Pte William Milne

Cpl William Milne, 6th Gordon Highlanders

William Milne was born on the 13th July 1895 at Timberhall near Duncanstone in the Parish of Leslie, the second son of George and and Jane Milne. At this time George was a farm servant and tenant crofter of 7 acres there, by 1901 he was in the neighbouring 50acre farm of Halls of Duncanstone and by 1914 was farming Bogend, Clatt all of which were on the Leith Hall Estate. William had five brothers and three sisters and was a farm servant on the farm of Westfield at Duncanstone, which neighboured his earlier home at Halls, when war broke out. This accounts for his name being on both Kennethmont and Leslie War Memorials.

Willie married his employer George Lobban's daughter Chrissie George Anderson, Mosstown at Westfield on August 29th 1915 while he was home on leave. They had a son, also William, who was born in 1916.

The Milne family

Willie and Chris Milne with William, taken late 1916 / early 1917.
This photograph is reproduced here by kind permission of Margaret Ann Connelly
of Ontario, Canada, his grandniece,

On joining the Territorials a soldier agreed to be available for home service only and could not be posted overseas unless he volunteered to do so, and even then could only serve in his own unit. When the threat of war came in 1914 most of the Territorial Soldiers of The Gordon Highlanders agreed to serve overseas and thus became available for 'Imperial Service'. These men, including Willie Milne and his older brother, Fred, were then entitled to wear The Imperial Service Badge.

The Imperial Service Badge
The Imperial Service Badge

As a member of 'H' Company, 6th Battalion ( Donside and Banffshire), Gordon Highlanders (Territorial Force) Willie reported to The Drill Hall in Huntly when the Battalion were mobilised in the evening of 4th August 1914. His company marched by road to Keith where all the companies of the 6th Gordons assembled during 6th-7th August, the men being billeted in the school and in private houses. Organisation completed they left Keith by train on 11th August for Perth. On the 16th they moved on to join The Highland Territorial Brigade in The Highland Division at Bedford and were billeted in private houses in the Bromham Road area of the town with their Headquarters in the Girls High School. For three months they trained and prepared for their eventual move to the Western Front and on 22nd October were reviewed by the King. On 9th Nov 1914 the Battalion journeyed to Southampton by train. That evening at the docks they joined the troopship "Cornishman". They disembarked at Le Havre, France next morning and marched to No1 Reserve Camp on top of the hill behind the town.

Pte William Milne, photographed at Huntly

On the 13th began the journey up the line ending at St Omer where the General Headquarters of the British Army in France was located. For three weeks they received further training for the trenches while billeted in nearby Blendecques.
On 6th December the 6th Gordons, in 7th Division - 20th Brigade became the first 51st HD battalion to arrive on The Western Front joining up with regulars of the 2nd Gordons, Scots and Grenadier Guards in the trenches in front of Sailly, near Armentieres. Willie's 'A' Company were the first into the trenches. Four days in the line and four resting in billets to the rear was the usual routine. The battalion were billeted south of the town and much time was spent cleaning up after a tour in the mud swamped trenches.

Cleaning up after trench duty

Members of 6 GH cleaning up after a tour in the trenches, the man shaving still wears the drab apron over his kilt. This was worn to camouflage the kilt and to help keep it clean and dry in the muddy trenches.


On Christmas Day 1914 they witnessed a remarkable event amid the death and destruction - the unofficial Christmas Truce. The truce eventually extended to 3rd January 1915, when normal hostilities resumed.
(Click to view the 6th Battalion account of the truce)

In January 1915 The Huntly Express informs readers that his father, with two sons ( Willie & Fred) serving at the front in the B.E.F. , has received intimation from the War Office that Pte William Milne has been admitted to a hospital in France, the cause of his illness not yet diagnosed. It is not known when he returned to duty with his unit.

The 6th remained in the Sailly area until 7th March 1915 when they moved to Estaires in readiness for their first action at The Battle of Neuve Chapelle (10th -15th March). The 6th went forward to make an advance at 09.30 on the 13th. Although they gained some ground in the attack they were unable to advance further. The 2nd Gordons came up to assist them but after being pinned down by shell and machine gun fire in No Man's Land for most of the day both units had to fall back under cover of darkness. The 6th suffered very heavy casualties in the initial stages of the action.

