George Thomas Blaxland, O.B.E.1871 – 1953
Sue Blaxland’s Grandfather
My grandfather, George Thomas Blaxland, was a sea captain in the Merchant Navy. He had gone to sea as a very young man and had braved the perilous voyage round Cape Horn to Australia under sail. He was awarded his Master Mariner’s Certificate in 1899 in Hong Kong and was the youngest ship’s master in the South China Seas.
He returned to England and married my grandmother in 1904 and they lived in Folkestone, Kent. At this time, ferry services around the British coast were seen as an extension of the railway system and were owned by as many as twenty different railway companies. Captain Blaxland worked for the South Eastern and Chatham Railway Company (known affectionately as the “Slow, Easy and Comfortless!) and was in command of one of the fast cross Channel ferries, the “S.S. Empress”.
At the outbreak of the First World War, he volunteered for the Royal Naval Reserve and was immediately commissioned as a lieutenant.
The “Empress”, along with her sister ships the “Engaldine” and “Riviera”, were commandeered by the Royal Navy and were converted into carriers for launching sea planes. My grandfather became one of the ship’s officers. (I believe that the ship’s Captain was Commander Sir Freddy Bowhill of the Royal Navy, as a Merchant Navy captain would not have been able to command a ship in a military situation.)
On Christmas Day 1914, all three ships were engaged in a raid on the German port of Cuxhaven, launching sea planes from their decks to bomb the port. During the raid, they were attacked by a Zeppelin which tried to bomb the “Empress” from low altitude. My grandfather, who was acting as pilot, manoeuvred the ship in a zig-zag course, taking evasive action for over an hour and succeeded in foiling the Zeppelin. This was the first time that seaplanes had been used in an attack on the enemy’s harbours from the sea.
For the remainder of the war, he commanded troop ships, transporting soldiers to the Western Front.
In April 1918, his ship the “S.S. Onward” was moored at Folkestone Harbour and a fire, supposedly started by an enemy agent, broke out on the ship. It spread quickly and threatened both the ship and the adjoining quayside. Captain Blaxland got on board hand-over-hand by the bow hawsers and slackened off the ropes to take the ship clear of the pier. He was commended for his brave action by Admiral Yelverton.
After the War, in 1920, he was awarded the O.B.E. for his wartime service.
|The original exhibition display: George Thomas Blaxland|