Captain George Balfour BLACK MC
17th Lancers and Tank Corps
Date of birth: 5 April 1889
Date of death: 23 August 1918
Died of wounds received in action aged 29
Buried at Villers-Bretoneux Military Cemetery
George Balfour was born in Edinburgh, the son of Adam Black, retired publisher, and Louisa Whyte Balfour Black.
George’s grandfather, Adam Black, founded the Edinburgh publishing firm of A & C Black which had achieved financial fortune through purchasing in 1851, from Sir Walter Scott, the copyright of the Waverley Novels. In 1895, the firm moved from Edinburgh to London and in the 1901 census the family were living at 8 Petersham Terrace, Kensington.
Educated at Winchester, George was up at Christ Church from 1908-12. On leaving Oxford, he was gazetted to the 17th Lancers [Duke of Cambridge’s Own], and joined them in India in 1912. When war broke out he was on leave. On 18 September 1914 he was gazetted as Lieutenant. He met his regiment in France in January 1915 and in the following April was chosen to command Sir Douglas (later Earl) Haig's Lancer escort. He remained at that post till January 1918, when he volunteered for the Tank Corps and was appointed to the 13th Battalion. He was mentioned in Despatches in 1915 and 1917, and on 8 August 1918 awarded the M.C. for "conspicuous gallantry and skilful leadership" near Warfusie-Abancourt.
London Gazette dated 31 January 1919 - the citation for the Military Cross:
“Lt. (A./Capt.) Balfour Black, 17th Lancers, seconded 13th Battalion, Tank Corps.
For conspicuous gallantry and skilful leadership near Warfusie-Abancourt on 8th August, 1918. When the infantry were being held up during the second phase of the attack by very heavy fire from machine-gun nests and field guns, he personally led his section through a thick fog, and by dealing with machine guns enabled the infantry to get to their jumping-off places quickly and without casualties. Later, when his section attacked the second and third objectives, he followed close behind with the first wave of infantry under very heavy fire until the final objective was reached. He then rallied his Tanks and directed the towing of a disabled Tank under heavy bombardment. Throughout the action he showed marked coolness and courage.”
He was badly wounded, and died at the Casualty Clearing Hospital on 23 August 1918.
The commander of Douglas (later Earl) Haig’s escort of the 17th Lancers between April 1915 - January 1918 was Captain George Balfour Black. Douglas Haig's chaplain, the Rev. George Duncan, recalled that when he began the services he held at GHQ, "I could count on a congregation of about 20, including a number of men from the Commander-in-Chief's escort of Lancers under the command of a much loved Scottish officer, Captain George Black, on whose suggestion the men of the escort expressed a readiness to attend worship with their Chief.“ Black, having lobbied Douglas Haig for a combat command, was killed in action in 1918 whilst attached to the 13th Battalion Tank Corps. Douglas Haig's diary records his grief at hearing the news.
Saturday August 24th (1918)
“I received news of George Black’s death yesterday. No details, only that he was badly wounded with his tank and died in the Casualty Clearing Hospital at Daours (at the junction of the Ancre with Somme). He was with me from April 1915 until the beginning of this year, in charge of the l7th Lancers Troop (my mounted escort). He insisted on going to the Tank Corps as “he wanted to fight”. He is a great loss to me and all of us. Always so cheerful and happy even when things looked darkest.”
(from Earl Haig’s Diary)
His name is on the War Memorial at Salperton in Gloucestershire.
His Estate amounted to £36,140.13s.11d, probate granted to his parents