16 Jul 2009

BLAKER Percy John

Sergeant C/580 16th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps
Killed in Action on Friday 21st July 1916
Commemorated on Thiepval Memorial, Somme, Pier and Face 13A and 13B

Percy Blaker was born on the 22nd July 1883 and baptised on the 9th September 1883 at St. James the Less, North Lancing. He was the second son of John and Lucy Blaker who were living at 4 Thatch Cottage, South Street, Lancing. There were five Blaker children, Arthur, Annie, Percy, Herbert and Nathaniel, and their father worked locally as a market garden labourer. The Blakers had lived for generations in Sompting and Lancing, and were an integral part of village and church life. All the boys had connections with the local branch of the Church Lads' Brigade, and by 1910 Percy was Sergeant of the branch and 'second in command' to Captain Cass. On the 22nd September 1914, Percy and Nathaniel Blaker enlisted into the 16th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps (Church Lads Brigade). Their service numbers were C/580 and C/582, and the man standing between them was Leonard Broomfield, C/581, another Lancing man who survived the war. Percy Blaker quickly gained the rank of Sergeant, probably due to the fact that he was a man of mature age and had held a similar position in the Church Lads' Brigade. The brothers were in the same company throughout their time with the Battalion, but at the time of their first attack at High Wood, the day that Nathaniel Blaker died, Percy was not with either his battalion, or his brother. A report from the Sussex Daily News dated the 11th August 1916 explains:

BROTHERS KILLED IN LANCING - Mr. and Mrs. John Blaker of 3 Cherry Tree Cottages, Lancing, have sustained a double loss, news having been received that two of their three soldier sons have been killed during the Offensive on a date towards the end of July. Sergeant Percy Blaker, the elder of the two, was thirty-three years of age, and Rifleman Nathaniel Blaker would have celebrated his twenty-first birthday this month. They were both in the King's Royal Rifles, their Battalion being one specially raised for 'old boys' of the Church Lads' Brigade, Percy being Company Staff-Sergeant. The elder brother had only passed a gunnery course on the 18th July, and as his birthday was on the 22nd July, it may be a melancholy coincidence that he met with his fatal injuries on that date. At any rate it was within a day or so of then that he gallantly fell, although the exact date has not transpired yet. Married little more than a year ago, it was on the anniversary of that day that his wife received the news that he was missing. Both brothers were in the same Company and must have gone into battle together, almost shoulder to shoulder. Lancing people will deeply sympathise with the bereaved family.'

The newspaper was not to know that Nathaniel had died on the 15th July, three days before Percy returned to the Battalion. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives Percy's date of death as the 21st July 1916, although his service record is ambiguous, stating that he died on the '20th/21st July.' It was a time when there was so much fighting, shelling, sniping and bombing, that it is easy to understand such confusion. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Theipval Memorial to the Missing. More about the Blaker brothers and the origins of the 16th King's Royal Rifle Corps can be found on the page of Nathaniel Blaker.

High Wood

High Wood today is privately owned and closed to the public - at a distance from the road there is silence except for the skylarks above, and there is no movement except for the crops moving in the fields. But the fields still produce their harvest of shells and within the wood still lie the remnants of battle, and of the men who fought the battle.

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