Douglas Milroy – Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (Pt 2)

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!

Douglas enjoyed a steady progression through the lower ranks of the RNVR but better was to come. On 10 March 1915 he was granted a temporary commission as a Sub. Lieutenant in the RNVR. This must have been a proud moment for Douglas and his family and some time in the Spring of 1915 he had his portrait taken at Vanderbilts in Liverpool. In his photograph, gloves and cane in hand, clean shaven, he stares at the camera not exactly smiling but…..calmly. He was going to need a cool head in the weeks ahead.

On the Western Front neither side had managed to break the deadlock that developed following the so called ‘race to the sea’.  Politicians and military planners started to evaluate the possibility of opening another front as an alternative way of attacking Germany. Their attention was drawn to the east and the Dardanelles. The breakthrough was to be achieved at Gallipoli and the Royal Naval Division (RND) was to play its own part in this ill-fated campaign.

At the start of May 1915 Douglas joined the Collingwood Bn which, as part of a hastily reorganised force, was about to take part in what was later to be called the Third Battle of Krithia. From 25 May preparations for a full attack on the Turkish lines had been underway and General Sir Ian Hamilton’s despatch suggests how intense the fighting was during May and June. Warfare was changing fast and even this experienced soldier wrote that:

“Several of these daily encounters would have been the subject of a separate despatch in the campaigns of my youth and middle age, but, with due regard to proportion, they cannot even be so much as mentioned here.”

By the 3 June everything was set; the attack was to take place on 4 June.

The letters from Douglas to Margaret that have survived are always lighthearted and usually several pages long. There is one exception. On the 3 June 1915 Douglas wrote to his sister again describing what, given the benefit of hindsight and the fact that it was passed by the official censor, one imagines was a heavily sanitised version of life at the front on the eve of a major offensive. The letter is written on page 43 from a pocket notebook, in pencil, and neatly folded in quarters. Douglas, writing in the knowledge that he would see action the next day, makes light of the conditions, refers to holidays in the Isle of Man and even jokes about the singing of his elder sister Mary and her husband David. His efforts to describe even the nightly artillery duels in terms that a young girl in Liverpool might understand are truly touching. One can imagine that growing up Douglas would have looked forward to November. Despite the weather there would be first Bonfire Night and then his birthday to enjoy. Our only hint in this carefully written note that Douglas, like so many other young men, would never forget their experiences comes when he says he would “never enjoy Bonfire night very much in the future as we have one every night here & use very big penny crashers (6 inch ones) & very good rip-raps (machine guns).”

The next day’s attacks started well enough. The RND succeeded in capturing its objectives by 12.25pm. However the Turks were not about to give up their ground easily and their counter-attacks exposed the flank of the RND forcing it to retreat at great cost. General Hamilton’s despatch records that the Collingwood Bn, which had gone forward in support, was been practically destroyed. There were subsequent attacks but it seems most likely that Douglas Milroy was killed sometime during the initial action between 8am and 1pm on 4 June 1915. His body was never found and his name is recorded on the Helles Memorial along with thousands of other Commonwealth servicemen who died there and have no known grave.

General Hamilton later reported:

“Although we had been forced to abandon so much of the ground gained in the first rush, the net result of the day’s operations was considerable- namely, an advance of 200 to 400 yards along the whole of our centre, a front of nearly 3 miles. That the enemy suffered severely was indicated, not only by subsequent information, but by the fact of his attempting no counter-attack during the night..”

Margaret Milroy lost a loving brother.

About richmiller66

My name is Richard Miller. I am currently Director of Learning and Head of History at a secondary school in Suffolk, UK. I teach history, politics and geography to pupils aged 11-18. I am particularly interested in teaching more able pupils and looking for innovative and creative approaches to learning and teaching. Having recently started studying for the NPQSL I'm using the blog as my reflective journal - the views I share are 'work in progress'!
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