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William Blades By Mr Bob Barltrop

William Blades was born in Edlington, near Horncastle, Lincolnshire around August 1840. He was the son of Joseph Blades, a farm labourer, and Mary, his wife. Having worked initially as a labourer, he attested for the 63rd Foot at Kingston on Hull on 9 October 1858. It was stated that he was 18 years old and 5’6¼” tall. He was paid a bounty of £2.10.0d for signing on and the party attesting him received 2/6d. He was given the rank of Private and the number 271.

At this time the 63rd was in Canada, where it had been since leaving the Crimea in June 1856, and so Pte. Blades was sent to the regiment’s depot in Belfast where he arrived on 21 October and where he spent his first 6 months in the army, including 18 days in hospital.

Pte. Blades embarked from Belfast bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 3 June 1859 and arrived there eleven days later. He was posted to Melville Island, Halifax, Nova Scotia, in August 1860 but on 7 October he was admitted to hospital with syphilis, the treatment for which was “incisions, poultices and stringent lotions.” The treatment appears to have worked as he was discharged on 5 November 1860.

Three years after joining up Pte. Blades received his first good conduct pay of 1d per day on 11 October 1861 but he was admitted to hospital again on 22 October, for a sprain, being released 4 days later.

In April 1861 war broke out between the Northern and Southern States of America and Britain came within measurable distance of being involved in the hostilities as a result of the Trent Incident when a federal warship, the “San Jacinto”, intercepted the British mail steamer “Trent” and seized two Confederate envoys. The British government demanded the immediate release of the envoys and moved those regiments that were already stationed in North America to the Canadian frontier as well as despatching some 20,000 more troops to Canada.

On 1 and 5 February 1862 the 63rd moved by wings from Halifax to St. John’s, New Brunswick. From here it moved by sleigh to Riviere du Loup and then by train to Montreal and on to London, Canada West where the headquarters arrived on 1 March. However the crisis was ended when the envoys were released and the Federal Government disavowed the actions of their navy.

Pte. Blades was promoted Corporal on 19 September 1862. He was admitted to hospital six weeks later suffering from syphilis again. On this occasion he was discharged 25 days later but apparently he was not cured as he was readmitted on 5 January 1863 and not discharged until 22 April.

The 63rd left London, Canada West on 30 May 1864 and marched to Hamilton, Canada West, which was reached on 4 June. On 7 June Cpl. Blades was reduced to Private for “breaking out of camp” but the sentence was remitted two days later, although he spent two days in the garrison cells and had to forfeit his good conduct pay.

On 15 September the 63rd with Cpl. Blades left Hamilton by “march and steamer” for Montreal which was reached two days later. Cpl. Blades had obviously failed to learn from his earlier mistakes and spent 37 days in hospital with syphilis again from 2 January 1865 and a further 15 days from 20 February. However he must now have learned his lesson as he did not return to hospital for almost 7 years and never again with syphilis. In May 1865 Cpl. Blades was posted to St. Helen’s Island for a month and his good conduct pay was reinstated on 9th June.

On 1st August 1865 Cpl. Blades and the 63rd embarked upon HM Troopship “Himalaya” arriving at Portsmouth on the 12th and then moving to Aldershot on 16th August 1865. After almost 7 years in the army, Cpl. Blades was granted 59 days of furlough in December 1865 and January 1866.

The 63rd spent little more than a year in Aldershot before they moved to Scotland on 10 September 1866 being quartered in Glasgow, Paisley and Ayr. On 1 November Cpl. Blades was granted 43 days furlough and his second good conduct pay on 9th June 1867. In August 1867 the 63rd, with Cpl. Blades, moved to Ireland arriving in Dublin on 22 September. Cpl. Blades was again granted furlough on 10 January 1868 and he took this opportunity to return to Scotland where he married Elizabeth Patterson, a 22 year old domestic servant, at Christ Church Scottish Episcopal Church, Glasgow on 21 January 1868.

Cpl. Blades returned to the 63rd in Dublin on 19 February, re-engaged for 11 years and 275 days of further service and he was placed on the married establishment with effect from 21 January. Marriage must have suited Cpl. Blades as he was promoted to Sergeant on 27 May 1868 before being sent on a musketry course (probably in Hythe) in September.

