Alfred John Blake was born on the 26th June 1877 at Burton Upon Trent and baptised on the 6th January 1878 at St. John’s, Horninglow. The family were recorded as living in Dallow Lane, Horninglow.
His father, James Augustus Blake born in 1824 enlisted on the 16th February 1844 as Private 1899 in 41st The Welch Regiment of Foot. He served in Malta, Turkey and the Crimea for 4 years 126 days, West Indies for 3 years and was awarded the Crimea Medal with clasps for Alma, Inkerman and Sebastopol, Turkish War medal and a Good Conduct Medal. He was discharged on pension on the 21st April 1868 in Colchester. Whilst still in the Army he married Alfred’s mother, Hannah Carter Ashenden on the 25th January 1857 in Walmer, Kent. They had eight children:
- James born in 1857 at Newcastle, Jamaica, West Indies.
- Eliza Jane born in 1864 at Newcastle Upon Tyne, Northumberland.
- William S. born in 1866 at Dublin.
- George born in 1867 at Colchester.
- Mary Elizabeth born in 1869 at Church Broughton, Derbyshire.
- Henry Thomas born in 1872 at Burton Upon Trent.
- Sarah Ann born in 1875 at Burton Upon Trent.
- Alfred James.
During the 1871 census the family were living at Dallow Street, Horninglow, Burton upon Trent and Alfred’s father is employed as a labourer. By the time of the 1881 census they were recorded as living at 79, Stafford Street, Horninglow, Burton upon Trent and Alfred’s father is shown as working as a brewery labourer.
Alfred’s father is believed to have died in 1887 and certainly in the 1891 census his mother is shown as being a widow. The family had moved a few doors away to 192, Stafford Street, Horninglow, Burton upon Trent and Alfred is now working as a general labourer. In the 1901 census Alfred’s family were recorded as living at 210, Dallow Street, Horninglow but he had left home having joined the Army and was away serving in South Africa.
Early Army Service.
Alfred’s early Army Service Record has survived and it shows he enlisted on the 27th November 1897 at Derby as Private 7119 in the Grenadier Guards for short service of 7 years with the colours and 5 in the reserves. The following was recorded: He said he was born in the Parish of St. Pauls near Buxton, his age was 19 years 4 months and his trade was a labourer. He said he was not an apprentice, was not married, had never been sentenced to imprisonment and had never served in the Military before.
His description on enlistment was recorded as: Apparent age 19 years 4 months. Height: 5 feet 10 inches. Weight: 136 lbs. Chest: 34 inches to 36 inches. Complexion: Fresh. Eyes: Brown. Hair: Dark brown. Marks: Tattoo of anchor and crossed swords right forearm. He said his religion was Church of England and his next of kin was his mother Hannah, brothers George and Harry of 129, Princess Street, Burton on Trent and sister Eliza Kent of 90, Waterloo Street, Burton on Trent.
Alfred joined the 3rd Battalion on the 3rd December 1897 at London. On the 13th July 1898 he was posted to Gibraltar with the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards. On the 2nd February 1899 he was appointed Lance Corporal. On the 27th November 1899 he was granted 1d per day Good Conduct Pay and, on the 4th October 1899, he was posted Home to the UK.
On the 18th March 1900 he was posted to South Africa. On the 4th May 1900 he discontinued as a Lance Corporal and on the 19th June 1900, he forfeited 1 Good Conduct Badge. On the 18th August 1901 he was granted 1d per day Good Conduct Pay. On the 21st October 1901 he returned home.
On the 27th November 1903 he was granted 2d per day Good Conduct Pay and a year later, at the end of his seven years with the Colours, he was transferred to Section A Army Reserve receiving £21/0/0 deferred pay.
On the 27th November 1905 he was transferred to Section B Army Reserve. He was discharged on the termination of his First Period of service on the 26th November 1909 but on the 8th January 1910 he re-enlisted for Section D Army Reserve for a period of four years and discharged again on the 7th January 1914.
Alfred was awarded the Queen’s South African medal with clasp for 1901 and the King’s South Africa medal with clasps for Wittebergen, Cape Colony and Transvaal.
Alfred’s Police Service Record has not survived but it is believed that he applied to join the Hertford County before he left the Grenadier Guards and was also busy arranging his wedding.
