Date of birth: 1915
Date of death: 1.6.1940
Regiment: Royal Fusiliers
Family information: Son of Fred and Annie Milner
Service number: 6457835
Ernest Milner was enlisted into the British Army Regiment the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) service number 6457835. No date is available for when Ernest joined but given the early entry into the ‘theatre of war’ it is possible that he was already in the army - a regular soldier.
The 2nd Battalion was attached to the 12th Infantry Brigade, 4th Infantry Division and was sent to France in 1939 after the outbreak of war to join the British Expeditionary Force. In May 1940 they fought in the Battle of Dunkirk and were then evacuated from France.
A controversial Halt Order had been issued with Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler's approval on the 22nd May. This gave the trapped Allied forces time to construct defensive works and pull back large numbers of troops toward Dunkirk, to fight the Battle of Dunkirk.
On the 23rd May 1940 Vice Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay in Dover was placed in overall command of what he named “Operation Dynamo”. Three days later on 26th May and just before 1900 hours, he sent the signal: Operation Dynamo is to commence.
By the 26th May 1940 it was painfully obvious to Lord Gort VC commanding the BEF that the only plausible solution to the dilemma that faced his encircled troops was to try and evacuate as many as possible. The road south was cut, Boulogne and Calais had fallen and the Belgian Army was on the verge of collapse. The only available port was Dunkerque.
On the 27th May the British and French within the Dunkerque pocket began a withdrawal with the British forming a line passing through Cassel, Hazebrouck and St Venant in the north and along the canals from Béthune to Gravelines.
From 28th – 31st May in the Siege of Lille the remaining 40,000 men of the once-formidable French First Army fought a delaying action against seven German divisions, including three armoured divisions.
The town and port of Dunkerque had been bombed by the Luftwaffe, water was no longer available and the docking facilities hung in a precarious balance between being usable or not. It became essential for all of the armed services to find the means to fight back to the beaches; embark as many men as possible from there and take them to safety and also to stop the Luftwaffe from having unopposed possession of the skies.
On the first day of the evacuation, only 7,669 men were evacuated, but by the ninth day, a total of 338,226 soldiers had been rescued by a hastily assembled fleet of over 800 boats. Many of the troops were able to embark from the harbour's protective mole onto 39 British destroyers and other large ships, while others had to wade out from the beaches, waiting for hours in the shoulder-deep water. Some were ferried from the beaches to the larger ships by the famous little ships of Dunkirk, a flotilla of hundreds of merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft, and lifeboats called into service for the emergency. The BEF lost 68,000 soldiers during the French campaign and had to abandon nearly all of their tanks, vehicles, and other equipment.
On the evening of 31st May Lord Gort and his staff sailed for England — their French counterparts remaining at Dunkerque. By then 194,620 British and French troops had been successfully transferred to England — a figure far beyond the hopes of the most rampant optimists.
As the evacuation continued and the perimeter became smaller and smaller so the German artillery gained ground and were able to fire in ever increasing efficiency on the boats waiting offshore. By the 30th May the British troops had been pushed back almost to the coast and it was during this final effort that Ernest was killed on 1st June 1940.
He is remembered with honour at the Dunkirk Memorial some 45 miles away from where his father is buried.
The following extracts have been provided by the Milner Family and were written by Hilda Hope Baker (nee Jolliffe) on 10.11.1985 for the benefit of her grandchildren. Hilda Jolliffe was a member of the Milner extensive family. They lived in a row of 4 cottages in the High Street that may have been known as Milner`s Row. All four cottages were occupied by various members of the Milners, when a cottage emptied it was filled by other family members.
