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Remembered Today:

Pte. W. Milwain Gordon Highlanders.


kenmorrison
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Looking for some help please.

W. Milwain is named on the WW1 section of the War Memorial in Whithorn, Wigtownshire in deepest South west Scotland.

William Milwain was born in the town in 1878 and in 1897, aged19, he attested to join the Gordon Highlanders, as Private 6031. He served with the 1st Gordons in South Africa but after that I lose him.

I can't see a Medal Card or service record for him; nor a death in the UK.

Any help would be most welcome.

Cheers

Ken

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Hi Ken,

This guy has a fascinating story! His service records (Boer War and WW1) exist.

His name was William Milwain, born about 1881. Next of kin was originally his mother and later his sister Jeanne - 42 Kings Rd Whithorn. His occupation was shoemaker.

After enlisting in the Gordons he deserted and rejoined a number of times until finally discharged in 1902 and sent to prison. His Boer War medals were forfeited.

On 11/1/1915 he was living in Southampton and enlisted in the RE - No 62106. Again his occupation was shoemaker. For previous service he said he served in the Colonial Forces.

On 26/1/1915 he was declared unfit (rheumatism) and was to be discharged. On 27/1/1915 he deserted.

There is a letter on file from his sister from a man in the Lincolshire regiment (I think that's what it says.) He claims Pte William Milwain was killed in France on 3rd October 1915.

This may well be false as it seems unlikely he'd be using his own name if he'd deserted. The army doesn't seem to have believed it though there is a note saying "Reported killed in action while servind with another regiment in France."

Cheers,

Carolyn

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Fascinating. Only Lincolns man listed as dying on 3 Oct 15 is Lewis Hughes of the 4th Bn. Nearest 2nd Bn a William Cocking on 5 Oct 15. Both DoW.

The man who wrote to the sister appears to be a Chaplain J E Hamilton with unit listed as 2 Lincs.

There is a Chaplain John Edmund Hamilton who served in France from Sep 15. The only infantry unit on his MIC is 2 RBerks, but 2 Lincs were in the same Bde - 25th Bde, 8th Div.

Maybe this does have some merit.

Rgds

Tim D

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Does have a Queens South Africa with 1st Gordons under 6031. Clasps Belfast, Cape Colony, Orange Free State.

I have gone through all the infantry Bns of the 25th Bde for 1 to 5 Oct as well as the likely Corps for 3 Oct and can't find any men that might fit the bill.

Rgds

Tim D

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There is a newspaper article from May 1899 where Milwain is being held in Newton Abbot on a charge of deserting from the Gordon Highlanders two years previously. He was to be collected by an escort.

Also, there is a article from October 1902 which describes Milwain handing himself in to Cockermouth police, having deserted from the Gordon Highlanders at Kroonstad on 2nd March, headed to the coast and then worked his passage home. He pointed out that he hadn't deserted until the fighting was over. He was collected by an escort and taken to Aberdeen.

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Carolyn

Thank you so much for tracking down the old rascal - and for inspiring the others to dig in to his history.

To everybody else - many thanks for the little gems of information.

This is the second man on this memorial where I've been round the planet.

Rifleman 12362 George Duffy, 4th Bn. 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade died on 7 June 1917. No NoK details on CWGC.

Fortunately after the war his medals were sent to his son who he had left behind in Whithorn and a pal spotted the hand-written note on his service file.

Cheers

Ken

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Unless the letter was a forgery, then he must have re-enlisted under an alias into an unknown regiment, gone abroad and be one of the hundreds of casualties on that day.

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Of course the whole letter could be a forgery by William , with or without the sister's help and knowledge, so that he could avoid detection as a deserter. But why? He was going to be discharged. If he just wanted to get away so he could rejoin and fight he could have waited, but how would he have got through another medical if his rheumatism was so bad? It's a very strange story. My guess is that he spent the rest of his life in hiding somewhere, cobbling away, surrounded by the piles of army kit he'd acquired over the years.

Carolyn

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  • 2 months later...
Ken, I think I can provide further information on this man.


Carolyn, unfortunately, he didn't spend the rest of his life in hiding somewhere, cobbling away. Ken describes him as an 'old rascal' and, tragically, he continued in his old ways until 3 Oct 1915 when he was shot for desertion.


He re-enlisted in London under an alias as William Smith, S/9405 Rifle Brigade on 6 April 1915. He states age 36, born Whithorn, Wigtownshire and that he was a shoemaker, which fits known information about William Milwain. His address on enlistment was 22 Notting Hill Gate, Paddington.


He went to France on 18 May 1915 and was posted to the 2nd Rifle Brigade. It didn't take him long to get into trouble and after a series of incidents his file states that on 21/09/1915, he was 'Tried by a F. G. Court Martial and sentenced to suffer death by being shot for "When on Active Service Deserting His Majesty's Service". Sentence was confirmed on 29th and carried out at 4.48am on 03/10/1915.


The 2nd Rifle Brigade was in the same brigade (25th in 8th Division) as the chaplain's 2nd Lincs.


I think the information above, which connects back to his Royal Engineers' service under his real name, is sufficient proof that William Milwain served under an alias as William Smith, S/9405 Rifle Brigade.


It is a sad end to this particular memorial mystery and the bigger mystery to me is why someone of his military history, his age and poor health would go to such lengths to serve in the war only for it to end this way.


Best wishes,


Stuart
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