b. 13/03/1834 Linlithgow, Scotland. d. 28/03/1859 Cawnpore, India.
Robert Blair (1834-1859) was born on 13th March 1834 in Linlithgow, Scotland, and was an academically gifted student who gained honours at the University of Glasgow and later, Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied Law. He was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a lawyer; but instead he chose to join the Army. His father then purchased him a commission in the 9th Lancers. He was a cousin of James Blair VC.
In late 1856, Blair transferred to the 2nd (Queen’s Bays) Dragoon Guards but, as the regiment was scheduled to be posted to India, he elected to remain with the 9th Lancers until his new regiment arrived. Blair was a determined soldier and he and a fellow officer and close friend, Alfred Jones had resolved to try and be awarded the newly created Victoria Cross.
On 28th September 1857, during the cavalry action at Bulandshahr, Captain Blair was ordered to bring in an abandoned ammunition wagon. Taking a sergeant and twelve men, he approached the wagon when suddenly about sixty enemy horsemen, appeared from behind some buildings. Despite the heavy odds against him, Blair led his men in a charge against the enemy and managed to kill three of them. In the process, he received a sabre cut across his left shoulder.
Private Patrick Donohue saw Blair was disabled and about to be hacked to death so moved to defend him and lead him to safety. The small party fought their way clear, leaving nine dead, including Blair’s tally, before making it back to their lines. Blair was found to be severely injured as the sword blow had nearly severed his arm from his shoulder very close to the joint. The regimental surgeon had no choice but to amputate Blair’s arm.
Blair and his rescuer were recommended for the VC, and Blair’s was announced on 18th June 1858, and he received his medal from Queen Victoria two months later, on 2nd August 1858 at Southsea Common, Portsmouth. Almost immediately after the investiture, Blair returned to India, but tragically he contracted smallpox and died in Cawnpore on 28th March 1859. He was buried in the Old British Cemetery in an unmarked grave. Blair’s VC is held by the 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards Regimental Museum, Cardiff Castle. In 2018, the medal was purchased by Michael Ashcroft.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM.
BURIAL PLACE: OLD BRITISH CEMETERY, CAWNPORE, INDIA. (UNMARKED)
Robert Blair's VC on display at the Queen's Dragoon Guards Regimental Museum, Cardiff Castle (May 2014).
Courtesy of Clive Morris