John Blake was a Guild of Aviation Artist, Raconteur, Historian and Airshow Commentator.
He began his adult life at about the same time as the Second World War also started. He originally wished to enter the Royal Air Force (his Father having been in the Royal Flying Corps), but was turned down as at that point there were no vacancies!! He therefore joined the Irish Guards as a subaltern and hence commenced his own type of war, causing chaos, blowing up bridges and for a short time owning a Me 109, which he subsequently blew up with spectacular results in case the original owner re-appeared. He was heavily involved with the Micks (Irish Guards) in Operation Market Garden after his landing in Normandy on the beaches.
John had an individual style of service life. On entering Brussels the local community were found to be acquiring back from the recently departed Germans, supplies from the Palais de Justice. Order had to be maintained and John, as part of the Regimental Pioneer Platoon (things that go bang) put up notice to say that the Palais was mined and all should keep clear. It was not until several months later, when he was back in England recovering from being hit by an unfriendly German shell, just outside Arnhem, and attending a refresher course about defusing bombs that he remembered that he had forgotten to take the sign down. His memory was jogged by the instructor complaining about so many false beware of the mines signs.
It was while completing his recovery that he and his Sergeant were on a range investigating the results of hand grenades on different types of rock, that the Sergeant dropped a live grenade. John, without much thought, picked the grenade up to get rid of it and it exploded taking his right hand with it and causing multiple injuries to the rest of him.
After the war, and patched up as well as could be done, he attended the Glasgow School of Art where, having to change hands, he trained as an artist. This was a skill he was to use until very recently and which led to him becoming a Fellow of the Guild of Aviation Artists and a former Chairman of that Guild. He found employment with the Royal Aero Club of the United Kingdom as their librarian. This suited him down to the ground, as his other love is Naval, Army and Air Force history. He had the run of the Library at the Royal Aeronautical Society and was paid to do this.
It was during this time he was asked to commentate at a little airshow. This was the start of a long and distinguished career as the leading airshow commentator this country has heard. Airshows up and down the country, in the sixties, seventies, eighties and into the nineties had the good fortune to have such a historian and raconteur entreating their audience with such knowledge and skill. There will never be a replacement as a commentator for John, and I write that as his successor as Chief Commentator at Farnborough. My commentating colleagues at airshows have a lot to thank John for as he set the bar and standard that we try to emulate.
John was a founder member of the Tiger Club, but due to his loss of a hand (which he never thought of as any type of disability) was not able to get his Private Pilots Licence until the CAA relaxed their rules and looked at individual cases on their own merit. John became a stalwart of the British Aerobatic Association and an International Aerobatic Judge and was the Contest Director for the World Aerobatic Championships held in Hullavington in 1970.
The stories surrounding John, from falling down a nunnery staircase with an armed Rocket Propelled Grenade (this one did not go off); to meeting aviation greats like Uri Gagarin; to towing the Admiral commanding the Royal Yacht Britannia across the forecourt at Buckingham Palace; are all true.
John was a man who would always put himself out to help others and use himself as a stepping stone to develop someones career.