Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1915, Major Blair Inskip Swannell, 1st Battalion, the Australian Imperial Force, formerly of the 35th Battalion (Buckinghamshire), Imperial Yeomanry, was killed at Gallipoli.
One of five children of a Buckinghamshire farmer, he was educated at Repton School and Thames Nautical Training College. He joined the Imperial Yeomanry and served during the Second Boer War, being recommended for a commission by General Lord Methuen. While playing rugby with the Northampton team, he was invited to join the British Isles team on their tour to Australia, and after returning there on a second tour he decided to stay. He settled in Sydney and joined the Australian Militia.
By the outbreak of the Great War he had passed the promotion examination for the rank of major, after which he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force and was posted to Egypt, arriving in December of 1914. On the day of his death, Major Swannell and his men from D Company landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula. After being sent to reinforce the 12th Battalion, they found themselves under heavy fire. It was while instructing his men that he was killed by a sniper.
A soldier who served with him wrote: “The training we went through was characteristic of Blair in all his doings. He was the most thorough man alive, as all who played football under him know only too well. No detail was missed, and as a result he had us all up to concert pitch when the time of the great landing occurred. The major was a wee bit disappointed that we were not selected to land first. He considered we were the best of the companies, and should have had that honour…There certainly was no fear in that man's make-up. Spying a sniper, he ordered a man alongside him to shoot…The next thing we knew Blair himself was having a shot, and got his man. The next second he got one through the head, and went the same as many other great, brave fellows have gone in this war. We all felt it very much, for he made some staunch friends among the men under him. They all knew he would do a thing himself if he ordered any of them about, and they willingly do things for a man like that. It must have been a shock to all his friends here, but it was a greater one to us, as he seemed so powerful and knowledgeable, and had waited many dreary months for the chance which lasted only a few minutes”.
He is buried in the Baby 700 Cemetery in Gallipoli, his tombstone contains the words “Their glory shall not be blotted out”, and his is commemorated in the Weston-Underwood church in Buckinghamshire.
Blair, born in Weston Underwood in Buckinghamshire, was 39 years old