Sgt. Blades was granted a further 43 days of furlough on 5 January 1870 and probably took this opportunity to take his wife back to Scotland where their second child, Mary Ann, was born on 28 February, although Sgt. Blades had to return to his regiment in Dublin on 16 February. Sgt. Blades’ first child, Margarette had been born in 1868 and a third child, William, was born in 1871, but all three children had died before March 1873 (possibly in India).

Following a further 8 days leave at the beginning of September on 7 October 1870 Sgt. Blades, his wife and the 63rd embarked from Queenstown, Cork on HM Troopship “Serapis” bound for India.

Alexandria was reached on 21 October where all disembarked, crossed the isthmus during the night and embarked the following day on HM Troopship “Euphrates” arriving at Bombay on 7 November. From here the 63rd left by train for Barakar and from there marched to Hazaribagh which was reached on 9 December 1870.

Originally with “D” company, Sgt. Blades was posted to Darjeeling in May and June 1871 but in early 1873 Sgt. Blades moved to “C” company. The climate obviously took its toll on Sgt. Blades as he was admitted to hospital three times in 1872 for a total of 12 days, suffering from “Ague” caused by “the climate”. Sgt. Blades’ fourth child, Robert, was born in Hazaribagh in 1873. On 4 November 1873 Sgt. Blades, his wife and the 63rd moved from Hazaribagh to Jhansi although Sgt. Blades, “C” and two other companies were soon moved to Gwalior.

Having spent 4 days in hospital with conjunctivitis from 20 September 1875, Sgt. Blades was promoted to Colour Sergeant on 28 September 1875 and moved to “H” company. Col. Sgt. Blades’ fifth child, Elizabeth, was born at Gwalior around June 1875.

Col. Sgt. Blades was returned to the rank of Sergeant on 23 August 1876 and then he spent a further 7 days in hospital with conjunctivitis in October 1876. In December Sgt. Blades and the 63rd marched via Agra and Muttra to Delhi in order to take part in the Assemblage for the proclamation of Her Majesty as Empress of India. The ceremonies in India ended in January 1877 just before Sgt. Blades’ sixth child, George Henry, was born on 26 February 1877. The 63rd, with Sgt. Blades, then marched to Meean Meer where they remained until 16 November 1878 when they moved to Umballa, although Sgt. Blades spent two months at Fort Lahore in early 1878. During his time in Meean Meer Sgt. Blades spent 6 days in hospital with dyspepsia due to “error of diet”.

On 20 March 1878 Sgt. Blades was diagnosed as suffering from the climate and sent to the “Hills” to recover from Rheuminations. He moved to Dagshai in April 1878 and spent a further 7 days in hospital with this complaint whilst at Dagshai in April 1878. Even after returning to Umballa in January 1879 Sgt. Blades continued to suffer from the climate spending a further 5 days in hospital in September 1879 for which he was treated with quinine.

At Umballa on 8th October 1879 Sgt. Blades was accepted for discharge after 21 years of service, all with the 63rd. He had been presented with his Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (his only medal) which had been recommended in January 1877 and had received a gratuity of £5.

After spending three months in Deolali in late 1879, Sgt. William Blades, his wife and three children (Robert, Elizabeth and George) left Umballa on 26 January 1880 and embarked from India on HM Troopship “Jumna” 5 days later. He was finally discharged on “his having claimed it on completion of his second period of limited engagement” at Netley on 23 March 1880. He had served 21 years and 164 days, of which 15 years and 200 days had been served overseas.

On discharge his documents stated that:

  • He was 39 years and 1 month old, 5’9” tall with light brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion.
  • “His conduct has been very good and he is in possession of two good conduct badges and would, had he not been promoted, have been in possession of five good conduct badges”.
  • “He is in possession of a medal for Long Service & Good Conduct.”
  • “He has been once entered in the regimental defaulters’ book and has once been tried by Court Martial”.

On discharge William Blades originally gave his intended place of residence as 207, North Woodside, Boston, Lincolnshire but this was crossed out on his form and he went to live in Scotland. He worked for a while with a newspaper in Greenock and later as an ironworks labourer in Coatbridge, Lanarkshire. His seventh child, George Rennie, was born in Glasgow in July 1880 (his sixth child, George Henry, had probably already died) and his eighth child, Maggie, was born in Coatbridge, on 12 September 1884.

William Blades died suddenly of apoplexy at 2, Whifflet Street, Coatbridge early in the morning of 23 January 1893.

WO12/7289-7307, WO16/1886-1887