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Address: 82 Stonehall Road, Eccleshill
Rank: Pte
Rolls of Honour:
Regiment: Bradford Pals
Alfred Blackburn
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We know very little about Alfred’s background. The first we read of him is in a photo-gallery caption published in the Shipley Times & Express on 22 June 1917 to say he was missing. Then, on 10 August, the paper revealed: Mr and Mrs Blackburn of 82 Stone Hall Road, Eccleshill, received a field postcard from Germany on Monday from their son, Pt Alfred Blackburn to tell them he had been made a prisoner of war on February 27th. The parents were previously notified from the War Office that he was missing and the anxiety they have passed through can better be imagined than described during over five months of suspense. He sent a letter a few days after being captured but this was never received. Pte Blackburn, who is in the Bradford Pals, also states that he is in the best of health and going on as well as can be expected. Alfred was freed after the 1918 armistice and the story of his experiences as a PoW were published on 3 January 1919: When Pte Alfred Blackburn, West Yorkshire Regt, returned to his home at 82 Stonehall Road, Eccleshill last week after having been a prisoner of war in Germany
for 22 months, he looked so fit and well that all his friends complimented him on his appearance. “That’s all due to the parcels I have received from home,” was his reply. He fought on the Western front for a year before he fell into the hands of the Germans in February 1916 under the following circumstances. Five hundred of the West Yorkshires were told to capture a position which was strongly held by the Germans and their effort was to be a surprise attack without the aid of artillery. The Germans were posted in a wood at the other side of a valley and gave them a dose of machine guns with the result that a great number of their men were killed and the remainder had to seek what shelter they could get. Shell craters Some scrambled into shell craters full of water. They had hoped to ‘stick it’ all day and get back at night but that was not to be. All the officers had been killed and the sergeant-major in charge asked the men what they were prepared to do.
Those most unfavourably placed were for surrendering and as it was useless for the others to continue the struggle, they gave in after five hours’ fighting. Only 60 were left out of the 500 and of the survivors, 20 were wounded. On reaching the German lines they were interviewed and were told of the landing of the British Territorials in France. Then they were marched off to a barn and locked in and were left three days without food. For ten months they were compelled to work behind the German lines mending roads and laying railways. They were often under fire of the British artillery. Fortunately there were no casualties in Pte Blackburn’s section and after ten months they were sent to Wahn and later to [unclear] to work on the land. It was their policy to report sick as often as possible and to make as much work for the guards as they could.
He had undergone three days solitary confinement for not saluting a German officer and he had stolen many a turnip from the cookhouse in the dead of night to satisfy his hunger. One night two of them slipped out on this errand and on hearing someone call out they thought they had been discovered. They bolted and did their best to hide the turnips beneath their coats. Bluff The guard was standing underneath an electric light close by the door they had to enter and there was nothing left for them to do but to bluff him and this they did by marching boldly forward. They sometimes managed to evade a working party by scrambling through a window and at other times they got into the hut where the Russians were for their huts were seldom visited by the Germans. Pte Blackburn says that amounts of money were offered to prisoners for their clothing and that one day he was threatened with a bayonet because he refused to part with a bobbin of black cotton. His guard demanded the cotton while they were in a working party but Blackburn lifted up his shovel in self-defence and the guard pressed matters no further.