Date of birth: 1879
Date of death: 1939
Regiment: Royal Field Artillery
Family information: Husband of Frances Sarah nee Mattison
Service number: L18987
Thomas’s Short Service Attestation Form indicates that he joined the army on 23/4/1915 for the ‘duration of the war’. He was already 36 years 7months old when he signed up at Pontefract and was attached to the 155th West Yorkshire Regiment – service number L18987. The L prefix was for Local signings.
In the descriptive report Thomas was described as being 5’ 4 1/2 inches tall with a chest of 38”. He was also ‘flat-footed and had several blue marks on his nose, cheek and forehead. The latter were probably cuts that had been ingrained with coal dust - almost like a tattoo. From the Army Dispersal centre he was posted to the Royal Field Artillery as a driver. From then until 28/12/15 he was ‘at home’ (see account
below) before being posted to France on 29/12/15 sailing from Southampton and landing at Le Havre the next day.
From that point on he was based on the Western Front until 29/11/1918. On 2/9/1916 he was posted to ‘A’ Battery. His records show that he was granted leave between 18/1/1917 and 28/1/1917 but does not indicate where the leave was spent. He returned to England where he was eventually posted to Surbiton Army Discharge Centre . Further leave was recorded for the period 1/3/1918 to 15/3 1918. His length of service record indicates that he served a total of 4 yrs 345 days between 22/4/1915 and 31/3/20. Some of the latter part of this may have been on the reserve list.
The following is a general account applying to the 155th rather than being specific to Thomas but will serve to show the experiences and the engagements he would have encountered.
155th Brigade Royal Field Artillery
The 155th Brigade Royal Field Artillery were also known as the "Coal Owners Own" 155th West Riding, Royal Field Brigade of Artillery. The brigade was formed in Leeds in early 1915 by the West Yorkshire Coal Owner's Association. Initially attached to the 31st Division as it's Divisional Artillery, the brigade were posted to the 32nd Division in the New Year of 1916. The 155th became an Army Brigade on the
16th/17th January 1917 and consisted of "A," "B" and "C" Batteries with 18-pounders and "D" Battery with 4.5" Howitzers.
In early spring 1915, the brigade was posted and billeted at Wetherby utilizing Grange Park as a training facility and left the town for Ripon in July of the same year.
Consisting in total of about 1000 men, the arrival of the 155th Brigade substantially increased the size of the town’s population. Billets were found in private accommodation with the owner of the property being paid 23 Shillings and 7 pence per man, per week.
The months spent at Wetherby were happy ones, one local newspaper reporting that the troops were having "the time of their lives." A Sports Day was organised by the brigade in May at Grange Park, much to the entertainment of the local populace. Events included 'Tilting the Bucket', a 'Gun Wheel Race' and a 'Tug of War'.
In the same month, a more serious duty was performed by soldiers of the brigade. Madame Maria Desek, a Belgian refugee resident in the town, passed away aged 46 years. The brigade acted as bearers to the coffin at a ceremony attended by many of the townsfolk. The deceased's two sons, serving officers in the Belgian Army also attended, both being granted leave from the trenches of the Western Front. Wreaths were laid on behalf of the townspeople of Wetherby, and one by the local Belgian Relief Committee.
In July, shortly before the brigade left the town bound for Ripon, the sporting 'fervour' continued with a Boxing Tournament arranged to take place at Grange Park. The event was well supported with prizes being generously provided by several Leeds sportsmen. The tournament itself was organized by Bombardier Frank "Spike" Robson, ex Feather Weight Champion of England and Physical Instructor to the brigade.
The judges consisted of Lieutenants Mercer and Denby, the M.C. and referee duties being performed by Mr.Tom Moran, assisted by "Spike" Robson. A most notable figure performed the role of 'Time-keeper' for all the bouts, one Lance-Corporal Frederick William Holmes, V.C. and Medal Millitaire. Holmes had gained the award at Le Cateau in 1914 and at this period was convalescing from wounds received in that action.
The happy days spent at Wetherby finally came to an end. Final training for the brigade had commenced at Ripon, and Robert and the officers and men of the 155th Brigade were posted to the Western Front on December 29th, 1915.
To the Front
On the 29th December 1915 the 155th Brigade R.F.A. departed Fovant Hills between the hours of 6 and 9 p.m., destination Southampton as part of the 31st Division. Embarkation of the Brigade Ammunition Column and "A" Battery was completed by late evening whereupon they proceeded to Le Havre where disembarkation was carried out on the morning of the 30th. Hence, this advance element of the brigade proceeded to the Docks Rest Camp.
