Major Charles Anthony Howell Bruce Blake


Unit : Headquarters, 1st Airlanding Brigade

Army No. : 52575

Awards : Distinguished Service Cross, Czech Military Cross, Polish Military Cross


Tony Blake was born in Sheffield on the 1st December 1911,  the son of Major Cecil Bruce Blake (1880-1937) and Effie Howell (died 1969). He was educated at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and on the 27th August 1931 was commissioned into the Royal Ulster Rifles as a Second Lieutenant. Posted to the 1st Battalion, from June 1933 he served in Palestine and Egypt, was promoted to Lieutenant on the 27th August 1934, and accompanied the Battalion to Hong Kong in January 1937. In January 1939, he was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, then stationed at their Armagh Depot in Northern Ireland, and was promoted to Captain on the 27th August 1939.


Promoted to Major in 1942, Blake, who was fluent in both Polish and Russian, was attached to the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade Group. On the 13th August 1943, in recognition of his services, the following was announced in the London Gazette: 


The King has been pleased to grant unrestricted permission for the wearing of the following decoration which has been conferred upon the undermentioned officer in recognition of services in the cause of the Allies:- Decorations conferred by the President of the Republic of Poland. Polish Military Cross. Major Charles Anthony Howell Bruce Blake (52575), The Royal Ulster Rifles.


Blake was appointed Brigade Major of the 1st Airlanding Brigade on the 5th October 1943. On Sunday 17th September 1944, he took part in Operation Market Garden and flew to Arnhem in a Horsa glider with the First Lift, landing on LZ-S near Wolfheze. For his actions during the Battle he was awarded a U.S. Distinguished Service Cross, gazetted on the 14th November 1947:


Major Blake is Brigade Major of 1 Air Landing Brigade. On the 19th September in the Arnhem area four officers of Brigade Headquarters were killed by an enemy mortar shell. Major Blake was temporarily blinded by the same shell. He refused to go for treatment and remained on duty at the telephone in a slit trench. Major Blake's sight did not fully return until after evacuation, but until then he was constantly on duty throughout a period of intense mortar and artillery fire. Owing to luck in the allotment of wireless frequencies, Major Blake found he was able to direct the fire of 64 Medium Regiment who were supporting the Division from 30 Corps area. This direction of fire was carried out quietly and efficiently and contributed largely to the success of the Regiment in breaking up enemy concentrations and attacks. Thoroughly shaken and unable to see, Major Blake displayed the greatest personal courage and determination throughout the operation in carrying out his duties cheerfully and most efficiently.


Blake continued to serve in the Army. He married Elspeth Lillian Arnott, the daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Allan Maxwell Arnott, on the 2nd April 1948, and the couple had two children, a son and a daughter. On the 14th May 1948, there was a further announcement in the London Gazette:


Decorations conferred by the President of the Czechoslovak Republic. Military Cross 1939. Major Charles Anthony Howell Bruce Blake (52575), The Royal Ulster Rifles.


Blake served in the Korean War as Second-in-Command of the 1st Battalion The Royal Ulster Rifles, subsequently assuming full command as Acting Lieutenant-Colonel in the absence of the commanding officer, who was on sick leave in Japan. During the fighting at Happy Valley in January 1951, he personally led a successful counter-attack to retake positions which had been overrun. The Rifles were ordered to withdraw in darkness, but when their progress was mistakenly illuminated by flares from American aircraft, they came under a series of immediate and relentless Chinese attacks which threatened the very survival of the Battalion. Casualties were heavy yet the overwhelming majority were able to fight their way out of the trap, but Blake was killed during the withdrawal. Veterans of the Battalion question the authenticity of this statement, but according to the family website, a Chinese officer addressed the British prisoners and asked for their commander to make himself known; Blake and his batman stepped forward and both were executed. Killed on the 3rd January 1951, aged 39, Blake was laid to rest in the United Nations Memorial Cemetery, Pusan, Plot 17, Row 1, Position 7, Grave Serial 690.



My thanks to Bob Hilton for this account.


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