in arrears.

Like his siblings Albert first attended West Christchurch School from 12 March 1900 - 30 June 1903. The Wharenui School 'Register of Admission, Progrees and Withdrawl' records that Albert was enrolled in the Wharenui School on 17 June 1907 having previously attained standard five. There is no record in the Register of when he left Wharenui School or what his intended destination was. He tried to enlist in early 1915 for the Mounted Rifles, as did two other Wharenui School ex-pupils, Ralph Richardson and Harold Eaton, but he was rejected on the grounds of his teeth and chest measurements.

Into the Army and the Western Front

When he enlisted in Christchurch on 9 October 1916 he stated on his attestation form that his last address was his family home at 91 Cutlers Road and that he was employed as a Warehouseman at Mason Struthers & Co. This was an ironmongery that had grown rapidly in the late nineteenth century and Albert would have worked in one of their two warehouses (one was located on the corner of Colombo and Lichfield Streets and the newer one at 66 Lichfield Street). He also stated that he had previously been rejected for the eighth reinforcements (in June 1916) on the grounds of his "teeth and chest measurements".

Albert began his military service on 18 October 1916 at Trentham in G Company of the 18th Reinforcements. His medical page records that he was 5'The nomad : unofficial organ of E., F. & G. Coys. and Details, 22nd Reinforcement, N.Z.E.F. (Troopship 77 (S.S. Mokoia) 8" tall, weighed 133 pounds and he had grey eyes with a "fresh complexion". Several weeks of training here and at Featherstone followed before embarking from Wellington with the 22nd Reinforcements on 12 February 1917 aboard Troopship 77 'Mokoia'. They departed the next day and the voyage stopped off at Albany (26 February), Capetown (18 March) and Freetown (6 April) before arriving at Plymouth, England on 2 May 1917. Arriving at Sling Camp in Wiltshire Albert was assigned to B Company, 5th Battalion, New Zealand Rifle Brigade. On 5 June he was sent to the NZ Machine Gun Training Depot at Grantham (the NZ depot was based at Belton Park, Lincolnshire). He embarked for France on 23 July 1917.

Arriving in France Albert then went into camp at Camiers on 26 July where after several weeks further training he was sent to join the 3rd Company, New Zealand Machine Gun Corps (NZMGC). The Machine Gunners had recently distinguished themselves at Messines and when Albert joined them in the field on 2 September they were providing anti-aircraft defence for the 2nd Army (the NZ Division was part of 2nd Army). On 30 September Albert's Company made the journey to join the rest of the New Zealand Division who a week earlier had commenced the long exhausting march to the Ypres area. By the 2 October they were in position for their role in the impending battle for Broodseinde Ridge.

The Battle of Passchendaele 1917

The battle for Broodseinde Ridge had been meticulously planned and prepared. It would be Albert's first experience of battle. The opening Allied barrage on 4 October, by almost 2,500 pieces of artillery, must have been stupendous and overwhelming. It caused huge losses to the Germans who at that moment were caught amassing for an attack of their own. The entire NZMGC were arrayed to provide a barrage of fire to suppress the German defense. All of the New Zealanders' objectives were gained by 11am. For the remainder of that day and the next the machine gunners provided defensive fire which broke up several German counter-attacks, earning much praise from the infantry.

The machine gun companies went foward to new positions in the Ypres salient on 10/11 October to take their part in the Battle for Bellevue Spur. Albert's 3rd Company was given the task of assisting the New Zealand Rifle Brigade's advance on the left sector of the attack. They successfully carried out this function with few casualties and keeping the Bellevue Spur under frequent fire. By the 22 October the NZ Division were relieved from the Ypres salient and went into camp in Boulogne for rest and reinforcement.

The 3rd and 4th Companies of the NZMGC were sent to Poperinghe on 11 November. Third Company took up positions around Polygon Wood where they would remain for several weeks. Here they had responsiblity for providing anti-aircraft defense against the many German aircraft that flew overhead. They also had a good vantage point to observe the German positions to their front and frequently had opportunities to rake them with a destructive fire. On 3 December Albert's 3rd Company were involved in the costly and futile attempt to take the Polderhoek Spur. The Germans in the ruins of the Polderhoek Chateau defended and ultimately the retained this position.

