No. 1472262, 5 Battery, 2 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery
Died on active service on Saturday 11 September 1943 (aged 38)
No known grave
Alamein Memorial, Egypt (Column 36)
Newtownards and District War Memorial
Family grave headstone in Movilla Cemetery
William McBlain was born on 10 November 1904 and he was a son of Stewart and Margaret (Maggie) McBlain (nee Shields, sometimes Sheals) who lived at 61 Movilla Street, Newtownards. Stewart McBlain worked as a general labourer and he and Margaret Shields were married on 9 September 1898 in Greenwell Street Presbyterian Church, Newtownards. They had at least nine children, at least eight of whom were baptised in Greenwell Street Presbyterian Church:
Elizabeth (born 20 October 1899 in Church Terrace, Newtownards)
Stewart (born 2 October 1901 in Windmill Row, Newtownards)
Ellen Jane (born 15 July 1903 in Movilla Street, Newtownards; married Hugh Adair)
William (born 10 November 1904 in Movilla Street, Newtownards)
Mary (born 2 November 1906 in Movilla Street, Newtownards)
James (born 5 January 1908 in Movilla Street, Newtownards; known by the nickname Big James)
John (born 28 February 1911 in Movilla Street, Newtownards; known by the nickname Kill the Weed)
Maggie (born 14 March 1913 in Movilla Street, Newtownards; later lived in Wolverhampton)
Joseph (born 23 August 1920)
William McBlain’s great uncle, Private James McBlain (No. 3/6756), was killed in action on 15 November 1914.
Two of William’s brothers were on active service during the Second World War and a third was attached to the National Fire Service.
William McBlain worked in Donaghadee making concrete breeze blocks and his ambition was to build a bungalow in Donaghadee for his family. He and Rosie Stevenson of 50 Upper Movilla Street, Newtownards were married on 20 October 1926 in Ballygilbert Presbyterian Church and they had four children: Margaret McAuley (born 28 August 1927); Rosaline; Freddie and Jean.
Margaret McAuley Hawkins (nee McBlain) has written a book entitled An Ards Sparrow – Insights from the Life of Margaret Hawkins and in it she has provided details about her childhood.
Before William McBlain joined the Army, the family lived in a two-roomed house; one room was a bedroom where the whole family slept and the other was the kitchen-cum-living room. There was no back door and getting to the outside dry toilet involved going out the front door, walking past the front of the house next door, going down an alley and walking past the back of the house next door to get to the toilet. The house next door was unoccupied and in it the McBlain family kept goats to provide milk for the family. Margaret McBlain was 16 when her father William died, and times were extremely hard. Often her schooling was interrupted when she had to stay at home to nurse her sisters and brother through childhood illnesses while her widowed mother worked full-time.
During the Second World War Gunner William McBlain (No. 1472262) served with 5 Battery, 2 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery and there is evidence to suggest that he was killed by ‘friendly fire’ whilst being held in a Prisoner-of-War Camp in Italy. This idea was first mooted during a conversation I had with a survivor of the war and I am indebted to Don Johnston for providing the following information that supports (although it does not prove conclusively) this theory. There were no RAF bombing raids against targets in Germany from 10 to 12 September 1943; the initial destination for most Allied POWs taken in the Desert Campaign was Italy and this is likely to be the place where he died. After the Italian surrender to Allied Forces was announced on 8 September 1943 (three days before his presumed death) German forces moved rapidly to occupy Rome and the situation became even more fluid with the Allied landings at Salerno on 9 September 1943. If there was fighting taking place near his Prisoner-of-War Camp, there would likely have been tactical Allied bombing in support of ground forces and the Camp could have taken a hit.
Initially reported as missing in action in June 1942 at Tobruk and then known to have been taken prisoner, it was reported in the Press that Gunner William McBlain had escaped in September 1943. It wasn’t until April 1946 that his family received official notification that he must be presumed to have died. His family placed Died On Active Service notices in the 20 April 1946 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle and they contained the verses:
A loss so great, a shock severe,
To part with one we love so dear;
Though great the loss, we’ll not complain,
But trust in Christ to meet again.
We miss you now, our hearts still sore,
As time goes on we miss you more,
Your loving smile, your gentle face,
No one can fill your vacant place.
Sleep in peace, oh, deaest brother,
Though we still thy loss deplore,
Fleeting time will reunite us,
Thou art only gone before.
Some day, some time, our eyes shall see,
The face we keep in memory,
But God will link the broken chain,
Still closer when we meet again.
It’s only good-night dear brother,
Just like we used to say,
We will meet again in the morning,
At the dawn of another day.
The call was sudden, the shock severe,
We little thought the end was near;
It is only those who have lost can tell
The pain of parting without farewell.
I think of him in silence,
And oft repeat his name,
What would I give to hear his voice,
And see him smile again.
The family placed Our Heroes _ In Memoriam notices in the 13 September 1947 edition of the Newtownards Chronicle and they contained the verses:
The news was sad, the blow was hard,
God’s will it shall be done;
With a manly heart he did his part,
And a crown of victory won.
Often I think of the days gone by,
When we were both together;
A shadow over my life is cast,
A loved one gone for ever.
Gunner William McBlain was 38 when he died, and he is commemorated on the Alamein Memorial in Egypt; on Newtownards and District War Memorial and on the family grave headstone in Movilla Cemetery.
His wife Rosie died on 21 March 1981 and their son Freddie died on 10 January 1991 (aged 54).
Gunner William McBlain’s brother-in-law, Leading Aircraftman Henry Dougan Sandford (No. 537402), died as the result of enemy action on 25 October 1940 and his cousin, Fusilier William John Shields (No. 3129613), was killed in action in Burma on 18 April 1942.