Blacklock, C A (1880–1936) Major-General
GOC Infantry Division CB CMG DSO*
Eton College Militia Civilian

 

kings royal rifle corpsCyril Aubrey Blacklock's is a forgotten name of the Great War, yet his experience was unusual and – perhaps – unique. He was the son of J Herbert Blacklock, of Overthorpe, near Banbury in Oxfordshire, good hunting country, of which he took full advantage. After serving with a Militia Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, Blacklock was commissioned in the King's Royal Rifle Corps on 5 January 1901. He soon saw action in the South African War, where he took part in Operations in the Orange River Colony (January – May 1902). But his pre-war military career was destined to be short. Blacklock resigned his commission on 23 April 1904, while his battalion was stationed in India, and emigrated to Canada, where he settled at Port Rowan, Ontario.

It was a clean break. Blacklock did not join the Reserve of Officers and when war broke out in August 1914 he was under no legal obligation to return to the colours. But return he did. He was re-commissioned in his old regiment on 4 November 1914 and appointed to the 10th (Service) Battalion, part of 59th Brigade, 20th (Light) Division. His rise was rapid. Civilian in 1914, 2/ic by October 1915, battalion commander by December 1915, brigadier-general by January 1917. This was ascribed by Blacklock's obituarist in The King's Royal Rifle Corps Chronicle 'to the fact that he was original enough to be entirely unafraid of the somewhat alarming Brigadier of the 59th Brigade, Brigadier-General Shute, and whenever the latter was promoted he always took Blacklock with him'. This is something of an exaggeration.

Blacklock certainly had the qualities Shute admired: courage; energy; resource; optimism; aggression. These are reflected in the citation to Blacklock's second DSO, won at Guillemont on 3 September 1916, where he was wounded. 'When in command of the left attack of the brigade, considerable bodies of the enemy emerged from underground defences [the Quarries] in rear of the brigade. He at once detached parties to deal with the situation, thereby enabling the attack to be successfully carried out. Later he captured and consolidated five consecutive objectives, displaying the greatest courage and initiative.' Blacklock was not simply 'gung-ho', however. His was calculated aggression. He favoured careful planning and proper preparation against facsimile objectives before carrying out attacks.

Blacklock's initial appointment to general officer rank, as GOC 182nd (2/1st Warwickshire) Brigade, 61st (2nd/South Midland) Division TF seems to have owed little to Shute, who had been appointed GOC 63rd (Royal Naval) Division on 17 October 1916. Shute's appointment to the Royal Naval Division was not a marriage made in heaven. He did not approve of 'sailors' and the sailors did not like him. On 19 February 1917 Shute was put out of his misery and transferred to the command of 32nd Division. Within less than a month, Blacklock had joined him as GOC 97th Brigade. He remained in command until March 1918.

In 1918 Blacklock found himself, in successive command of three divisions, two of them generally considered elite: 9th (Scottish) Division (March 1918); 39th Division (30 March – 30 August 1918); and 63rd (Royal Naval) Division (30 August 1918 - to the Armistice). The final appointment looks suspiciously like someone's idea of a joke. 39th Division was heavily engaged during the German spring offensives, both on the Somme (where Blacklock's predecessor, Edward Feetham, was killed in action) and on the Lys. The division was exhausted in these battles. It was reduced to cadre in June 1918 and never returned to the line. Blacklock's war was not over, however. He led the Royal Naval Division in the fierce fighting of September and October 1918. He was still only 38. The GOC XVII Corps, Sir Charles Fergusson, considered Blacklock to be a 'first rate commander' and 63rd Division, under Blacklock's command, the finest he had ever seen.

Blacklock again resigned from the Army in 1920 and returned to Canada.

 

Dr John Bourne

 

 

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