Burma war veteran became a dedicated pioneer of African wildlife conservation
Major John Blower, who has died aged 97, was a sapper officer who saw active service in Burma and later became a game warden and a pioneer of wildlife conservation in Africa and the Far East.
In 1942 Blower was commissioned into the Royal Engineers. He underwent rigorous training in West Africa in jungle warfare before joining, in Burma, the 81st (West Africa) Division, comprising 90,000 African soldiers, all volunteers skilled in fighting in rough terrain.
In a foreword to John Hamilton’s book War
Bush, the Duke of Edinburgh paid tribute to these men: ‘‘The division was unique in the story of the
It was the largest concentration of our African troops ever, and it played a very significant part in the victory of the 14th Army over the Japanese in Burma.’’
On one occasion, with orders to ‘‘spread alarm and confusion’’, Blower led a patrol of four hand-picked soldiers into the Kaladan Valley deep behind enemy lines. Marching through dense jungle, they were challenged by a large tiger, but fortunately the animal turned away.
They ambushed a working party close to where the Japanese were encamped in strength and discovered that they had stirred up a real ‘‘hornets’ nest’’. They withdrew without wasting any time and had to use all the fieldcraft for which African soldiers were renowned to shake off their pursuers.
A month after they set out, having covered several hundred miles of broken country, they returned to base unscathed. Blower was awarded a mention in dispatches.
John Henry Blower was born near Shrewsbury, and joined the cadet force at school. He began studying forestry at Edinburgh University, but his studies were cut short when he enlisted in the army.
After the war, he commanded 36 Field Company in Nigeria. He subsequently retired from the army in the rank of major and completed his degree. In 1949 he moved to Tanganyika (now Tanzania), where his first post was assistant conservator of forests, responsible for 30,000 square miles of territory which would become the Serengeti and Ngorongoro National Parks.
In 1954 he volunteered for a temporary secondment to the Kenya Police Reserve, forming a group of 25 African tribal police that became known as ‘‘Blowforce’’. On antiterrorist operations, they inflicted heavy casualties on Mau-Mau fighters and killed their leader, the notorious General Kago.
Blower moved on to the Uganda Game Department as chief game warden. Extremely fit and a fast walker, he enjoyed exploring by making safaris on foot. In 1958 he oversaw the founding of the Kidepo Valley National Park.
In 1965 he became an adviser to the
John Blower wildlife conservationist b August 25, 1922
d June 14, 2020
Ethiopian government on the planning and establishment of national parks. Three years later, he was part of a 70-strong AngloEthiopian Blue Nile Expedition. Formed by the Royal Military College of Science at the invitation of Emperor Haile Selassie and headed by Colonel John Blashford-Snell, it took part in the first descent and exploration of the upper reaches of the river.
Blower, in charge of surveying wildlife along the route, led a party on foot across about 200 kilometres of unmapped country to join the main body of the expedition. It was a hazardous venture and he was twice attacked by hostile tribesmen.
He had many adventures in Africa. On one occasion, in Uganda, he was transporting a crocodile in a dugout canoe when the animal started thrashing about and they were in danger of capsizing. Reluctantly, he had to shoot it – but the bullet holed the canoe, which promptly sank.
On another, on the Uganda border with the Congo, he was charged by a large silverback gorilla. He managed to elude it, but it was not prepared to return without a trophy and made off with his hat on its head.
In 1970, he joined the forestry department of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. During his 14 years’ service with the FAO, he worked on the creation of national parks in Nepal and, later, as a consultant in Indonesia and Bhutan.
An accomplished marksman and a talented photographer, he was also a prolific writer. His publications included Banagi Hill – A
Game Warden’s Africa (2004), In Ethiopia
(2006), Himalayan Assignment (2006) and The Plundered Forests (2007). In retirement in England, he and his wife planted many thousands of trees and created a beautiful garden.
A modest man, who had a great knowledge of the natural world and enjoyed talking about others’ achievements, he needed a great deal of persuasion before he would recount his own adventures.
John Blower married Elizabeth Lutley in
1955. They divorced in 1975 and she died in
2012. He married, secondly, Wendy Day, an American anthropologist and botanist. She also predeceased him and he is survived by two sons and two daughters of his first marriage, and by three stepchildren. –
On the Uganda border with the Congo, he was charged by a large silverback gorilla. He managed to elude it, but it was not prepared to return without a trophy and made off with his hat on its head.