SWAG detectives uncover a local hero

A medal was recently found while excavating in the park. Upon inspection the details of the person that had been awarded the medal could be seen inscribed on the rim – 2048607   SJT. A. R. Blake R.E.

On the obverse side is the head of King George V1 and on the reverse side ‘FOR BRAVERY IN THE FIELD’. This is the Military Medal for bravery of which only 15,000 were awarded. It had obviously been in the ground a long time as the medal was heavily tarnished.

Could we trace A. R. Blake?

The quest started with an Ancestry search, where we found an Alfred Richard Blake who lived in Gravesend until his death in 2004. Was this the correct person?

We then contacted the Royal Engineers Museum at Gillingham, and they were able to confirm that this was the correct person and that he had been a member of the Gravesend branch of the Royal Engineers Association.

We contacted the Gravesend branch and received a response from them with the information that Alfred had been Chairman of their branch. We asked whether a public appeal could be made, and they put the information out on Facebook where there was soon quite a lot of activity. One lady said that she was a friend of Alfred’s son Alan and volunteered to telephone him on our behalf. We owe her a great deal for her contacting both us and Alan.

Following this, I explained to Alan when and where and how we found the medal. We arranged a meeting with Alan and his brother Robert, where they explained some of the circumstances leading to Alfred’s award.

As part of the XB Operations, the code name for British convoys in WW11, Alfred’s regiment were sent to Holland to blow up fuel depots to stop the supply to German troops. As well as this, they were responsible for getting the Dutch Royal Family to safety and moving gold reserves out and aboard a ship ready to take it to safety. The ship was blown up before this could be done and the gold remained on the seabed until after the war, when it was recovered.

It was a very proud day for Alfred and his family when he went to Buckingham Palace to be presented with his medal from HRH King George V1.

Alfred was rightly proud of his military service, as well as the Royal Engineers Association he was a member of the Dunkirk veterans and the Military League Medallists, for whom he was very proud to be their flag bearer.

Image provided by Alan Blake.

(With thanks to Trevor Bent)

(This story later appeared in the Kent Messenger in July 2022)

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