He would find his way to Saskatchewan, lived and worked a farm about 50 kms from Moose Jaw. That farm was then... and to this day still called the Kirkland Farm, and his employer's descendants were still running it a few years back and perhaps still.
Willie worked the farm through the first year of the Great War but a few months before his 24th birthday he decided he would sign up with the army and get his whopping dollar a day for doing his duty.
He walked to the armoury in Moose Jaw in one day. It was a 50 km hike. (Not included in above figures.) It was just over 100 years ago, on 11 September 1915, that Willie became Private William Johnstone Milne, Serial # 427586, with the 46th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. (South Saskatchewan Regiment)
While serving with the 46th in England, William, like thousands of others got caught with his pants down, pardon the pun. His military file shows a loss about 17 days for 2 periods of treatment for Gonnorhoea. (The US would lose over 7 million lost days due to the disease in the war. The Brits between 1914 and 1918 would have over 400,000 cases, 66% being for STD's.)
He would lose another 22 days later in 1916 due to Influenza. But by then he had transferred over to the 16th Canadian Expeditionary Force, the Canadian Scottish Regiment. They formed part of the 3rd Brigade of Canada's First Division.
Pictured here are the Canadian Scottish's cap badge and a shoulder dog.
By the end of June the Regiment had sailed for Europe. William would fight along side his regiment through the skirmishes and battles the grime and mud and noise, the blood and destruction that led through all the towns and villages and the no man's land. Not knowing if he would live another day...till all of a sudden he and his mates ended up at one of the most horrific battles of the war.
The Battle of Vimy Ridge!
Along the Allies Western Front of WW1, the April 1917 Battle of Arras would become known as a momentous milestone in the History of Canada. It was here that, for the first time in the war, 4 Canadian Divisions came together to fight for the first time. They were joined by one British Division, and were tasked with dislodging the heavily fortified peak of a ridge near Vimy, aptly called the Vimy Ridge. It was about 200 feet high in some places, several kms long and well protected by some 30 to 40,000 Germans who had in the past repulsed attacks by both the French and British. It was now up to about 100,000 Canadian troops and of tens of thousands of Brits as well.
The Canadians and British not only took the ridge and drove the Germans back on the first of the 4 day battle but also took the town of Theus, arrow #6, the following day.
Milne's unit was given the task to advance towards the ridge and take out any obstacles in the way. William would actually crawl out under incredibly heavy fire and kill the crew of a machine gun nest, capture the gun and return to his lines. He would later in the day on that first day of battle, actually repeat the process and capture a 2nd gun, but his luck had run out and he was killed in the process.
Troops in the rear would move forth to gather the dead for transport to various grave yards, but some... like William and 43 others were buried in make shift graves in craters and just buried over with temporary markings. His crowded grave was marked with the number CA 40 and though required for later recovery and proper burial, this somehow did not happen. Now, almost a hundred years later, those 44 are still lying in an unmarked grave.
Clearly his VC was awarded posthumously, but someone decided it best to alter his picture to show him wearing the VC.
Look closely at the left of his left shirt pocket and there it is.
The enlarged photo on left show the medal a little clearer.
Here's what the London Gazette has to say about the man from Scotland.
Back in Scotland 14 VC recipients came from the County of Lanarkshire Lake, and in the county town center of Hamilton there are marble blocks with info on each... including William Milne.
A flag pole in his honor once was located at the Canadian Legion at Caron, Saskatchewan.
And this story is not yet over. An Ottawa historian has been working for sometime now trying to locate the actual grave of the 44 soldiers from the Canadian Scottish who were left in the mass grave. He feels it is located I believe somewhere around the point of arrow #5 above.
Keep an eye on this blog site, and the press to see how this story develops. Better yet google the fund raiser now ongoing to help finance the search to locate the 44 graves and donate a few bucks to help with this most worthwhile cause.
till next week,