b. 25/11/1892 Woodville, Australia. d. 24/11/1960 Crafers, Australia.
Arthur Seaforth Blackburn (1892-1960) was born at Woodville, Hyde Park, South Australia on 25th November 1892. His father was Canon Thomas Blackburn BA, born in Liverpool, who originally married Jessie Ann Wood in 1870 in Wandsworth, London. Thomas was a curate in Kent, and spent six years in Hawaii before settling in Port Lincoln, South Australia. Jessie died there in 1885. Thomas became Rector of St Margaret’s, Woodville for 27 years. He was a renowned entomologist and his collection was recognised by the Royal Geographical Society. Thomas re-married on 8th September 1886 to Margaret Harriette Stewart nee Browne, and Arthur had six siblings from his father’s two marriages.
Arthur was educated at Pulteney Street Church of England School, Adelaide, South Australia from 1903. In 1906 he moved to the Collegiate School of St Peter’s, Adelaide and in 1910 to Adelaide University, where graduated in law in 1913. He served his articles with the firm of Fenn & Hardwick in Adelaide under its senior partner, C Burton Hardy. Arthur was called to the Bar on 13th December 1913 and served as a barrister and solicitor with Nesbit and Nesbit in Adelaide.
Arthur served in the South Australia Scottish Infantry from 1911 and enlisted in 10th Australian Infantry Battalion as a Private on 19th August 1914. He embarked with the Battalion for the Middle East on 20th October, arriving on 8th December. On 28th February 1915, the Battalion embarked at Alexandria for Lemnos. On 25th April 1915, he landed on the Gallipoli peninsula with the Battalion scouts from HMS Prince of Wales. He was promoted to Lance Corporal on 27th April and later took charge of the Battalion Post Office for a month. He was commissioned as a platoon commander in A Company. The Battalion withdrew from Gallipoli in November, and in December they embarked for Egypt.
He was promoted to Lieutenant on 20th February 1916 and proceeded to France, arriving at Marseilles on 2nd April. On 23rd July 1916, at Pozières, France, the 23 year-old second lieutenant led an attack for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Blackburn was directed with 50 men to drive the enemy from a strong point. By great determination he captured 250 yards of trench, after personally leading four separate parties of bombers against it, many of whom became casualties. Then after crawling forward with a sergeant to reconnoitre, he returned, attacked again, and seized another 120 yards of trench to establish communication with the battalion on his left.
In September, he fell ill with pleurisy and was evacuated to London. He was invested with his VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 4th October. However, his health did not improve and on 16th October he began the return journey to Australia, arriving in Melbourne on 1st December. He was discharged on medical grounds with a pension on 10th April 1917. However, his military career was not finished. He was a Lieutenant on the Reserve of Officers from 1st October 1920 and transferred to 43rd Battalion, Citizens’ Military Forces on 30th October 1925. He was promoted to Captain and transferred to 23rd Light Horse Regiment.
Arthur had married to Rose Ada Kelly on 22nd March 1917 in North Adelaide. Arthur and Rose had four children. Arthur returned to the legal profession, becoming a principal in the firm of Fenn & Hardy and served as a member of the Citizens’ and Business Men’s Committee. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1918 and represented the District of Sturt in the South Australian House of Assembly as a Nationalist member from 1918-1921. In 1925 he entered a partnership with Lieutenant Colonel WF McCann MC, who was also at Pozieres, as barristers in Adelaide. In 1933, Arthur was appointed City Coroner until 1947.
He had become a Freemason in 1918, and joined the St Peter’s Collegiate Lodge. He was later Worshipful Master of both the United Services and Gawler Lodges and Grand Registrar of the Grand Chapter for three years in the late 1930s. He joined the Returned Soldiers’ Association in 1917. He re-joined the AIF in May 1940 and was appointed to command 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion, 2nd AIF on 18th June at Wayville Camp. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and the Battalion sailed for Syria in 1941. He was promoted to Colonel, before being posted to Sumatra, with orders to destroy Palembang airfield, but the Japanese had secured it. He was involved in heavy fighting before on 12th March 1942 he was captured and held at POW camps in Singapore, Moji in Japan, Pusan in Korea and Mukden in Manchuria.
Having been liberated, he returned by air to Perth in September 1945. Following a civic reception attended by fellow VCs, Roy Inwood and Phil Davey, he was appointed CBE for his service in Java. He was not invested with his CBE until 6th October 1949, and received it from the Governor of South Australia. He was reappointed to the AIF on 11th October 1946 as Temporary Brigadier for duty as a witness at the War Crimes Trials in Tokyo. In 1946, he started his own newspaper “Back – Like the Diggers” and he welcomed Field Marshal Montgomery to Adelaide in 1947, and made Monty a life member of the RSL. He served as a commissioner in the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration 1947-54, and was appointed CMG for services.
In 1956, he attended the VC Centenary Celebrations at Hyde Park, London on 26th June, travelling with fellow Australian VCs. He was diagnosed with prostrate cancer but despite early success, the cancer developed in 1959. He died suddenly at Crafers, South Australia on 24th November 1960 and was buried at West Terrace Cemetery, Adelaide. In addition to the VC, CMG, and CBE he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, 1939-45 Star, Pacific Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, Australia War Service Medal 1939-45, George V Silver Jubilee Medal 1935, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and Efficiency Decoration (Australia). His medals originally passed to his eldest son, Dick, and then his son, Tom, in October 1987. They were presented to the Australian War Memorial by the family.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: AUSTRALIAN WAR MEMORIAL, CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA.
BURIAL PLACE: WEST TERRACE CEMETERY, ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA.
Light Oval AIF Section Row 4N GRAVE C-A
Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Blackburn VC’s medal group at Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Richard Yielding – Blackburn VC Plaque at Centennial Park Crematorium, Adelaide.