Robert St John Blacker-Douglass

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Robert St John Blacker-Douglass won the Military Cross in the trenches at Cuincy in February 1915 whilst serving with the Irish Guards.

Robert St John Blacker-Douglass was born at 25 Kildare Street, Dublin on the 30th of November 1892, the eldest son of Maxwell Vandeleur Blacker-Douglass JP DL, a gentleman, and Alice (nee MacGeough) Blacker-Douglass of Bellevue Park, Killiney, County Dublin in Ireland, later of “Seafield”, Millbrook, Jersey in the Channel Islands. He was christened at Dublin on the 12th of January 1893.

He was educated firstly at Summer Fields Preparatory School in Oxfordshire and then at Hazelwood School until July 1906 where he was a member of the Cricket XI in 1905 and 1906 and was a member of the Football XI in 1905. The school magazine wrote the following on his 1905 cricket season: - "Is coming on nicely as a bat, and has done some good work in the field."

On his 1906 cricket season they wrote: - "Another astonishingly improved player. A rather uncertain bay; but at his best is very good all round the wicket. A good medium pace bowler, and an excellent field and catch."

They wrote the following on his 1905 football season: - "(Full back) - A sound tackler; has improved his kicking, but inclines to rashness, and has much to learn in judging the pace of the ball."

On leaving the school the magazine wrote of him: - "....goes to Wellington, and we have seldom parted with a boy with less misgivings as to his future in every possible scene of public school life." He went on to

He went on to Wellington College where he was in Mr. Brougham's House from September 1906 and in Mr. Upcott's House until 1910, being appointed as Head of House in 1910. He was a member of the Officer Training Corps until June 1908. He applied to take the entrance examination for the Royal Military College Sandhurst on the 6th of August 1910 and passed out in December 1911.

He was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant in the Irish Guards on the 7th of February 1912 and was promoted to Lieutenant on the 27th of January 1913.

He was fond of golf, shooting and polo and was a member of the Guards, Queen’s, Royal Automobile Club and the Kildare Club and of the Royal St George’s Yacht Club.

On the outbreak of war he proceeded to France with his battalion landing at Le Havre at 6am on the 13th of August 1914. He took part in the Battles of Mons, Landrecies and Compiegne. On the 1st of September 1914 the battalion was acting as a rearguard during the retreat from Mons and became heavily engaged with the advancing Germans at Villers-Cotterets. Robert Blacker-Douglass was among the wounded and was evacuated by field ambulance. The battalion had suffered casualties of one officer killed with five wounded and three officers missing and four other ranks killed with thirty two wounded and seventy nine missing.

His father received the following telegram dated the 8th of September 1914: -

"Regret to inform you that Lieut. R. St J. Blacker-Douglass Irish Guards is reported wounded."

He embarked for England at St Nazaire on board the Hospital Ship "Asturias" on the 11th of September 1914 and landed at Southampton on the 13th of September from where he was taken to the King Edward 7th Hospital.

A Medical Board was convened at Queen Alexandra's Military Hospital on the 23rd of September to report on his condition: -

"This officer was wounded at the place and date above named. The entry wound is on the front of the thigh (left) and a piece of the hilt of the sword was also driven into the wound. The bullet was extracted on Sept. 1st and the piece of the hilt on Sept. 15th. The wound is a clean one and is healing."

He rejoined his regiment at Dublin on the 12th of November 1914.

A further Medical Board which sat at Dublin on the 21st of November 1914 found that: -

"The wound has now healed and that he is now physically fit."

He was ordered to report to the barracks at Buckingham Gate and embarked for his return to France on the 22nd of January 1915, rejoining his unit in the field at 8pm on the 26th of January along with three other officers and a draft of one hundred and seven other ranks.

On the 1st of February 1915 the 1st Battalion Irish Guards was holding trenches at Cuinchy; these were described as “not very wet, but otherwise damnable”. They had moved into these trenches on the 30th of January, having just received a draft of replacements to make up earlier losses, and were in support of the Coldstream Guards who were holding the front line. Early on the 1st of February the Germans bombed and rushed a Coldstream post to the west of Railway Triangle, using an old communication trench as cover. At 4am No. 4 Company Irish Guards, led by Robert Blacker-Douglass ,was ordered forward to help recover the lost position. The Germans had barricaded the trench and Robert Blacker-Douglass and his men rushed the barricade and were within a few yards of it when he was wounded by a German grenade. He picked himself up and continued forward only to be shot through the head and killed moments later. The next morning the Germans were forced from their position by an artillery barrage, whereupon the trench was rushed and taken by No.1 Company, an action in which Lance Corporal O’ Leary won the Victoria Cross. Once the trench was retaken the men of No.4 Company took no part in consolidating their position until they had recovered Lieutenant Blacker-Douglass’s body, they had had two men wounded the previous day in attempts to recover it.

For this action Robert Blacker-Douglas was awarded the Military Cross. The citation from the London Gazette of the 11th of March 1915 read:-

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty for continuing to lead an attack after he had been wounded. He was killed in this attack.”

His father received the following telegram dated the 4th of February 1915: -

"Deeply regret to inform you that Lieut. R. St J. Blacker-Douglass Irish Guards was killed in action on 1st February. Lord Kitchener expresses his sympathy."

His Commanding Officer, Major Trefusis wrote;-

“He was ordered with some men to retake a post which had been lost in the early morning of February 1st. He gallantly led his men to the attack and was soon wounded, but in spite of this he got up and shouted “Come on the Irish Guards”, and was immediately killed. I feel it may be some comfort to all to know that he met his death in a very gallant manner, and by his example thoroughly inspired the men to make an attack later on which was completely successful. I can only say what a loss he is to the regiment. I have known him ever since he joined”.

He was mentioned in Sir John French’s despatches of the 31st of May 1915.

His Military Cross was sent to his father by post on the 3rd of September 1915.

He is commemorated on the war memorial at the Royal Military College Sandhurst, on the memorial at Wellington College and on the Summer Fields memorial.

See also:
•  The Douglas family of Grace Hall




Sources for this article include:

•  Hazelwood School

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Last modified: Monday, 25 March 2024