yeovil at War

herbert charles blake

Killed on Christmas Day in the Somme Offensive

 

Herbert Charles Blake was born in Yeovil in 1887, the son of leather stapler Elias Blake and his wife Sarah. In the 1891 census Elias and Sarah were listed at 91 Park Street with their children; Ethel aged 8, Bessie aged 6, Ernest aged 5 and Herbert aged 3. By 1901 the family had moved to 1 Smith's Terrace, Newtown and 13-year old Herbert was listed as an errand boy at a fish shop. He now also had five more siblings; Bertie, Flossie, Elsie, Percy and George.

Herbert enlisted in the army at Yeovil in January 1910 as Private Herbert Blake (Service No 8572) of 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards. In the 1911 census, while his family were living at 1 Smith's Terrace, Newtown, Herbert (incorrectly listed as a 19-year old) was listed as a Private in 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards at Ramillies Barracks, Aldershot.

Almost at the outbreak of war, as a Reservist, Herbert was called up. At the onset of war in 1914, the 2nd Battalion was part of the 4th Guards Brigade which was part of the 2nd Division of the Expeditionary Force. War was declared on 4 August and the 2nd Battalion embarked for France on 12 August 1914. All three battalions of the Coldstream Guards were taken for active service, with the 1st Battalion in 1st Guards Brigade and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions in 4th Guards Brigade.

Upon landing in France they all moved to the Belgian frontier. During this march the entire Regiment found itself all together at Oisy, the first time that the entire Regiment had been on active service together since March 1688.

On 23 August the 2nd Division moved forward into Belgium. On the same day the British were forced to withdraw from Mons, due to the withdrawal of the French on their flanks. The retreat ended on 5 September, by which time the British had marched 170 miles in thirteen days reaching an area south of the River Marne east of Paris.

In the summer of 1915 the Guards Division was formed and the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards moved to 1st Guards Brigade. In July 1916 the Division left the Salient to take part in the great Allied offensive of the Somme.

 

Letters published in the  Western Gazette, 23 October 1914
Mr. Elias Blake, of 1 Smiths Terrace, Newtown, has received several letters from his son Herbert who is with the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards at the Front. In his first on October 11 he says that: " I was pleased with the box of Woodbines. I got them brought to me by a sergeant in a wood when I was on outpost duty. I was smoking while the shells were flying over my head in the sky like rockets. What we call them here are kit bags, as when they land they make a hole in the ground big enough for two horses. I have all kinds of money, but can't spend any, so that is why I am sending you the money in francs."

In another letter he says: " I am glad to say I am well up to the present. I was just writing a letter to you when we were shelled by the Germans so I had to get cover. We have had some hard times but it is a little quiet now. I hope and trust that I shall see England again. We get quite good food right up to the firing line and we can now receive letters and parcels from home in five days. It is very cold in the night in the field. We are about 1,300 yards from the German firing line. I hope my luck will keep the same as it has been. Christmas will soon be here now. People think it will be over by then, but I don't think so myself. At the place we are now at the moment there is a church - an old one. I went to it on Saturday evening and the Germans started shelling it after we had been there half an hour."

Letters published in the  Western Gazette, 27 November 1914
Mr. Elias Blake, of 1 Smiths Terrace, Newtown, has received several letters from his son Herbert who is with the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards at the Front. He says: "We are having lots of rain and hailstones and up to our knees in mud and water. We are having a warm time of it. I hope things will soon turn for the better. It is very cold here in the winter. A pal of mine has been killed. We were in the trenches together, when I heard a shot or two from the Germans. I told him to keep down as I had spotted us. I had only turned to see him when he was shot dead. I hope I shall get through the hard fight, but you never know what is going to happen. You dare not keep your eye off the Germans or they will spot you so you can't be too careful. We are only 100 yards from German trenches so you can imagine what is happening. As it is still raining things are worse than they would otherwise be."

In another letter he says: "At present we are having some heavy fighting here. We are still in a big forest fighting the Germans and working hard to keep them back. They are only about 100 yards in front of our trenches so you can tell we are kept very busy. We are still on the left of the line and have lost a good few men and officers. I Trust that I shall pull through as this is a big affair out here. We are up to our necks in mud and the trenches are very wet. I have two pairs of socks on and even then my feet are cold at times. I also have plenty of clothing on at the present, and we get fags given to us by the Company officer almost every day. I have not much time to write as we have to get under cover as much as we can. There have been big battles on our right and left and you can see the way two walk at night when the shells are bursting over you."

