Reminiscences of my paternal grandfather, Harold Blake, date from 1961, when he came to live with us in the West Country, one of the downstairs rooms serving as a bed-sit for his accommodation. He had retired as a pharmacist in Worcester some years earlier and had been widowed since 1952. During this time he became a member of the local Christadelphian church and served as treasurer for a number of years. He died in 1980 aged 91.
and granddaughter, 1961
Photo: H Blake
In those early years with the family, my brother, sister and I got to know our grandfather largely through his frequent duty on the school ‘run’ (by foot of course). Also I recall spending quiet evenings in his room, he sitting in his armchair making woollen rugs or transferring photographic slides to glass mounts, while I leafed through rows of weighty books. Two volumes that particularly interested me were Clarence Winchester’s Railway Wonders of the World and after his death, these were passed on to me.
A memorable experience occurred in 1971 when my grandfather suggested I join him with a Christadelphian couple from London, for a three-week car journey to Athens, returning via Venice and Switzerland. He made a number of overseas journeys, being particularly keen to visit locations associated with St Paul. Even as an octogenarian, his stamina in walking, particularly in hilly terrain, was always a source of amazement to others. One of his last public appearances was at his granddaughter’s wedding in the spring of 1980.
He was also a first class carpenter and a particular family heirloom is a rocking horse that he made in the 1920s.
Son Great granddaughter
Photo: H Blake Photo: A Blake
It was only comparatively recently that I came to read my grandfather’s hand written volumes comprising his WW1 experience, although the books had always been close to hand. I was immediately struck by how topical the issues that he raises are today, in fact perhaps more so now than in the intervening WW2 and cold war years. It was also evident that the detailed accounts, with the associated anecdotes, of the working of the army barracks and the two London prisons are of historical value. When I suggested typing up the work for the benefit of a wider readership, my parents were readily agreeable. In this I have found it necessary to simplify the rather ponderous language, which was somewhat heavy going due the use of over long sentences. However I have endeavoured to preserve the period style and tried to avoid introducing modern expressions. There are also a number of lengthy passages associated with biblical exhortation that I have simplified.
According to the preface that Harold Blake provided, he began the work of recording this First World War story in 1921. It had taken some two years after his discharge from the army, for his mental state to become sufficiently strong to face the proposed task. Prior to this point he was troubled by distressing dreams that disrupted sleep and harassed his mind, but gradually with the healing influence of time and a happier environment, these became less and less insistent.
Harold Blake says he was able to set down the first seven chapters up to the first prison sentence with minimal effort, but beyond that point, he found it increasingly difficult to unravel the tangle of disorderly and confused mental pictures that had been formed under brutal and repressive conditions. This induced a return of the dreams, with fits of uncontrolled laughter and others feared that the balance of his mind would give way. He realised that he would have to abandon the work, which was thus destined to become another addition to the multitude of the world’s unfinished efforts.
Harold Blake’s determination to finish the story was renewed as he saw the war clouds again gathering across Europe. He felt that whatever the cost to himself, some attempt must be made to equip others to meet what he saw as the dangerous evil of militarism. This time there were no adverse effects and the account was finished in 1937.
A Blake, March 2007.
Revised November 2008.
Whose Image and Superscription?
The story of a First World War conscientious objector