Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Fiction/faction/fact? The Legion of Marching Madmen/ W J Blackledge: Online


Recommended Posts

The Legion of Marching Madmen by W J Blackledge c 1936 Archive.org



The setting is Mesopotamia in the Great War, including becoming a POW at the surrender of Kut.


This publication is presented by the author as an autobiography and appears to be considered factual by some organisations. It is in the IWM catalogue 



A Leonaur reprint said 

 "The author of this book was well known under several pseudonyms for the writing of military accounts, either based on his own experiences or those of an Australian soldier or legionnaire of the French Foreign Legion. The writing style might seem sensationalist, and that could lead readers to speculate about how much of the narrative is genuine. However, that concern was ever a consideration of the military memoir-regardless of how soberly 'the facts' were presented. This account is based upon the authors experiences as a British soldier involved in the Mesopotamia Campaign during the First World War. It includes photographs, including those of the author, so we might assume the account to be comparatively well founded. It is a stark, brutal no holds barred version of the war against the Turkish Army and is, without doubt, an entertaining read for anyone interested in the subject".



 A previous topic on the GWF said he was in the 2ndDorsets



 Another title by the same author is Hell’s Broth Militia and an entry appears as “Remarkable adventures with Kurram Militia on N W Frontier; exciting”

Page 27, No 319  British Autobiographies: An Annotated Bibliography of British Autobiographies Published Or Written Before 1951

If he served with the Kurrum Militia, my understanding he would have been an officer in the Indian Army.


The following link gives some biographical information about him, giving his name William James, and date of birth  1886



 He is included in “The Adventure, War, and Espionage Fiction Magazine Index”



I can’t find any military records for him as WJ Blackledge. No Medal Index Card. No mention in the London Gazette.


Chapter 1 has the title My Nightmare Adolescence.  Page 3 of the book refers to his “Nightmare adolescence”  However, if the 1886 date of birth is correct, he would have been 28 in 1914, not an age which is usually considered adolescent.


I would consider the above book a work of fiction, presenting as a true story.  Perhaps all his work is fictional.






Edited by Maureene
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have looked on copac.jisc.ac.uk and the catalogue records for him often say "in collaboration with" or "as told to" William J Blackledge. "Ex-Legionnaire 1384" is given as John H. Harvey, later John H. Barrington.


FreeBMD records the birth of William James Blackledge in Bolton, December quarter of 1886; probably the man who died aged 61 in Westminster in the June quarter of 1948. Married Mary J. Cherry in Toxteth (Liverpool), December quarter of 1920.


This biography of their son Peter, born Liverpool 1923, confirms his father as a writer.



William J. Blackledge in the RAMC could be him?   http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D1355231





Edited by seaJane
Link to comment
Share on other sites

There is a John Henry Harvey, Sherwoods attd OBLI, no 9687.


Taken at the fall of Kut, having been wounded in Dec 1915, I presume during the siege. Perhaps that gallant defence on Xmas day?


Couldn't see him on ICRC R50373 Shows AKH Dec 1916


DCM LG 12/12/17


The problem is he is recorded as died 17/11/18 (at sea if you believe SDGW). edit Effects says on board HS Goorka


CWGC has him on Basra memorial and adds:

Son of Allen Harvey, of 43, Oxford St., Highbury Vale, Bulwell, Nottingham; husband of A. R. Harvey, of Bhoiguda, Secunderabad, India.


is this a red herring or is there something here to follow up?


And this JH Harvey landed Mespot 25/8/15



Edited by charlie962
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks all for your comments.


The link Mike  provided links through to some "Bear Alley" pages where one of them says, writing about John Henry Harvey


"Books appeared under the names Ex-Legionnaire 1384 and Operator 1384 – 21 books over the next eight years leading up to the Second World War. Many of them were co-written in collaboration with – or more likely entirely ghosted by – William James Blackledge, an author who seems to have specialised in ghosting Foreign Legion adventures and occasionally writing about the North-West frontier for variety". 



There may be link with the RAMC medal Index Card, but I have doubts that RAMC men would have been in Mesopotamia in 1914, as Mesopotamia was a campaign originally run by India.


All in all, I'm still of the view that the book The Legion of Marching Madmen was fictional, meaning it was  an "adventure story" and  was not based  on personal experience.





Link to comment
Share on other sites

4 hours ago, Maureene said:

All in all, I'm still of the view that the book The Legion of Marching Madmen was fictional, meaning it was  an "adventure story" and  was not based  on personal experience.

