"From the darkness on all sides came the groans and wails of wounded men; feint, long, sobbing moans of agony and despairing shrieks. It was too horribly obvious that dozens of men with serious wounds had crawled into new shell holes, and now water was filling, rising about them and, powerless to move, they were slowly drowning........"
Lieutenant Edwin Campion Vaughan
HENRY WILLIAM BLAKE
Information relating to Henry Blake is limited. His army records have not survived. As the CWGC link reveals - he is commemorated at Ploegsteert Memorial - one of the many who have no known grave. The quotation above gives some small idea of the horror of trench warfare that men like Henry had to endure.
He was born in Boughton Monchelsea near Maidstone, Kent on 13th October 1883. His Father was recorded as Henry William Blake, a farm labourer, and his Mother was Elizabeth Blake (formerly Smith). He was part of a large family having sisters all younger than him; Elizabeth, Eliza, Florence, Ethel, Dorothy, Edith and Gertude. He also had two brothers, John and Francis. By the time of the 1901 census the family was living in Halstead and Ethel had just been born. By 1901 his Father appears to have been a "Fruit farm" worker. At some stage Henry must have moved to Riverhead.
By the time of the 1911 census his Mother, John, Ethel, Dorothy, Edith and Gertrude were all inmates of the Sevenoaks workhouse (situated at Sundridge).
His medal card suggests he enlisted early in the war - 7th November 1914: one of Lord Kitchener's "New Army". Medals awarded to him were the Victory Medal, the British Medal and the 14 Star.
It seems clear that he died at the battle of Aubers on 9th May 1915 when he was 21 years of age. A full description of the lead up to the battle and its conduct is contained in the link below. Beneath that is an extract from that link recording his battalion, the 2nd Btn Rifle Brigade, going into action at 5.30am as part of the "Northern Pincer".
"9th May: The Northern Pincer
5.30am: British bombardment intensifies, field guns switch to HE and also fire at breastworks. Two guns of 104th Battery, XXII Brigade RFA had been brought up into the 24th Brigade front and they now opened fire at point blank range against the enemy breastworks; they blow several gaps, although one of the guns is inaccurate due to the unstable ground on which it is located. The lead battalions of the two assaulting Brigades of 8th Division (24th Brigade has 2/Northants and 2/East Lancashire in front; 25th Brigade has 2/Rifle Brigade, 1/Royal Irish Rifles and 1/13 London Regiment (Kensingtons)) move out into the narrow No Man's Land (in this area it is only 100-200 yards across). German bayonets can be seen behind their parapet."
Sir John French, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force, watched the battle from a ruined church and attributed the failure of the attack to a lack of High Explosive shelling. After witnessing the battle he wrote to his mistress in the following terms:
"it's simple murder to send infantry against these powerfully fortified
entrenchments until they've been heavily hammered"
Henry Blake's battallion would suffer the highest number of casualties of all of the battalions involved in the Battle of Aubers on both the Northern and Southern pincers. The link records the casualties:
"2/ Rifle Brigade 654, of which 21 officers First wave of 24th Brigade"