b. 21/12/1891 Cambusnethan, Wishaw, Scotland. d. 09/04/1917 Thelus, France.
William Johnstone Milne (1892-1917) was born on 21st December 1891 at 8 Anderson Street, Cambusnethan, near Wishaw, Lanarkshire, Scotland. His father, David, was a carting contractor, and he married Agnes McCormick, a domestic servant in October 1885. Sadly, William’s father died only nine days after his son’s VC was gazetted. David and Agnes had eight children in all.
William was educated at Newmains Public School, Cambusnethan and in 1901 he emigrated to Canada to work at Kirtland Farm, near Caron, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, owned by Walter Cumming. He enlisted at Moose Jaw on 11th September 1915, and sailed for Britain with 46th Battalion on SS Lapland from Halifax, Nova Scotia on 23rd October, arriving at Devonport on 30th October. He undertook basic training at Bramshott and was treated at Connaught Military Hospital, Aldershot for gonorrhoea. He sailed for France on 16th June and transferred to 16th Battalion next day, reporting to the unit in the Ypres Salient on 20th June.
He took part in the Battle of the Somme from August and was in action at Pozieres and on the Ancre Heights on 8th October, during which Piper James Cleland Richardson of 16th Battalion was awarded the VC for his part in the attack on Regina Trench. William was admitted to No 2 Canadian Field Ambulance on 28th November with influenza.
On 9th April 1917 near Thelus, France, during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Milne saw an enemy machine-gun firing upon fellow troops. Crawling on hands and knees he managed to reach the gun, kill the crew, and capture the gun. Milne later repeated this action against a second enemy machine-gun crew, but was killed shortly afterwards. Sadly, William’s body was not recovered after the Battle, and he is commemorated on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial, France. William never married and his VC was posted to his family in Lanarkshire.
In addition to the VC, he was also awarded the British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. His next of kin was also eligible for the Canadian Memorial Cross. When William’s mother died, the VC passed to his sister Nellie. It was later acquired by Jack Stenabaugh from Huntsville, Ontario. He put the VC group up for sale at Christie, Mason & Woods Ltd in London. It was the last Canadian Vimy Ridge VC in private ownership and the Canadian War Museum wanted it, but didn’t feel justified spending most of its annual budget on a single item. Public subscriptions were called for and the VC group was bought on 25th July 1989 for £41,000. It is now held by the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM, OTTAWA, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: NO KNOWN GRAVE – ON VIMY MEMORIAL, FRANCE.
Thomas Stewart – Images of the Milne VC Stone in Cambusnethan, Scotland, the New Mains War Memorial, and Milne’s name on the VC Arch in Hamilton, Scotland.