I wrote this last year using iWeb and MobileMe which will eventually disappear. I don’t want to lose the material so here it is again! There are photos and other parts of the account to follow.
Douglas Milroy was born on 17 November 1894 to James and Jessie Milroy, the third of nine children. In April 1913 he joined the Mersey Division of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) as an Ordinary Seaman. He was described as being a shade over 5’10” with light brown hair, brown eyes and of fresh complexion. As far as we can tell at the outbreak of war he was working as a civilian clerk in Liverpool and as a member of the RNVR was assigned to Nelson Battalion, 2nd Brigade of the Royal Naval Division (RND) or as it was commonly known at the time “Winston’s Little Army”. The RND was to fight alongside the Army but at first retained many naval traditions including using navy ranks, and being allowed to grow beards. In a letter to his younger sister Margaret, dated 8 September 1914, Douglas mentions that the‘‘latest craze in the camp is to grow beards. You should see mine…a truly magnificent affair. I haven’t shaved for nearly a month & the last week has produced at least three hairs I haven’t seen before.” Douglas clearly had a good sense of humour and was probably feeling even more cheerful when he gained the rank of Able Seaman (AB) on 15 September 1914.
On 5th October the RND was sent to Dunkirk to assist in the defence of Antwerp. It seems that this was essentially a delaying action and Field Marshal Sir John French reported later that “Although the results did not include the actual saving of the fortress, the action of the force under General Paris certainly delayed the enemy for a considerable time, and assisted the Belgian Army to be withdrawn in a condition to enable it to reorganize and refit, and regain its value as a fighting force. The destruction of war material and ammunition- which, but for the intervention of this force, would have proved of great value to the enemy -was thus able to be carried out.” The detailed account of the action at Antwerp by Major General Paris, Commanding RND, is most interesting and makes one of the earliest mentions I have found to actions by our aeroplanes.
Douglas’ later correspondence makes no mention of these events but as a holder of the 1914 (Mons) Star one assumes that he was somewhere in the thick of it and was lucky enough to return to England by 11 October. Members of the 1st Bde were not so lucky and escaped over the border to the Netherlands only to be interned.
By the end of October Douglas had earned further progression to Leading Seaman (LS) and his letter to Margaret of 7th December hints at greater responsibilities as guard commander. He tells her “I was what the army equivalent is ‘Corporal of the Guard’ on Saturday night….” and that he arrived at a brawl “just in time to put a beautiful ‘half-nelson’ on the cause of the excitement as he staggered towards me.” Clearly not a man afraid to get stuck in!
The war was not over by Christmas and despite the actions of the BEF and the Belgian army the Germans had quickly established strong defensive positions. The famous truces on the Western Front were short lived and it was business as usual in the New Year. High ranking officers and politicians were busy thinking of a way to break the stalemate and 1915 was going to be the year they made the big break through.