© Avening Parish Council 2023
“Preserve, Conserve, Enhance”
22 George John Rowland Blackwell
2nd Lt. 2nd/6th Battalion Manchester Regiment
"Kaiserschaft" "The Imperial Battle" was how Ludendorff, the overall German commander described
the coming offensive in Spring 1918. Ludendorff had good and bad news at the end of 1917. The
good news was the Russian Revolution which resulted in a peace between Russia and Germany,
thus releasing a huge number of men and supplies from the Eastern Front at a time when both
sides in France were sadly lacking both equipment and energy to continue the war. Britain and its
allies were suffering shortages of men and the numbers being recruited were less than those being
lost. Morale was low but, at least, the men were given good basic food whereas the German enemy
were not so lucky. Germany was hard pushed to feed their army as they had no support from an
Empire which was so vital to the Allied cause.
Ludendorff’s bad news was the coming of the Americans. Promising a million men, untried but
fresh, would no doubt have an influence on future events. The German High Command saw a
weakness in the Allied infrastructure and decided that the taking of the town of Amiens would
cripple the communications between the northern and southern ends of the front. This would
create huge supply difficulties for the Allies and would allow the Germans to take the initiative and
hopefully to put the Allies in a position where they were forced to settle for peace.
Ludendorff had little time and set his offensive for late March 1918. Not only was his army
invigorated by the sudden reinforcement of troops from the east but facing them on the route to
Amiens was General Gough's 5th Army, tired and under strength following the autumn offensives.
Amongst Gough's Army was the 66th East Lancs Division, part of which was the 199th Manchester
Brigade which included the 6th Battalion Manchesters and Avening's George Blackwell.
George was born at Barton End, Horsley in 1897, the son of John Howard Blackwell, a farmer at
Barton End, who married Mary Ann Rowland, an Avening girl born and baptised at Holy Cross
Church in 1864. John and Mary married at Holy Cross on Thursday the 9th of April 1896. At the time
of the 1901 census, George was living with his grandmother (Mary's mother) at Church Farm,
Avening along with his uncles and aunts.
We know little of his service career although he probably enlisted during 1916 as we know that he
initially served with the Royal Field Artillery. However, he took a commission at the end of August
1917 and joined the Manchester Regiment. He became part of the 2nd/6th Battalion Manchesters
and joined them in France at the early part of 1918.
He was facing Ludendorff’s rejuvenated armies who launched their offensive (now known as
"Operation Michael") at 4.40 am on Thursday the 21st of March 1918. It was at this hour that the
inevitable artillery barrage commenced and up and down the forty miles of front some 4,000 field
guns, 2600 heavy guns and 3500 mortars were brought to bear, supplemented by two sorts of gas
attacks. The barrage lasted for 5 hours and then 100 divisions of men advanced upon the stunned
Allies. All was confusion and the Allied troops were forced to retreat. At times, the enemy did not
bother with the front line but sped past to wreak havoc in the supply trenches and rearward
artillery. The Manchesters took part in the Battle of St. Quentin between the 21st and 23rd of March,
the battle to try to stop the Somme crossings on the 24th and 25th and the battle for Rosières on
the 26th and 27th. The attacks went on for the best part of eight days, the German advance only
stuttering when stores of Allied food were taken, the temptation to halt momentarily being too
great. However, halt it finally did on the 30th of March when the Germans outran their supplies and
counterattacks became more organised and meaningful. Amiens was not taken. The
Commonwealth War Graves Commission quotes George's date of death as Saturday the 30th of
March and we know that the remaining men of the 2nd/6th Battalion Manchesters were withdrawn
from the front on that day.
So few of the battalion survived that it was withdrawn from the battlefield completely. He has no
known grave but is remembered on the Pozières memorial. His name is carved upon our church
Roll of Honour and he is also mentioned on his grandparent's headstone in Avening churchyard and
on Horsley War Memorial. He was 21 years old and was posthumously awarded the Victory Medal
and the British Medal.
We are indebted to his nephew, Rowland Blackwell of Barton End for his assistance.