Battalion 4th Battalion
Regiment York & Lancaster Regiment
|Private||15/1165||15th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment|
|Lance Corporal||1165||15th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment|
|Lieutenant||Royal Air Force|
George Milner was born in Leeds on the 17th August 1897, the son of George Jervis Milner, a secretary at a fancy leather manufacturer, and his wife Emma.
George (Jnr) was educated at Tadcaster Grammar School and by the date of the census in 1911, the family was living at Wharfe View, Linton. George is also found on the Linton electoral roll in 1915. George (Jnr) enlisted for service on the 18th January 1915 (see below) but George Jervis Milner, George's father died on the 29th October 1915, while George (Jnr) was still in the UK.
The circumstances of the death of George Jervis Milner were reported in the Wetherby News:
In 1918, George (Jnr) was still on the Linton electoral roll, but is listed as absent due to Naval or Military Service.
George Milner enlisted on the 18th January 1915 at Closterdale into the 'Leeds Pals' - the 15th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, with a regimental service number of 15/1165. The 15th (Service) Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, otherwise known as the 1st Leeds or the Leeds Pals, was formed in September 1914 at Leeds by the Lord Mayor and the City and then moved to Colsterdale. George underwent his training and initial service there in the UK. George's early service career was marked by a number of disciplinary actions against him. In April 1915, while at training camp at Closterdale, he was "absent while on active service from a tattoo from the 1st April to 8.30pm on the 6th April". He was punished by being confined to barracks for 8 days. This punishment was clearly not enough to overcome George's desire to miss tatoos. He was absent again from tattoos at Closterdale from 8th May 1915 to 9pm on the 10th May and again from the 22nd May 1915 to 8.15pm on the 26th May. For these George was awarded 5 days confined to barracks and the loss of 5 days pay, respectively. In June 1915 the Battalion moved to Ripon, but George's tangles with military regulations continued as, while on active service in Ripon on the 11th September 1915, George "proceeded to Leeds without a pass" - he was confined to barracks for a further 5 days as punishment.
George continued his service in the UK, moving with the Battalion and the 93rd Brigade of 31st Division to Fovan on Salisbury Plain on the 10th August 1915, and it was while stationed on Salisbury Plain that his father died in the circumstances described above. On the 6th December 1915 he embarked and sailed to Egypt where he disembarked on the 22nd December 1915. His Battalion took over a section of the Suez Canal defences. His stay in Egypt was relatively brief and he embarked with the 31st Division at Port Said bound for Marseilles on the 1st March 1916, disembarking on the 8th March in France. They travelled by train to Port Remy, a few miles south east of Abbeville and marched to Bertrancourt, arriving on the 29th March 1916.
The Battalion's first taste of action came a few months later at Serre on the Somme where they suffered very heavy casualties on the 1st July, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Map 1: The British Order of Battle for the first day of the Battle of the Somme (1st July 1916). British Divisions are shown numbered in shaded boxes. British Corps are shown in open boxes labelled in Roman numerals. (click for full size) (Figure courtesy of Wikipedia).
The 15th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment was part of 93rd Brigade within 31st Division, part of VIII Corps in the British Fourth Army. Their role on the 1st July was to attack and take the village of Serre. They were ordered to assault the first three lines of the German trenches and having captuted this objective were to establish four strong points. Then the 16th West Yorkshires were to pass through the 15th Battalion and take the second and third objectives. The assaulting troops moved up from Bus en Artois to assembly positions on the night of the 30th June/1st July, but the Battalion suffered an unlucky start to the assault when a bomb fell on D company killing one and wounding fourteen men. Under some artillery bombardment, the Battalion formed up. Following an intense artillery bombardment, the Battalion went over the parapet at 7.20am to form up in No Man's Land prior to the attack. At once the enemy manned its trenches and opened very heavy rifle and machine gun fire on the troops as they advanced. The 15th Battalion was decimated, even before an attack was made. It is reported that 11 officers were killed at once, with another 11 wounded and there were very severe losses of men, such that, at zero hour of 7.30am, only a remant of the Battalion remained. The first wave of the attack was swept away and very few of the second wave made it to the forming-up tape. Of the men who formed up none returned who had advanced more than 100 yards beyond the British wire. The front line trenches were soon full of survivors, while dead and wounded men lay everywhere. The volumes of 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' (published after the war) records 14 officers and 208 other ranks of the Battalion were killed in action on that day. Many others died of their wounds in the next few days and weeks and many others were wounded. One report states that only 47 soldiers were uninjured. A very brief note in George's service record noted that he did not escape being wounded on that day but it gives no further information on how serious a wound it was.
The War Diary records:
The losses were so serious, only 47 men of the Battalion answered roll call. No further attacks were made on the 2nd in this area and the Battalion spent the day collecting the wounded, burying the dead and re-organising. It was then brought back into reserve and was re-formed with new drafts of officers and men. In a fortnight the Battalion had been brought back to a strength of around 500, and it was sent back into the line in the Festubert section, and assumed responsibility for this section of the line until the end of 1916.
During this time, George was admitted to No 95 Field Ambulance on the 23rd October 1916 suffering from boils. He was passed through 13 Casualty Receiving Station and then later, on the 27th October he was admitted to No 3 Casualty Clearing Station at Puchevillers with an illness described as "ICT Legs" - inflammed connective tissue of the legs. This was a common injury due to the conditions and long marches and periods standing. However the medical history of the great war also explains that I.C.T. was a general term for suppurating skin diseases (Pyodermia), caused mainly due to parasitic disease, but not including scabies. This was extremely common among soldiers in the Great War due to the dirty conditions they had to live in. George's condition was serious enough for him to be passed on and admitted to 23 General Hospital at Etaples and on the 1st November 1916 he was taken back to the UK on the Hospital Ship Cambria. Between the 2nd November 1916 and the 25th December 1916, George was under treatment at Ontario Military Hospital in Orpington, suffering from impetigo.
