John Blair

John Blair sailor in the Far East

Photographs and newspaper cutting and biography courtesy David Blair, grandson of John Blair.

John Blair 1883-1949
SS100012 John Blair, Leading Stoker,

John Blair was born on 22nd July 1883, at 35 Telford Street, North Ormesby, in what was then the County of York. He was the fourth child of William Blair, and Isabella Blair (nee Trewhitt). He was the first born in Ormesby closely followed by his brother Christopher. All previous children and subsequent ones were born either in Haughton le Skerne, or Great Burdon. Those places being where the family regarded as home.
His father’s occupation is given as General Labourer, although subsequent documents show him as a Green Grocer or market gardener. I can only suppose he went to Ormesby to try his hand in the growing Iron and Steel trades that were prospering there at the time.
In 1910, John Blair married Mary Brown, he was 27 and she was 24.
His occupation is given as Boilerman, and I believe that at that time he was working at Darlington Forge. His father’s occupation is given as ‘Fruiterer’.
John by then was living at 36 High Northgate in Darlington, and Mary was living at 21 Belgrave Street.


John Blair in Royal Naval Division WW1

John Blair in RoyalNaval Brigade

However in 1903, on the 5th of August, John had decided to see the world and had joined the Royal Navy, initially for 5 years. His rating was that of Stoker 2nd class, and he spent the next three years on four different ships, passing backwards and forwards between them, the Pembroke, the Anson, the Leandy (Myrridon) and the Kent.

He served for a time in the British Asiatic Squadron, and was part of the visit made by the Royal Navy to Tokyo in July 1906, when the sailors were welcomed by our allies at that time the Japanese.
The sailors were feted with free transport and access to attractions when they were in uniform. He later regaled my father with tales of boarding pirate ships in the China Seas with cutlasses drawn.

John Blair medals WW1

As a memento we have a classy photograph of him with a colleague, both looking like extras from HMS Pinafore, taken when in Hong Kong.
By August 1908, he had served his initial period of service and moved into the Royal Fleet Reserves, as Stoker 1st Class and annually kept his drill days and competency, as well as a regular bounty.

On the 12 of July 1914, he was recalled to the Navy and joined HMS Goliath, for training and moved from there to the Pembroke. By the 17th of September he was in the 2nd Royal Naval Brigade, then the Victory IV Hood Battalion.
During the War he saw active service both in Belgium and in the Dardanelles.
Churchill, who was First Lord of the Admiralty, found that he had a surfeit of sailors over soldiers, and so put the ‘tars’ into khaki. Some sources quote 55,000 too many sailors. They were known as ‘Khaki Jacks’, and were subject to Navy Rules and discipline. Some even sported beards.

John Blair medal WW!

He was a Class C reservist when war broke out, hence the SS on his number. That is to say, 5 years full time Navy with 7 years reservist and subsequently was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct medal.
This shows George V on one side with HMS Dreadnought on the other.
An anomaly with the medal is that it appears to be a first edition, with the King in the uniform of Admiral of the Fleet, whilst later ones have the bust off the coins.

John Blair and brothers in Northern Star newspaper

Three sons and grandson of Mr W. Blair of Haughton le Skerne: John Blair, R N R second class stoker, HMS Actaoen, Private E Blair, Black Watch, Private H Blair 5th DLI, Private A Tailford, N F.

The Northern Star

Antwerp Trenches

Darlington Man’s Experience

A Darlington man, who was in the Naval Division that took part in the fighting around Antwerp, gave an interesting description of it yesterday to a North Star representative. He is Mr Jack Blair, whose home is at 30 Belgrave Street Bank Top.
He said that they arrived at Dunkirk and were taken to Antwerp by rail.
They were training in Kent when the order came for them to move. They went straight into the trenches some miles outside the ill-fated city, and they had a terrible shelling without much opportunity to reply. ‘The shells were nerve shaking for a while’ he said,’ but you got used to them, and we used to watch for them coming quite coolly. They whistled over our heads and every now again one would burst near or over us. Two fellows in my trench got caught; one in the stomach and the other had an arm blown off.’
Regarding spies, Blair said they heard reports of them all the time. One was dressed as a Belgian officer, and was acting suspiciously. The officers thought that he was leading them into a trap, and as soon as they realised what he was, they emptied their revolvers into him. ‘That was the end of him’, he said significantly.
The Belgian people could not do too much for them, he proceeded, and they would have given them everything they had.
Gradually the artillery attack grew stronger and stronger, and they could have done no good if they had stayed. They kept up a steady rifle fire, but it was difficult to see any of the German infantry. When they got the order to retreat they came through Antwerp steadily. The streets were quite deserted, and only the fire and explosions of the shells to be seen and heard.
Blair said they had to leave their kit behind them. They were burst with shell fire, and the band had to leave their drums and instruments behind.
They were to collect their wounded, and a fleet of Aandoi motor’buses, which was their transport, took them down to Ostend. They had a march of over thirty miles without a break, mixed up with refugees going in the same direction. The sights were pitiful.
He is going back to his unit early next week. A burley powerful man, Blair seemed little the worse for his experiences, and was disappointed that they had not had a chance of coming to close grips with the enemy. For the Belgian soldiers he had much admiration. They fought splendidly he said, and he would have been profoundly glad if they had been able to do more for them.