Category: Military
Rank: Frontiersman
Regiment or Ship: 25th Bn Royal Fusiliers [Frontiersmen]
Occupation: Accountant
Date of Birth: 1878
Place of Birth: Erringden, Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire
Address: Gas Works House, (1881 census) 17, Park Road (1911 census), Bexhill

Photos and newspaper articles

Family Information


John Uttley Blackburn, born 1839 in Heptonstall, Yorkshire and Eliza Hinchcliffe, born 1842, in Sowerby, Yorkshire. They were married in 1867, in the district of Halifax, Yorkshire (probably in Sowerby Bridge, where Eliza was born and lived).

 Siblings:     Annie Blackburn, born 1870, in Wadsworth, Yorkshire.

                       Hinchcliffe Blackburn, born 1873, in Wadfsworth, Yorkshire.

                       William E. Blackburn, born 1876, in Erringden, Yorkshire


Jo Blackman married Elsie Violet Sewell (a member of the Sewell family who owned the Devonshire Hotel, in Bexhill), in Bexhill, in 1910.

First World War Experience

No records have been found of Jo Blackburn’s service in WW1 but, from local newspaper reports and letters that he wrote to them,  we know that he joined the 25th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. This was not a normal British Army unit but more like a guerrilla movement, collectively referred to as “Frontiersmen” – read more about this organization here. frontiersmen

The idea of being a “Frontiersman”, so roused that spark of adventure among many men who had already joined other units that they became desperate to move to the 25th with some even deserting in order to do so. As an example of this, it was reported that, when the Battalion’s train was leaving Waterloo for Plymouth, the Regimental Sergeant Major walked down the train warning that the police were coming to search for deserters. The result was, apparently, that a surprising number of men climbed out the other side of the train and hid until the police had passed.

 On 10th April 1915, the 25th Battalion embarked from Plymouth on the ship, “Neuralia”, bound for East Africa, and arrived at Mombasa on 4th May 1915.

They were soon in action as, a month later, in June, the Frontiersmen were ordered to attack the town of Bukoba, on the western shore of Lake Victoria, in Kenya, and destroy the German wireless installation. The battle was fierce but the enemy was cleared from the town, and the Frontiersmen captured the German flag.

 In one of his letters to the local Bexhill newspaper, Jo Blackburn describes what he saw in that battle. newspapers

 The 25th battalion served in the African Theatre of War, mostly around Lake Tanganyika, and in the British, and German East African territories, from May 1915 until the end of 1917. Roughly six months later, it was disbanded, at Putney, on 19th June 1918 – this explains why the local newspaper, the Bexhill Chronicle, dated 28th December 1918, reported Jo Blackburn as being in the ‘Army Pay Corps’, with no rank being mentioned.

Additional Information

There are several mentions of a J. Blackburn and a Jo Blackburn in the passenger list of ships going to and coming from West Africa. While it is not certain that these are our Jo Blackburn it seems most likely, from what little information there is.

 An Elsie Violet Blackburn, given as a grocer in Battle, and living in Telham (a village just outside Hastings) is listed in the 1930’s Kelly’s Directory of Sussex and a J. Blackburn is a shopkeeper, in Ninfield Road, Sidley, according to the 1938 Kelly’s Directory of Sussex.

 These might be Jo and his wife or, perhaps, just coincidences but further research would be interesting.

 A second line of research would be to assume that, after Jo’s experiences in WW1, he believed that Nigeria promised more money and a better life for him and his wife and he and Elsie agreed that she would stay in England while he set up a business or a career in Africa. Perhaps, things didn’t work out as he had hoped so he returned to England and they opened one or, perhaps, two shops. However, the last question in the 1924 Passenger list above –“Country of Intended Future Permanent Residence” with his answer of “Foreign Countries” would seem to suggest that he had other intentions.


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