Alfred was transferred to the Army Reserve and got married to Elizabeth Mary Baston at Bromley and Leonard, London on the same day the 27th November 1904. His marriage record shows that his occupation was a Police Constable and his address was given as Burton upon Trent. It is thought that he had given his mother’s address as he had only just joined the Police as Constable 156. They had three children:
- Alfred James Augustus born in 1905 at Watford. Became an Assistant Superintendent in Federation of Malaya Police Force.
- Clarabelle Barbara born in 1906 at Watford.
- Elizabeth Mary born in 1909 at Wilstone, Tring.
The only Police records referring to Alfred are the following General Orders which show that he was posted to C Division at Watford. He would have undergone his Probationer training with a senior experienced Constable under the supervision of his Superintendent.
Published on the 13th October 1905 in the Buckinghamshire Examiner under the headline The Two D’s: Henry Rivett, 4, Lamb Yard, Watford, was summoned for being drunk and disorderly, on October 6th. Police Constable Blake said defendant was drunk and threatened to “Put his —- lights out.” Fined 5s and costs.
General Order 42 of the 17th November 1905 informed Alfred that he would receive an increased rate of pay from £1/3/11 to £1/5/8 per week from 26th October 1905.
Parliamentary Elections 1906.
General Order 1 of 1st January 1906 gave instructions to dozens of Police officers in connection with the General Election of January 1906. Voting was carried out over several days and schedules were drawn up detailing where and when officers would perform duty. The following excerpts refer to Alfred: Schedule C Return of Officers and Men detailed for duty in the Western or Watford Division on Tuesday 23rd January 1906. Div. Rank No. Name Station Place for Duty C PC 156 Blake A J Watford Callow Land Watford Schedule D Return of Officers and Men detailed for duty in the Northern or Hitchin Division on Thursday 25th January 1906. Div. Rank No. Name Station Place for Duty C PC 156 Blake A J Watford Hitchin
General Order 14 of the 29th May 1907 informed Alfred that he would receive an increased rate of pay from £1/5/8 to £1/6/10 per week from the 9th May 1907.
General Order 6 of the 26th February 1909 instructed Alfred that from the 18th March 1909 he was being transferred from C Division to G Division vice PC Trowbridge who was being pensioned. G Division was that area of St. Albans not covered by the City of St. Albans Police and the surrounding villages. From the following General Order, it is clear however, that within a year Alfred was moved again as he is shown as being in D Division at Wilstone.
(Abridged) Published on the 23rd April 1910 in the Bucks Herald under the headline Long Marston, Sad Suicide Of A Prominent Resident: A painful sensation was caused in the village on Sunday last by the news that Mr. Joseph Gregory, one of the best known residents, had been found drowned in Betlow pond. Mr. Gregory, who belonged to one of the most widely known families in the district, had carried on the business of a baker in Long Marston for many years. He had been long and honourably connected with the Baptist cause in the place and was actively interested in the management of the little chapel near his house. For some time now he had been in a low depressed state and seemed to brood more than circumstances warranted upon misfortunes which had befallen some of his connections; but no one anticipated that he was likely to take his own life. The greatest sympathy is expressed for his widow and children. The story of his rash act was told on Monday, when Mr. Lovel Smeathman, the Coroner for West Herts, held an inquest at the Parish Hall. The following gave evidence. Mary and Ernest George Gregory, the daughter and son of the deceased, gave evidence to his demeanour and actions on the morning he left the family house. Joseph Chandler was one of those searching for the deceased who found him in Betlow pond.
PC Blake, stationed at Wilstone, said he was sent for about noon on Sunday, and went to the pond at once. The pond was stagnant and very deep with a lot of mud at the bottom. At the end where the body was found was about 12 or 13 feet deep, and there were a lot of weeds about. The pond was fenced all round with a hedge and wooden fence. It would be impossible to get in at the spot where the body was found without climbing over both fences. The body was lying face downwards on the bank when he arrived, and he tried artificial respiration for about half an hour but without avail. He searched the body and found nothing calling for remark. Deceased had no money on him. He had the body removed home. Witness knew the deceased well and noticed lately that he had been downhearted. He saw him on Saturday night, when he complained of his head, saying the thunder affected him. Dr. H.B. Willoughby-Smith gave evidence as to the cause of death as drowning. The Coroner summed up the evidence and the jury returned a verdict that deceased committed suicide, and that he was at the time in an unsound state of mind.