This special Order was published by Major-General Capper -
"The Divisional General has now received the reports on the action at Neuve Chapelle during March 10th to 14th. He desires to express his admiration of the gallant conduct of the 6th Battalion Gordon Highlanders on the 13th March. The Battalion made repeated efforts to advance under very heavy fire, and gained a considerable amount of ground. Its conduct was characterised by splendid dash, and was the admiration of the neighbouring battalions. This is the first occasion in which this battalion has taken part in an attack, and it behaved with great spirit and steadiness."


1st/6th Gordon Highlanders

This photograph of 6th Gordon Highlanders in camp includes George Anderson on the left.
The man standing in the middle appears to be Willie Milne.

Click on photo to view large image, 72kb

In May they were again in action at Festubert and Givency and at the end of September attacking in front of Hulluch at The Battle of Loos when the British used Gas for the first time. Both were fierce actions which lasted three days with very heavy loss of life. At Loos the 6th were practically cut off and had to fight their way through the enemy lines in desperate hand to hand fighting.

By December 1915 Wullie has been promoted to L Cpl and is with "D" Company. This promotion and move were probably a result of the heavy casualties the battalion suffered at Loos. It took many months for the 6th to regain full strength and the four companies ( A, B, C & D) were away from the front in Lines of Communications duties at several Base Camps during this period. In May 1916 they joined the newly created 51st Highland Division at Vimy Ridge to the north of Arras. The 6th Gordons were not involved in the Somme Battles which began on 1st July 1916 but were in the line at Mametz Wood at this time. They were in action again during the five day assault on High Wood a month later. On 13th November they took a leading role in the assault and capture of the village of Beaumont Hamel.

Following a period out of the line near Abbeville, Wullie and his comrades started the long march back to the battle lines on February 5th 1917 and on the 17th moved into trenches at Roclincourt - a very quiet part of the front four miles north of Arras. The quiet was to last for two months with the exception of a successful daylight raid on the German line on 5th March.

British soldiers moving forward near Arras

British soldiers moving forward near Arras, April 1917
(note the 18 pdr field gun battery and tank)

Having been promoted to Corporal during the previous fifteen months Cpl William Milne fell in action on the first day of The Battle of Arras. He had been on the Western Front for nearly two and a half years and was by now " an old hand ". Fought on a twelve miles front of The Hinderburg Line from Lens to Arras, it started on 9th April at half-past five in the morning. The 6th Gordons in the 51st Division, were in the Roclincourt trenches opposite Thélus and facing the outer spurs of Vimy Ridge, in front of which, to the Division's left, lay four Canadian divisions, while on its right was the 34th Division. A fierce enemy barrage preluded the attack; yet Gordons, Black Watch, Argylls, Seaforths, and Royal Scots swept through the first objective line of the German trenches as though they had been a triumphal arch.
The Gordons, with Willie's company in the first double wave, advanced over the same ground as they had covered during the 5th March raid and the three objectives they were set were all taken. The German defences were so complete and well organised that an number of points of strong resistance were encountered. Fierce hand to hand fighting ensued but within half an hour all resistance had been overcome.


The following are the entries from the 6th GH War Diary for the period.

April 1917

1st - ECOIVRES. In "X" Hutments.
2nd - 7th - BOIS de MAROEUIL. In tents. Training and Range Practice, Wire Cutting, Bomb Throwing. Lectures on the "Attack".
8th - 11th - ROCLINCOURT. Took over the trenches on the night of 7th/8th. The Battalion was 670 strong, and was accommodated in FISH TUNNEL and ROCLINCOURT. One company remained in huts at BOIS de MAROEUIL.