The three months of cold, wet weather and mud that the New Zealanders had to endure in the Ypres salient were some of the most miserable and prolonged of any time during the War. They were finally withdrawn from the salient on 25 February 1918. On 1 March the Machine Gun Corps was reorganised into the Machine Gun Battalion and soon after this Albert was sent to the Corps Gas Training School for one week. He rejoined 3rd Company just in time for the helter skelter rush of the New Zealand Division to the old Somme battlefield of 1916. The Germans had just launched their big offensive, Operation Michael. The New Zealand Division would have to shore up the fragile defensive line before the Germans broke through.

The German Spring Offensive

Albert's 3rd Company moved to the Ancre Valley where the rest of the NZ Division were now holding the line ready to halt the German advance. The 3rd Company were ordered to establish a second line along the whole of the NZ Division front on 27 March and in subsequent days were involved in successful defensive actions against the German advances. It also provided support for the 1st Brigade's capture of La Signy Farm on 30 March. Hereafter the German advance petered out with heavy losses and reverted to the usual trench warfare. A short quiet period was ended on 5 April when the Germans unleashed the heaviest artillery bombardment (including gas attacks) the New Zealand Division had experienced to date in the War. The 3rd Company played a successful role in beating off the German attack that followed. Captured German prisoners admitted that it was the highly effective machine gun fire that broke their attack.

The rest of April was quiet and the New Zealand Division moved north to the adjacent Hebuterne sector. In July 3rd Company played a pivotal role in the eastward advance of the front beyond Hebuterne and in supressing a German counter-attack before it could begin. Much of the remaining time in the Ancre was relatively stable and uneventful. In August the Machine Gun Battalion had the 313th Machine Gun Battalion of the United States Army attached to it. This was to allow the Americans, newly arrived in France time to learn tactics and practices off the New Zealanders.

By the 16th August it became apparent that the Germans had called-off their offensive and were preparing to withdraw to positions further back. The Allied High Command decided to go over to the attack to prevent the Germans making an orderly withdrawl. The New Zealand attack resulted in the capture of Bapaume and , although the 3rd Company was not actively involved here but did participate in the advance to capture the Bancourt Ridge. Losses in the Machine Gun Battalion were relatively light and they were withdrawn for rest on 14 September.

The Hundred Days Campaign 

Albert was granted two weeks leave in England from 14 September to 1 October. When Albert rejoined 3rd Company they were already involved in the final phase of the war. He arrived in time to participate in the New Zealand Division's crossing of the Scheldt Canal, in which 3rd Company provided covering fire for the assault. The rest of October saw the Machine Gun Battalion accompany and provide highly effective cover for the New Zealand Division in its methodical advance to Le Quesnoy. The Machine Gunners played a critical role in the capture of this town and in the final advance beyond it by not only laying down barrage fire but also in their skill at keeping up with the infantry's advance. On 11 November hostilities ceased.

In a strange irony, Albert had survived 14 months of continual combat only to be admitted to hospital with influenza after the war ended. He arrived at the No. 3 NZ Field Hospital on 20 December 1918 and then went to 3rd Casualty Clearing Station the next day. He was then sent to the 32nd Stationary Hospital at Wimereaux on 29 December before finally being sent to Charing Cross Military Hospital in England on 8 January 1919. He was discharged to Hornchurch Convalescent Hospital on 15 January. He embarked for return to New Zealand on the troopship Paparoa in Glasgow on 1 April, part of the 246th return draft. He arrived in Wellington on 24 May 1919. He was discharged on 19 September 1919 and received his British War Medal and the Victory Medal in August 1921.

After the War

On 10 September 1919 Albert married Phyllis Eileen Harrison and they would spend the rest of their lives together. For the first ten or so years of their marriage they lived at 514 Worcester Street, Linwood, Christchurch. Albert picked up work once more as a warehouseman at his previous employers, Mason Struthers. In 1922 they had their first daughter Marie Josephine and in 1925 a second daughter, Fay. In May 1924 Albert appeared as a witness in a court case involving an alleged cash-box theft by a fellow employee at Mason Struthers.  For a few years in the late 1930's Albert's family lived at Lake Coleridge where he worked as a labourer. They moved back to Christchurch, living at 134 Barrington Street, Spreydon from around the early 1940's. They would remain here for the rest of their lives. Albert retired sometime in the mid-1950's. He passed away on 8 May 1966 and was buried at Ruru Lawn Cemetery, Christchurch.

 Albert is remembered on the Wharenui School, Roll of Honour.


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Albert Reid Blackburn

First Names:Albert Reid
Last Name:Blackburn
Place of Birth:Christchurch, New Zealand