This Ballarat AIF officer won a Military Cross for leading a charge in France 100 years ago

Military Cross: Lyle Blackman pictured in 1916, before being decorated for gallantry in action.

Military Cross: Lyle Blackman pictured in 1916, before being decorated for gallantry in action.

To be awarded a Military Cross, an officer of the British and Commonwealth armed forces needed to perform ‘an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land...’

On August 9, 1918, in the last brutal months of the war and prior to the great Allied victories of Mont St Quentin and Peronne where the Australian Imperial Forces played the leading part, Lieutenant Lyle Blackman of Ballarat was leading a company of 8th Battalion men forward under heavy German fire.

He and his men were attempting to take the village of Rosieres. Despite great losses – almost 6000 men – August 8 and 9 were described by an AIF captain as “easily the best two days the Australians have ever in France, and it did ‘em more good than six weeks in a rest area...”

Blackman led his troops forward with rifle and bayonet charge. Wounded in the shoulder, leg and arm he pushed forward regardless until the village was taken. For his gallantry he received the Military Cross and a promotion to captain.

But this was not all of Lyle Aubrey Blackman’s experience of the war. Far from it. He had enlisted early, just after the declaration, having been in the army reserve prior to the war. After training at Broadmeadows, he was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant and shipped to Alexandria with many of his Ballarat mates. 

Periscopic rifles: Blackman's photographs of the fighting on Gallipoli are a rare archive of the campaign.

Periscopic rifles: Blackman's photographs of the fighting on Gallipoli are a rare archive of the campaign.

He writes to his sweetheart in Melbourne, Vida Vickers, from Mena in Egypt on April 4, 1915.

My dearest Vi,

This Sunday will be a memorable one for us. We are on the move at last. We got the ‘good oil’ yesterday + there was great joy… I suppose embark at once + then to Turkey...

Blackman makes the landing at Gallipoli on April 25. On August 17 he writes to Mr Hill of the Royal South Street Society, noting that he has been enlisted for a year.

I remember you saying that you did not think the war would last long,” he writes.

...I can tell you we have been through something pretty hot and the Australians have made a name for themselves that will never be forgotten.

Coming for a feed: Men of the 8th Battalion, many from Ballarat, on Gallipoli during the disastrous Allied venture.

Coming for a feed: Men of the 8th Battalion, many from Ballarat, on Gallipoli during the disastrous Allied venture.

Blackman fights through the campaign and the entire war. Repatriated in 1919, he returns to Ballarat and takes leading roles with the Agricultural Society and Royal South Street for many years. He marries Vida Vickers, builds a house near Lake Wendouree, and rarely speaks of the war again.