THE story of a talented cricketer who was killed in the Second World War is uncovered in a new book.
John Blake was born in Portsmouth on November 17, 1917, and had a distinguished academic career – he went to Emsworth House School and then read mathematics at St John’s College, Cambridge, where he also played cricket for the university.
A schoolteacher, he also played high-level cricket, making 29 appearances for Hampshire, his debut coming between June 19 and June 22, 1937 against Sussex in the County Championship in Worthing.
When the war came John took a commission into the Royal Marines, and became a captain. He took part in the abortive Dakar expedition known as Operation Menace. It failed badly with troops lost and ships damaged.
On his return, together with 450 other officers and men, he became part of 43 Royal Marine Commando. In early 1944 the commando landed at Anzio in Italy and with 9 Army Commando given the task of capturing three peaks to extend the bridgehead over the River Garigliano. After an exhausting night climb under mortar and machine gun fire Captain Blake’s D Troop seized Monte Ornito.
For this achievement and his personal courage and leadership he was awarded the Military Cross.
But in June 1944 43 Commando was withdrawn to Vis in the Adriatic. Due to confusion after the D-Day landings in Normandy 43 Commando started an attack on a stronghold but was unsupported. Captain Blake led his troops through a minefield but was killed in a German counter-attack.
Now his story has been told in a book called The Coming Storm: Test and First-Class Cricketers Killed in World War Two.
Author Nigel McCrery, who has written several books on sport and the world wars, traces the impact of the war and honours the 12 Test cricketers and 130 first-class players who died in the conflict.
A spokesman for the author said: ‘Arguably the period between the two world wars was the golden age of cricket, and this book honours those who made it so only to die serving their countries in a different way.’
John Blake is buried in Belgrade War Cemetery and is commemorated on a lectern at St Faith’s Church, Havant.
The Coming Storm is published by Pen and Sword books.