Letters published in the  Western Gazette, 22 January 1915
Private H Blake, of the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards at the Front, writing to his sister living at Smith's Terrace, Newtown, says: "We are up to our knees in water and mud but we get relieved every 24 hours. The Germans are about 400 yards away from our trenches and as regards mud and water they are in the same fix as ourselves. I was enjoying your cake in the trenches when shells came bursting just behind us and bullets around like bees. We have been through it before and shall stick it again. We are at present billeted in a village which the shells have blown to pieces. Even the bodies have been blown from their graves in the churchyard and the church tower blown off. Everywhere I have been in action is among the ruins. Cattle lie around the fields like a lot of dead rats. Up to the present I must consider myself lucky as none of us know day or hour what is going to happen to us."

In another letter Private Blake says: "After a wet time in trenches we are going back for a day or two's rest. We can see the Germans dipping water out of their trenches a distance of about 500 yards. We get relieved at night but it's nothing else but rain here."

Letters published in the  Western Gazette, 19 February 1915
Private HC Blake, serving with the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards at the Front, and whose parents live at 1 Smith's Terrace, Newtown, writing to his fiancé, Miss E Bagwell says: "Our trenches are in a big span of open country between two big towns where we are fighting in a big brickyard. In front of us lie hundreds of dead Germans. They try to break through our lines but our boys cut them down like dead sheep. Just in front of our port-hole through which I fire, lie five Germans, and one officer dead and they lie over the field. We have been praised for good work we have done. We have to keep up our fire as the Germans creep up to our trenches at night so we have to keep a good look out. One German who had laid out for two days wounded walked into our lines. He looked very pleased but was covered in mud and wounded on the side. Our stretcher bearer's truck took him back to the hospital."

Writing under the date February 7 he states: "I have had to be transferred to No 4 Company, to help make up their strength as they had to charge the Germans early one morning and lost a lot of men. The Germans also lost heavily in front of the brick yard where they are still fighting. I can touch some of the German dead with the point of my bayonet, as they charge and come up to our boys. They come at us in hundreds to try to break our lines but fail to do so. We are fighting on the right of the British line and on the side of a canal and railway. Whilst I'm writing to you I hear the news that the 3rd Battalion that relieved us the night before from the firing line have taken the brick yard by a successful charge. We get 48 hours in the trenches and 48 in reserve. I am sending home some souvenirs. One is a piece of shell which very nearly caused my death. This came into the trench whilst I was making some tea and landed about two inches from my chest. A piece about the same size killed a lad 19 years of age who had only joined us a few weeks ago. He was only talking to me few minutes before his death. I asked him if he was hit as he was knocked down by of the explosion. He said 'I am nearly dead'. The poor chap died before he could reach the hospital."

from "Letters home to Yeovil in the Great War, 1914 – 1919" by Jack Sweet
Courtesy of Jack Sweet

 

On the 15th September all three Coldstream Battalions were in the front line of assault, the first and only time the Regiment has gone into action as a whole. The losses in the three Coldstream Battalions amounted to 40 Officers and 1326 other ranks.

The winter of 1916-17 was spent in trench warfare on the Somme but sadly, on Christmas Eve 1916 Herbert was shot by a German machine-gunner. He died the following morning, Christmas Day, aged 29.

On 5 January 1917 the Western Gazette reported "The sad news has been received by Mr. E Blake, of 1 Smith’s Terrace, Eastland Road, of the death in action, on Christmas morning, of his second son, Priv. H. Blake, of the Coldstream Guards. Private Blake, who was a Reservist, was called to the Colours at the early part of the war, and had previously been wounded. Private Blake was 29 years of age and always of a bright and cheery disposition."

The Western Gazette, on 12 January 1917, reported "The sad news has recently been received that Priv. H. Blake of the Coldstream Guards, son of Mr. H. Blake of 1 Smith’s Terrace, Eastland Road, has been killed in action. The following letter has been received from an officer in his regiment:- “I much regret to say that your son has died of wounds. He was wounded by a German machine-gun while entering the reserve trench on Christmas-eve and was shot through the abdomen. I can’t tell you how much I sympathise with you in your great loss. Your son was an excellent soldier, and will be greatly missed, as well as being a great loss to the Battalion. The Commanding Officer wishes me to send you his condolences.”

Herbert Charles Blake was interred in Grove Town Cemetery, Meaulte, Grave II.G.5. His name is inscribed on the War Memorial in the Borough.

 

gallery

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of Herbert Blake.