On the 9th the BATTLE of ARRAS opened. The objective given the Battalion was the front line system of trenches, viz;- Firing Line, Support Line, and Reserve Line, known as the " Black" Line.
The Battalion assembled for the attack in three double waves, each wave consisting of five Platoons, while the remaining Platoon, organised as three Bombing Squads and one Lewis Gun Squad, was kept in FISH TUNNEL as a reserve.
"D" Company and two platoons of "A" formed the right of the attack, "B" Coy the left. These companies formed the first two double waves. "C" Coy with one platoon of "A" Company formed the third double wave. The remaining platoon of "A" Company was the reserve in the hands of the Battalion Commander.
At ZERO the advance was promptly begun, and, immediately the barrage lifted, the objectives were assaulted and cleared up effectively. A good deal of hard fighting took place, but the men had been so thoroughly trained that they were prepared for all eventualities, and speedily got the better of all opposition, though not without heavy loss. One disconcerting incident happened - a minnenwerfer ( trench mortar ) ammunition dump was exploded, and formed a crater about 30 feet deep. Probably 20 casualties were caused by this explosion. About 100 prisoners were captured, as well as three machine guns and a number of trench mortars of varying sizes.


It is unclear whether Wullie was killed during the assault or was the victim of the explosion of a Minenwerfer (Trench Mortar) ammunition dump in a deep dug-out near the enemy third line. It was never known if this was an accident or deliberate act by the Germans but the explosion formed a crater over 20 feet deep and killed or wounded 20 of the battalion as well as a number of the enemy.

The 6th Battalion suffered 16 Officer and 260 Other Ranks casualties on 9th April, nearly half it's strength.

The inevitable counterattacking by the enemy followed.


Map, Arras April 1917

6GH Area of Operations 9th April 1917.
The approximate position of the German front line trenches is shown in black.


1914-1918 Medal Trio The 1914 or Mons Star The British War Medal The Victory Medal

Move mouse over medals to view reverse

William Milne was awarded these medals for serving his King and Country in The Great War.

Having served in the France / Flanders theatre between 5th August and 22nd November 1914 Willie qualified for the less common 1914 Star (left). It is often referred to as The Mons Star as the majority if it's recipients were members of The British Expeditionary Force and involved in the retreat from Mons to the line of entrenched positions which became The Western Front.
The German Kaiser referred to the BEF as a "contemptible little army ".
It's members later became known as The Old Contemptibles

The British War Medal (centre) and Victory Medal (right) were awarded to all personnel.
The trio were commonly called "Pip, Squeak and Wilfred" after newspaper cartoon characters of the day.


Gordon Highlanders Christmas Card 1915

This official Gordon Highlanders 1915 Christmas card confirms that Willie Milne was promoted to L Cpl before this time and is with "D" Coy 1st/6th Gordon Highlanders.

They have been printed with the name, rank and number of each man.


Gordon Highlanders Christmas Card 1915

Another link on Friendship's chain,
Comes with this Christmas Card,
'Tis sent to wish you every joy,
With love and kind regard.



Leslie Kirk and War Memorial

Leslie Kirk and War Memorial

1914- 1919
Erected by public subscription
in memory of
the undermentioned officers and men of Leslie Parish
who died on service during The Great War

Lieut Col. Geo A Smith, DSO

Major Harry T Lumsden
Capt John S Grant, M.C., B.D.
Corpl William Milne
Gunner John Leith
George Thomson
Private George Benzie

Private Alex Gordon
Alex Jamieson
James Jamieson
John G Johnston
James Johnston
James Leith

Alex Duncan - F Tough - James Petrie

1939 -- George J Morgan - John G Smith -- 1945

Leslie Parish War Memorial

Leslie War Memorial bears the name of William Milne


Milne family headstone at Leslie

Milne family headstone at Leslie

in memory of
Cpl William Milne
6th Batt Gordon Highlanders
who fell in action in France
9th April 1917
Also his brother Arthur
who died at Bogend, Clatt
5th Sept 1918 aged 18 years
Also their mother
Jane Harvey
who died at Mill o' Noth, Rhynie
6th July 1948 aged 84 years
Also George Milne
husband and father of the above
Farmer at Halls of Duncanstone
and Bogend died at Mill o' Noth
22nd April 1955, aged 95 years
Also Fred, died Ontario
24th April 1961 aged 68 years
Jane died Chichester
14th Aug 1961 aged 77 years
George died Glasgow
29th March 1962 aged 75 years



The Milne Family c1907

The Milne Family 1908

Meg, William, Jane, George Jnr,
John, Fred
George Milne, Mary, Arthur, Jimmy, Jean Milne

Family photographs ( with one exception ) are reproduced here by kind permission
of his grandnephew Keith Andreeti.