“My cousin Ern and I were very close, we were always together. He was a year younger than I was. His dad had been killed in the First World War. We were always off scrumping apples, fishing or bird nesting and he had a daisy rifle. We used to sit under an old apple tree and shoot sparrows (how unkind when I look back). I plucked them, he gutted them and his mother cooked them in a broth, not that there was much meat on them. My Granny always kept a pig called Bessie and when it was ready for killing I was always on the spot with my cousin Ernie. A man from the next village used to do the killing (most cruel) but the pair of us waited until it was scalded and cut up. We were waiting for the bladder to blow up for a football. I never knew what the action of the bladder was in those days. My Granny would give me a note book and pencil which I used to write all her letters for her on, then I would go around the village with the message “My Granny has had a pig killed, do you want a joint?” Believe me, a big basket with joints in it and a white linen cover was very heavy. My cousin Ernest was killed on Dunkirk beaches in the Second World War aged 26. I still feel it very much on Armistice Day when the trumpet plays “The Last Post”.
A poignant account that paints a picture of a carefree childhood but with more than a hint of the poverty that underscored their existence.
The following information was also submitted:
Ernest Milner Mother- Ann daughter of George & Ann born 27th June 1889 Brotherton - bapt 25th Aug 1889 St Edwards Brotherton. Married Frederick Ralph Sharpe 22yrs of Castleford on 22nd February 1916 St Edwards Brotherton. Frederick was killed in action 14th May 1918 at Chocques Pas de Calais France.
Ernest, son of Fred & Ann born 20th June 1915 Brotherton - bap 21st July 1915 St Edwards Brotherton. Killed at Dunkirk on 1 June 1940. He was given the surname & baptised Milner because he was born before they married. Fred was named as the father on birth certificate.
The Milner’s, as mentioned above, were an established Brotherton family and Annie was the aunt of Victor Milner who was also killed in WW2. Ernest and Victor, therefore were cousins. Fuller details of the Milner’s are given in the piece on Victor.
The Sharpe’s were not from Brotherton and there are some inconsistencies in the information given over so it is best to start with what is definite. The name is variously spelled as Sharp or Sharpe.
On 22nd February 1916 Frederick Sharp and Annie Milner did indeed get married in St Edward’s Church. At the time Fred was living at 12, Powell Street, Castleford.
In 1911 he had been at the same address but was a boarder living with a John Halford and family. John’s wife was Jane nee Sharp (m. 1903 Pontefract) the elder sister of Fred. The data indicates that Fred was actually born in Pontefract in 1893 which would mean he was about 23/24 when married. At the time Fred was employed as a ‘Pony Driver - below ground.’
In 1901, the only Fred Sharp that fitted the above facts was to be found in Tanshelf, Pontefract living with his widowed mother Hannah. She had been born in 1849 in South Milford and also in the house were children Ann (1871), William (1875) and Jane (1883) all born in South Milford as well.
In the marriage details below it states that Fred’s deceased father was called George. In 1881 Hannah, along with children Ann(ie) and William were in South Milford but her husband was given as Charles Sharpe born 1848 in Featherstone. George and Charles may well be the same referred to by different Christian names but it seems certain that Hannah is one and the same.
At some stage early in World War One Fred (I can find no record of the Ralph part of the name given in the family information) enlisted and was assigned to the rank of Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery. Fred was in the 15th Siege Battery.
Siege Batteries RGA were equipped with heavy howitzers, sending large calibre high explosive shells in high trajectory, plunging fire. The usual armaments were 6 inch, 8 inch and 9.2 inch howitzers, although some had huge railway- or road-mounted 12 inch howitzers. As British artillery tactics developed, the Siege Batteries were most often employed in destroying or neutralising the enemy artillery, as well as putting destructive fire down on strongpoints, dumps, store, roads and railways behind enemy lines.
The 15th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery proceeded to France on 11th July 1915. This is confirmed by the date given on Fred’s Medal Index Card (MIC) which indicates he was awarded the 1915 Star having entered the ‘theatre of war’ (France) on 12.7.1915. He was also awarded the British and Victory medals.
Family and official information records that Ernest Sharpe was born on 20.6.1915 and that at the time his parents were not married. It is most probable that an early marriage was rendered impossible by the fact that Fred was unable to get leave and given that he was posted to France the marriage eventually took place when he was able to get home.
Obviously, Fred was re-posted to France because he was eventually “killed in action” on 15.5.1918 and was buried in the Choques Military Cemetery some 45 miles south of Dunkirk.