Wednesday, March 13, 2013

William James Blackledge

William James Blackledge was an author whose fame (and I use the term loosely) rests on a series of books he wrote about the foreign legion in the 1930s. His collaborator was known as Ex-Légionnaire 1384, although the former soldier's real name was David Harvey John Jones, although at that time he was using the name John Henry Harvey.

Blackledge also wrote a handful of books under his own byline, most notably Hell's Broth Militia, which concerned adventures with the Kurram militia on the north-west frontier, and The Legion of Marching Madmen, an account of the Tigris Expedition under General Townshend which was serialised in the magazine Liberty in the US in 1935-36 credited to Captain W. J. Blackledge. Other books ghosted by Blackledge include Digger Craven's account of his experiences in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915.

Blackledge was born in Bolton in 1886, the son of Joseph Blackledge (a warehouseman) and Sarah Ellen Blackledge (nee Banks). He was baptized at St. Matthew, Bolton, on 15 December. He grew up in Bolton along with his younger siblings Sarah Ann Blackledge (b. 1889) and Elsie Blackledge (b. 27 Feb 1896; d. 1979).

At the age of 24, at the time of the 1911 census, William was still living with his family at 77 Mortfield Lane,  Bolton, his occupation given as Clogger – a clog maker – and his sisters both worked in the cotton spinning industry. Joseph Blackledge had died in 1908

Blackledge's circumstances changed dramatically over the next few years. One assumes he was involved somehow in the First World War, but the next trace of him is his marriage on 4 December 1920 to Mary Eveline Cherry at The Parish Church (St. Margaret), Toxteth Park, Lancashire. Now described as a Journalist, he was living at 36 Roseberry Street. The couple are thought to have had two children, Joseph A. Blackledge (b. 1921) and William A. Blackledge (b. 1926).

In 1935, his occupation described as Author, he travelled to New York. His work had proven popular with at least one magazine: Liberty had serialised or taken extracts from a number of his books, including Hell Hounds of France (with Ex-Légionnaire 1384), Death Squads in Morocco (with Terry Brennan) and "Night Raiders in China", with Gordon B. Enders (1937), which may not have appeared in book form (a book from that period, Nowhere Else in the World (New York, Farrar & Rinehart, 1935) is credited by Gordon Enders and Edward Anthony.

The Second World War brought the accounts of  warring in the Foreign Legion to an end. Blackledge attempted to turn to writing fiction, his final pre-war book being a novel, A Girl in the Spy Racket and his only known post-war book was also a novel, Give the Lady a Camel.

He died in Westminster in 2Q 1948, aged 61. His widow is thought to have survived him and died in 1965, aged 77.


Hell's Broth Militia. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1936.
The Legion of Marching Madmen. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1936.
Lovers in the Desert. London, Heath, Cranton, 1936.
A Girl in the Spy Racket. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1939.
Give the Lady a Camel. London, W. P. Nimmo, Hay & Mitchell, 1948.

Books as Ex-Légionnaire 1384
Hell Hounds of France, in collaboration with W. J. Blackledge. London, 1932.
Zillah: Child of the Desert, with W. J. Blackledge. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1932.
With the Secret Service in Morocco, as told to W. J. Blackledge. London, 1934.
The Soulless Legion, in collaboration with W. J. Blackledge. London, Denis Archer, 1934.
The Arab Patrol. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1935.
The Desert Patrol. London & Dublin, Mellifont Press, 1935.
Spies of the Sahara. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1936.
The Son of Allah. London, Rich & Cowan, Jan 1937.
The Mutiny of Fort Saada. London, Sampson Low & Co., 1937.
Eater of Women by W. J. Blackledge, in collaboration with Ex-Legionnaire 1384. London, T. Werner Laurie, Aug 1938. [About the north-west frontier province of India]

Books as Terry Brennan
Death Squads in Morocco, as told to W. J. Blackledge. London, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1937. 

Books as Patrolman Craven
Hell Riders. An account of the Irak Desert Patrol, as told to W. J. Blackledge. London, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1935.

Books as Digger Craven
Peninsula of Death, as told to W. J. Blackledge. London, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1937.

(* Illustration by Walter Baumhofer from Liberty, 27 December 1935.)


  1. Thank you so much for the information. Could you please tell me which books by Blackledge deal with or is set in the French Foreign Legion? I bought one or two that I thought were Legion related but are not. My facebook page is French Foreign Legion: a Descriptive Bibliography
    Give it a look.
    Thanks, Thomas Savage

  2. G'Day Steve. Just found your articale. I picked up Hell Riders in a local secondhand book shop over here about 15yrs ago, and have been a "collector" since.
    I have made a couple of half arsed attempts at finding out a bit more on Mr Blackledge, with very little success. One reference alluded to him being pen name for Hemingway! Obviously dismissed it. His name is also listed with the FBI or US Marshel Service as Wanted. Wasnt too sure on that one either, but they listed the "Usual Occupation" as a writer. So maybe it may have some merit.

    1. I also recently picked up Allah Il Allah! By William J. Elliot. Very very similar style. If not identical.
      Would be interested in hearing a bit more about the guy, if you have any further info.
      A big thanks though for your write up on him. Was chuffed to read it.
      Cheers, Matt.

  3. I'm pretty sure Blackledge and Elliott are two different writers, although I've been trying to discover the basics about Elliott (when he was born, when he died) for years without success.

    Everything I know about Blackledge was in the article, but I'm hopeful that the authenticity of the books might be explored at some point.



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