I suspect you are right. He is very good on detail but it could be the combination of several men's stories. His friend Steve Barry didn't bring up any hits re Kut.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks Charlie962


Found a 2011 comment reporting a comment made by Trish:

 "If I can keep going a bit longer, I have a couple more hoax stories I’ve discovered while researching Turkish POWs that might give you a laugh:

 The first concerns the Imp War Mus and I must say that the LG memoir is not the wildest bit of fiction they have on their shelves about prisoners of the Turks.  (and you’re right, someone should tell them ;-)  )   When I first started this research I went through their reading list, which recommends a memoir called ‘The Legion of Marching Madmen’ by W.J.Blackledge.  The book  is about a soldier captured by the Turks after the Siege at Kut, and his amazing escape.  It makes the LG story look quite tame – the narrator is an American in the British army who, in between fighting for the Empire,  goes to seedy Arab gambling dens, has affairs with Turkish dancing girls, one of whom offers to help him escape from Kut via a tunnel under the desert (what is it with tunnels? ) . The narrator refuses, because only a rat would abandon his fellow soldiers, and is captured at the surrender. After a gruesome march into the desert, he pulls out the pistol he’d kept hidden in his shirt, and has a wild shoot out in which he kills a dozen or so Turks. But tragically his lovely dancing-girl  girlfriend (who is so devoted she followed him into captivity) is also killed. He later  escapes by riding all the way across Turkey clinging to the roof of a speeding train. 


 The book contains several photos of Kut, which has persuaded a number of libraries as well as the IWM to classify it as a ‘personal narrative’ .  I expect if it had been illustrated with hand drawings of dancing girls dodging bullets, and soldiers in Stetsons with six-shooters clinging to the roof of trains, (and if anyone had actually read it), they might have discovered  that Blackledge was a popular author in the 1930s who also wrote ‘Death squads in Morocco’ ,  ‘Hell’s Broth Militia’ , ‘Peninsula of death’ and many other exciting novels.  


Mind you, I don’t blame them, its much easier to suss these things out in the era of google than it was a decade ago, but it’s a cautionary tale for people who think that oral history is unreliable, and that printed stuff in a museum is always dinkum."

http://archive.oneguyfrombarlick.co.uk/www.oneguyfrombarlick.co.uk/forum_topic6eb9.html?TOPIC_ID=640&view=lasttopic  Scroll down near to the bottom to an entry dated 07/10/2011 : 04:08.



Relating to  Hell’s Broth Militia  by W J Blackledge [1936] , some extracts are available online.

"Ants" by W J Blackledge, page 471 Fifty Amazing Hairbreadth Escapes c 1937.  Archive.org. Stated to be an extract from Hell’s Broth Militia [1936]

"Company of the Damned" by Captain W J Blackledge. An Inside Picture of the Hunted Men’s Militia [Kurram Militia] in India. The story of Digger Craven, second in command. Appeared in issues of the weekly magazine Liberty from v13n14 1936-4-4.

 Part 1part 2part 3 Further episodes are not available online.

An examination of Part 1 shows it is an abridged version of "Ants" which in turn is an extract from Hell’s Broth Militia. Note some classify the latter as biography.[6]

[6] Page 27, entry 319 British Autobiographies: An Annotated Bibliography of British Autobiographies Published Or Written Before 1951 by William Matthews. Reprint edition 1964 Google Books
Edit: For more about Digger Craven, above in the Kurram Militia, this time at Gallipoli, see my recent post in the topic 
Gallipoli Faction



Edited by Maureene
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Maureen, it would be good to know for sure.


It was only a year or so later (1938) that PW Long published his 'Other Ranks of Kut' which is pretty extraordinary but, I'm sure, entirely true. There are some remarkable parallels in some of the stories of escape and daring but without going overboard; I wonder what Long thought of Blackledge's book?  I shall look at my copy to see if there is any reference in the introduction. But there were a number of soldiers who had extraordinary adventures; look at that of Trumpeter Inman which has already been discussed on the forum. The mixture of ethnic groups and the impact of long Ottoman rule seems to have set a most extraordinary stage on which just about any scene could be played out by those bold enough to try.


If Blackledge was indeed RAMC (sJ's MIC link only shows BWM/VM) he could have served in Mespot or even on a Hospital Ship. This could have put him in contact with all sorts of soldiers with all sorts of tales that may have served for later inspiration ?


I didn't assume that Blackledge claimed to be the 'hero' of Marching Madmen, merely the ghost writer.


18 hours ago, Maureene said:

if it had been illustrated with hand drawings of dancing girls dodging bullets

Judging by some of the pre-publicity, the serialisation in the newspapers of the time (1936) may well have done so!


A search in FMPs newspaper archive didn't bring up any obvious refutations of its veracity.




Edit:  I've checked Long's intro and he makes no mention direct or indirect of Madmen; He does mention Dorina Neaves book that came out in 1937 but says it was unsatisfactory from the ORs viewpoint because it was a collection of Offecier and OR stories.  So I presume he thought Blackledege's book irrelevant.

Edited by charlie962
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...