George's stay in the UK lasted until the 15th May 1917, but there was still time within this period for George to fall foul again to military regulations, being admonished and fined 5 days pay for overstaying his sick leave from noon on the 19th April to 9pm on the 23rd April in Whitley Bay.
On the 16th May 1917 George embarked again for France, disembarking the next day. He was initially posted to the 17th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, but returned to his old unit, the 15th Battalion on the 2nd June joining them on the 5th. Just before George re-joined the Battalion it had suffered heavy losses during the struggles at Vimy Ridge, and after that, at around the time George re-joined, it enjoyed a prolonged period of relative quiet in the Gavrelle sector, holding the trenches for some months until it moved to Neuville St. Vaast. On the 6th June, while near Gavrelle, George was promoted to be Lance Corporal. George continued his service near Gavrelle until the 31st July 1917 when he returned to England as a candidate for a temporary commission. His record at this time showed George had a special qualification in sniping, and his reference for Officer training remarks, rather ironically: "A good worker but rather lacks initiative. He should make a good young officer."
George remained in an Officer Training unit until the 26th February 1918 when he became a 2nd Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion Yorks and Lancaster Regiment and returned to France. He joined his Battalion, according to the War Diary, on the 27th April 1918 and served with them until the 29th July 1918.
Figure 1: Graph showing the daily casualties in the 4th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment during the period George Milner was an officer with them in France. Deaths (blue) calculated from those Killed in Action and Died of Wounds from Soldiers Died in the Great War. Wounded (orange) taken from the returns in the Battalion War Diary.
During the time George served with the Battalion in France, it went through the normal cycle of periods in the front line and time spent in reserve, and this pattern is reflected in the daily casualty rates shown above. The battalion was part of 148th Brigade in 49th Division, and during this period in 1918 were stationed on the south side of the Ypres salient. In April 1918, the Germans had made an attempt to break through in this area and the front line now ran along a line roughly from Zillebeke to Vormezeele, Vierstraat to Locre. On the 1st May, around the time George joined them, the 4th Battalion were in camp south east of Poperhinge towards Dickebusch, but on the 2nd May they moved to the front line close to Vierstraat to relieve the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment. The War Diary reports:
Examination of the prisoner and others taken at other times suggested that a further German attack would fall in this area so the men were on the alert for a few days, however no major attack took place, and on the 5th the Battalion were moved back from the front line. The Battalion spent the rest of the month training in the rear before returning to the front on the 2nd June and stayed there until relieved on the night of the 11th/12th June. They then spent further time in training and in forming working parties until their next spell at the front from the 20th June to the north of Ypres. On the night of the 28th/29th June the Battalion took part in a minor operation:
Map: The locations and raids of the 4th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment on the nights of the 28th/29th and 29th/30th June 1918.
The following night, 29th/30th June another raid was carried out.
After this excitement, the Battalion was relieved by the 1/5th Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment on the 30th June. The next two weeks were spent working on our defenses and everything was relatively quiet on the front, and even the end of July was fairly quiet.
Towards the end of the month, on the 29th July 1918, an entry in the War Diary shows that 2nd Lieutenant G Milner transferred to the RAF.
There is no mention of such a transfer in George's service record, however a RAF Officer's record for George Milner exists in the National Archive. This shows that George was accepted as an observer in the RAF on probation on the 8th August 1918, and entered the RAF on the 31st August.
To train for his new role as an air observer, George was first posted to No. 1 School of Aeronautics. This was based in Reading in buildings commandeered from the University of Reading. This school provided preliminary training for cadets and taught theoretical aspects of flight including map reading, gunnery and mechanics. Next, on the 12th October 1918, he moved to No. 1 School of Air Gunnery. Finally, on the 9th December 1918, George moved to No 1 School of Navigation and Bomb Dropping. This was based at Stonehenge Aerodrome. This aerodrome had two camps either side of a take-off and landing ground, the first located close to Fargo Plantation, and a subsequent and more substantial technical and domestic site situated either side of what is now the A303, a few hundred yards west of Stonehenge. The main role of No. 1 School at Stonehenge was to provide a final stage of training for pilots and observers before they were sent to the Western Front. Courses lasted about a month and the aim was to train up to 60 day bombing and 60 night bombing pilots a month, and the same number of observers. The comprehensive syllabus included navigation, formation flying, cloud flying and bomb-dropping. Perhaps the strangest test was one designed to test a pilot's ability to fly in a straight line. It was called "Head in Bag", because the observer had to cover the pilot's head.
By this time the war had ended and George ceased flying on the 3rd March 1919 and his connection with the RAF ended as he was posted back to his original regiment at the Depot of the 3rd Battalion York & Lancs Regiment. George was demobilised on the 8th April 1919. He then gave his address as Wharfe View, Linton and his unit as the 4th Battalion York and Lancs Regiment.
After the war George returned to live in Linton. We do not know when or where George died.
1911 Census. The National Archives. Class RG14 Piece 25947
First World War Medal Index Cards. The National Archives (WO372).
First World War Medal Index Rolls. The National Archives (WO329).
First World War Officer's Service Records WO374/47994 & AIR76/350/56 The National Archives.
War Diary of 15th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment (WO95/2361) The National Archives.
War Diary of 4th Battalion York & Lancs Regiment (WO95/2805) The National Archives.
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