General Order 2 of 13th January 1910 gave instructions to dozens of Police officers in connection with the General Election of January 1910. Voting was carried out over several days and schedules were drawn up detailing where and when officers would perform duty. The following excerpt refers to Alfred: Schedule A Return of Officers and Men detailed for duty in the Eastern or Hertford Division on Wednesday 19th January 1910. Div. Rank No. Name Station Place for Duty D PC 156 Blake A J Wilstone Ware Schedule B Return of Officers and Men detailed for duty in the Northern or Hitchin Division on Friday 21st January 1910. Div. Rank No. Name Station Place for Duty D PC 156 Blake A J Wilstone Royston Schedule D Return of Officers and Men detailed for duty in the Western or Watford Division 27th January 1910. Div. Rank No. Name Station Place for Duty D PC 156 Blake A J Wilstone Long Marston
General Order 18 of the 25th May 1910 informed Alfred that he would receive an increased rate of pay from £1/6/10 to £1/8/0 per week from 5th May 1910.
The 1911 census list Police Constable Alfred Blake, his wife Elizabeth and children Alfred, Clarabelle and Elizabeth as living at Wilstone, Tring.
General Order 16 of the 1st July 1911 instructed that a detachment of the Hertford County Constabulary would proceed to Cardiff on Wednesday 5th July 1911 for duty. It included one Inspector four Sergeants and 25 Constables one of whom was Alfred. They were given the following orders: The Deputy Chief Constable will superintend the departure from Paddington Station. The detachment will parade in Paddington Station at 11 a.m. on 5th July. The train will leave at 11.30 a.m. arriving at Cardiff at 2.22 p.m. Every man will take a change of clothing, second suit of uniform, great coat, helmet, cape, leggings, night belt and lamp, truncheon & warrant card, whistle and chain and handcuffs. PC Reynolds will act as Clerk to the Detachment. The men detailed for duty have been carefully selected and any neglect of duty or misconduct tending to bring the Hertfordshire Constabulary into disrepute on the part of any Officer or Constable of the detachment while on duty in another County will meet with the severest notice of the Constable. Special arrangements will be made for the payment of fares to and from Cardiff. Inspector Sullivan will be given a special advance from which he is authorised to pay back officers a sum not exceeding 5/- per week and this advance will also be available for any necessary expenditure of an extraordinary nature. Receipts to be submitted to the office. The wives of officers proceeding with the Detachment will be paid £1 per week from the officers pay during their absence. Food and lodgings will be provided. The officers were detailed to perform duty at the Gilfach Goch Colliery.
The officers were detailed to perform duty at the Gilfach Goch Colliery. Alfred can be seen in this photograph: Front row left to right: PC 91A James Hyiatt, Sergeant 55B Frederick William Warren, PC 174E Lewis Saunders. Back row left to right: PC 241D Ferdinand Whittaker Lilley, PC 156D Alfred John Blake, PC 37C Alfred Ernest Cousins, PC 107E Edward Albert Payne, PC 26E Philip James Bradford.
General Order 20 of the 23rd November 1913 announced that Alfred had been commended as follows: Police Constable Blake No. 156 A Division late D Division was commended by the Jury at the Coroner’s Inquest on the bodies of Archibald and Hector Annett at Tring on 5th September 1913. The Chief Constable endorses the recommendation of the Jury. PC Blake acted very properly in entering the water although there was little or no chance of saving the lives of the boys the credit of the Police was at stake and was properly maintained.
The Story Behind The Commendation.
