Defence Medal : Brigadier A S Blackburn, Black Force

Accession Number OL00271.009
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Medal
Physical description Cupronickel
Location Main Bld: Hall of Valour: Main Hall: France 1916
Maker Unknown
Place made United Kingdom
Date made c 1946
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Defence Medal. Impressed around edge with recipient's details.

History / Summary

Arthur Seaforth ' Blackie' Blackburn was born in Woodville, Adelaide on 25 November 1892 to Reverend Thomas and Margaret Harriette Stewart (nee Browne) Blackburn. The youngest of four children from Reverend Blackburn's second marriage, he was educated at Pulteney Street Church of England School and St Peter's College before graduating from the University of Adelaide with a law degree in 1913. On 19 August 1914 Blackburn enlisted in the AIF and was assigned to 10 Battalion. For his actions during the allied attack on the village of Pozieres in 1916 he became the first South Australian to be awarded the Victoria Cross. He was medically discharged in April 1917.

He used much of his time following his discharge acting as an advocate for returned soldiers. In September 1917, he became president of the South Australian branch of the fledgling Returned Soldiers Association. Hoping to gain a greater voice in the welfare of returned soldiers and their families, Blackburn turned to politics. He and was elected as the Nationalist member for the seat of Sturt in South Australia's lower house in April 1918, though he did not contest the 1921 election.

In 1925 he enlisted in the militia as a lieutenant in 43 Battalion rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel commanding 18 Light Horse (Machine Gun) Regiment in 1939. He had became coroner for the city of Adelaide in 1933, a position he held for some years before the Second World War intervened. On 20 June 1940 he enlisted in the Second AIF and was given the task of forming 2/3 Machine Gun Battalion.

On 21 June 1941, during fighting in Syria, Blackburn accepted the surrender of Damascus on behalf of the allied forces. After leaving the Middle East in February 1942, his battalion was diverted to Java to meet the Japanese threat. On 21 February, he was promoted to brigadier in command of 'Black Force', a 3000 strong contingent of Australians thrown together to assist the Dutch forces on Java. Despite a spirited defence by the Australians the island fell on 8 March. Blackburn saw out the remainder of the war as a prisoner of the Japanese.

In 1946 Blackburn gave evidence at the war crimes trials in Japan and in November of the same year was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his actions as commander of 'Black Force' and for his inspiration and leadership during his time as a prisoner of war.

In 1947 he was appointed as a commissioner to the newly formed Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, remaining in the role until 1955. This was followed by a position with the Australian National Airlines Commission and a seat on the board of Trans Australia Airlines. From 1947 to 1950 he acted as president of the Returned and Services League. On 1 January 1955, for his services on these and other government and community boards, he was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George. Blackburn died on 24 November 1960.