b. 20/02/1879 Harrington, Cumberland. d. 21/07/1916 Armentieres, France.
DATE OF EM ACTION: 11/05/1910 Whitehaven Pit, Whitehaven, Cumberland.
Robert “Bertie” Blair was born in Harrington, near Whitehaven on 20th February 1879, the son of John and Nina Blair. He had two sisters, Henrietta and Mabel. The Blair family originated in Scotland and had interests in the Harrington iron works and other industries throughout West Cumberland.
He was baptised at St Mary’s parish church by the Rev Alfred Curwen, a family friend of the Blairs and probably the source of his second middle name. Following his schooling he became a mining engineer. Captain Blair’s connection with the Armed Forces had begun two years before the Wellington Disaster, when he was commissioned on June 26 1908,as a Second Lieutenant into the 5th Battalion of the Border Regiment. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1909.
At 6pm on August 4 1914, the order to mobilise was received at the headquarters of the 5th Battalion at Workington. The following evening the Battalion left for its war station at Barrow and sailed for France on the SS Manchester Engineer on October 26, 1914. It had 30 officers and 878 non-commissioned officers and men and amongst the eight captains was Capt Blair who commanded ‘A’ Company.
He was awarded the DSO for his actions on the night of 27th September 1915 at Armentieres. He went out with a party of ten to bomb the enemy’s trenches. Finding conditions unfavourable the party lay down and waited about 50 yards from the enemy’s wire. Soon afterwards a party of 14 Germans were seen advancing towards them. Captain Blair held his fire until they were 10 yards away when he shot four of them with his revolver. His party accounted for all the remainder except two and returned unscathed. Captain Blair has constantly taken part in arduous and enterprising night work. The ceremonial sword awarded to Captain Blair was in recognition of his having been awarded the Distinguished Service Order) for conspicuous gallantry at Armentieres on September 27, 1915.
On 21st July 1916, he went out on a night patrol looking for a gap in the German lines. They returned about 1.45am owing to bright moonlight fearing that it would expose the patrol. Going out a few minutes later to point out a spot where some small repairs to our own wire could be made in a very little time, Blair was hit by a bullet and died two hours later without regaining consciousness. The loss of such a gallant officer is keenly felt throughout the battalion. He was buried in Dranoutre Military Cemetery. He was also a freemason having joined in 1906.
On the llth May. 1910, a terrible fire occurred in the Wellington Pit, Whitehaven, at a point about 4,500 yards from the shafts. Various rescue parties, with great courage and self devotion and at considerable risk, descended the mine and endeavoured to extinguish the fire and penetrate to the persons in the workings beyond the same. Thorne and Littlewood, fitted with breathing apparatus, reached within a distance of 150 yards of the fire, but were driven back by the great heat and effusion of gases. The others got to within about 300 yards of the fire, working in the smoke backing from the tire. It was found impossible to penetrate to the scene of the fire or to rescue any of the entombed miners. Had an explosion occurred—a by no means unlikely eventuality, seeing that the mine is a very gassy one—they would undoubtedly all have been killed. Special gallantry was shown by John Henry Thorne, to whom the Edward Medal of the First Class has already been awarded, and by James Littlewood.
BURIAL LOCATION: DRANOUTRE MILITARY CEMETERY, DRANOUTER, BELGIUM.
PLOT I, ROW G, GRAVE 19.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: UNKNOWN.