Published on the 6th September 1913 in the Bucks Herald under the headline Sad Drowning Fatality At Tring: The sudden and unexpected death by drowning of two bright little boys who were spending their holiday with friends in Tring has caused a profound and widespread feeling of grief in Tring. Archie and Hector Annette, aged respectively ten and eight, were on a visit to their grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. S. Ellis of Rosemead. For the last few days, they had been staying with their uncle, Mr. Percy Ellis, who lives in the High Street. On Thursday, between one and two, the boys went out, accompanied by Mr. Ellis’ dog. It was understood that they were going in search of blackberries with their aunt, and hence there was no anxiety felt as to their safety. However, when the Misses Ellis returned home later in the day, and it was discovered that the boys had not been with them, much anxiety was caused. About 6.30 Miss Sluiter who had been walking near Little Tring, brought the news that she seen the boys’ clothes on the banks of Little Tring Reservoir, guarded by their dog, Inch she recognised. Mr. P. Ellis at once cycled to the spot, but the only information he could get was from a man who had seen the boys near the reservoir about three o’clock. Mrs. P. Ellis had quickly followed her husband, at length found the stockings and knickerbockers on the bank, where boys had evidently been paddling. Mr. Mew, from Little Tring engine house obtained drags, but for time was unable to discover either of the boys. There was only about two feet of water in the reservoir where the hoys were found, but a short distance away there is an open culvert connected with the engine house where the water is some seven feet in depth. After repeated attempts to find the boys by PC Blake, Mr. J. Wardle a jeweller’s assistant in Tring, who had dived into the culvert and succeeded in bringing the body of the younger boy to the surface. That of the elder was afterwards found by Mr. Mew. The boys had their jerseys and shirts on, and it is believed they were paddling in the shallow writer, and not knowing the presence the culvert suddenly got out their depth and were drowned. The bodies were brought to Tring at a late hour on Thursday night. The greatest sympathy is felt on all sides for the boys’ friends and particularly for Mr. Annette, who, since the death of his wife a few years ago, had been rarely separated from his boys except during their holidays. The inquest was held yesterday (Friday) evening.
The General Order regarding his Commendation clearly states that Alfred had been transferred from D Division to A Division, at some time between the 5th September and 23rd November 1913, without saying to which station he had been posted. Although the 1914 Electoral Roll still lists Alfred John Blake as living at Wilstone when he enlists, two years later, he gave an address of 45, Walton Road, Rye Common, Hoddesdon which is in A Division.
Military Service During The War.
Alfred’s Military Service is tied quite closely to another Hertford County Constabulary Police Constable, PC 88 Herbert William Gray. Not only were they both A Division men, but they had both belonged to the 2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards and served in the Boer War together. Herbert’s Police Service Record has survived and it shows that, on the 9th September 1914, he had been loaned to the Army as a Drill Instructor. Considering what they both did next there is every likelihood that Alfred was also loaned to the Army as a Drill Instructor.
On the 16th February 1916 Alfred enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps. His Service Record has survived and shows that he enlisted as Air Mechanic Second Class 22745 for the duration of the war. Herbert Gray enlisted at the same time as 22746. However, other than enlisting together there is nothing to say that they continued to serve together.
The following was recorded: He said he was born on the 26th June 1877 and that he had previously served for 16 years in the Grenadier Guards. His civilian occupation was given as a Drill Instructor and this was undoubtedly his role in the Royal Flying Corps. Details of his marriage and the births of his children were recorded. He gave his next of kin as his wife, Elizabeth Mary Blake, 45 Walton Road, Rye Common which was later replaced with 13, St. Johns Road, Margate. His description on enlistment was simply recorded as height 6 feet and chest 36 ½ inches. His trade classification was shown as Disciplinarian.
On enlistment he was posted to No. 38 Training Squadron based at Rendcomb near Cirencester. The day after he enlisted, he was promoted to Sergeant and then on the 1st August 1916 he was appointed Flight Sergeant, and on the 1st September 1916, he was appointed Acting Warrant Officer.
General Order 127 of the 27th November 1916 announced Alfred’s resignation from the Police as follows: Police Constable A.J. Blake who enlisted in H.M. Army on 16th February 1916 with the permission of the Deputy Chief Constable and who is now a Sergeant Major of the Royal Flying Corps having submitted an application to be permitted to resign his appointment as a Constable of the Hertford County Constabulary the resignation is accepted as from 18th November 1916 inclusive. Police Constable Blake will be struck off the strength of the establishment of the Force as from that date.
On the 2nd May 1917 he was promoted to temporary Sergeant Major. Then on the formation of the Royal Air Force on the 1st April 1918 he was transferred as a Sergeant Major. His service record then lists a series of dates and references to “Pool of Pilots” which is believed refers to him instructing different groups of new recruits. On the 12th October 1918 he was posted to No. 34 Station RAF Joyce Green near Dartford. On the 23rd September 1919 he was posted to the Officers and Cadets at RAF Manston on Isle of Thanet and then on the 1st March 1920 to RAF Halton near Wendover.
On the 31st March 1920 he was transferred to the RAF Reserve and on the 1st April 1920, he was awarded a pension of £1/6/0 and 17/8 per week allowance for his wife and three children until further notice. On the 30th April 1920 he was deemed to be Discharged.
As Alfred had not served overseas, he was not awarded any medals.
There is no record of Alfred re-joining the Police.