Headquarters Staff plus "B," "C" and "D" Batteries respectively arrived at Le Havre on the 31st but did not join the advanced element of the brigade but instead proceeded to No.2 Rest Camp located at Sanvic, Le Havre.
The 155th Brigade would not have to wait long for active operations as on the 1st January 1916 they entrained for Amiens and proceeded to billets located to the north-west of the town at Argoeves. On the 6th of the month, George and the officers and men of the "Coal Owners Own" would arrive in the chalky uplands of Picardy.
On the 7th January 1916 the batteries of the 155th began registration of targets from positions in the Mesnil, Martinsart and Aveluy areas as part of the Left Group of the 32nd Divisional Artillery. The Brigade Ammunition Column was to be located at Contay to the west of Albert, the village being located on a major railhead that was primarily involved in the transportation and dumping of ammunition.
After an initial period of intense action shelling numerous points and locations across the enemy front at Thiepval and its environs, the brigade were finally withdrawn into rest positions. Initially moving to Frechencourt to the west of Albert, all elements of the brigade finally moved to Montigny where the remainder of the month was spent in cleaning up and various forms of drill.
In early March, the brigade moved to positions near Albert where fire was directed against enemy positions in the areas of La Boisselle and Ovillers and in this position the remainder of the month was spent.
On April 6/7th, the brigade was gradually relieved to be placed in reserve at Rubempre but on account of suitable facilities to gain water, instructions were issued to move to Contay on the 13th.
A programme of training and drill was duly carried out in the days that followed. On the 20th April, notification was received that the Commanding Officer of the brigade Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury was to be replaced by Major Ponsonby Sheppard D.S.O., this being duly carried out on the 28th instant.
The month of May was spent in reserve at Contay but far from remaining idle, the brigade carried on a routine of training and providing men for working parties digging gun pits at Aveluy.
On the 26th of the month, in accordance with the re-organisation of Divisional Artilleries, the 155th Brigade Ammunition Column was broken up, personnel being distributed to the 32nd Divisional Ammunition Column or to the Trench Mortar Batteries of the 32nd Division. The horses were distributed to the 32nd and 49th D.A.C.'s with some lucky enough to be 'evacuated.'
On the 24th June, the 155th R.F.A. commenced the preliminary bombardment of enemy positions in the Thiepval area. 'Although A, B & C batteries were in exposed positions and ammunition was brought up to them every evening during the preliminary bombardment, the battery positions & approaches to them were under intermittent heavy machine gun & artillery fire; the casualties sustained were very small.'
“Zero” hour 7.30am Saturday 1st July 1916
At 06.40 a.m., the batteries of the 155th Brigade commenced a heavy bombardment of the enemy lines prior to the launch of the assault by units of the 32nd Division at 7.30 a.m.
As the 96th Brigade on the left of the divisional attack pressed forward to capture Thiepval village, the guns of the batteries now lifted and concentrated fire on the German support and reserve lines trenches. Crossing 'No Mans Land,' the infantry were met with a hail of machine-gun and rifle fire as soon as they had left the safety of their own trenches. In spite of heavy casualties, some men had managed to penetrate the German Front Line, but, as the day wore on, any positions gained on this frontage became untenable and the men were either captured, killed, or tried to escape back to the safety of the British Front Line.
Remaining in action until the 18th July when a gradual relief was completed, the men of the 'Coal Owner's Own' moved westwards, away from the from the stubborn defences of Thiepval village. The latter would not finally fall until the 27th September after a prolonged and protracted series of engagements.
Gradually moving northwards towards the Bethune Sector, by early August 1916 the 155th Brigade R.F.A. once again began offensive operations south of the Cuinchy Brickstacks area.
It was during the month that the brigade began a period of reorganization when A/155 Battery was ordered to divide into two drafts. One was to be drafted to B/155 Battery and the other to C/155, thus, these batteries now comprised of six guns. One section of A/155 now combined with a second section of C/155 and was now designated A/155 also forming a six gun battery.
The earliest direct connection to Thomas traced so far is his great-grandfather John (1) Milner who was born in Brotherton about 1798. He married Harriot Dowkes who was born about 1803 in Brayton. By 1841 they lived in ‘Garden Cottages’ which was possibly situated close to ‘Fox Buildings’ near the junction of the Great North Road and the York Road. At the time they had 4 children in the family – John (2) born about 1822, Maria (1829), Mary (1834) and William (1837). John was employed as a ‘Gardener’. John died in 1844 of an ‘abcess on the liver’.
Other children included Ann (1825-26), George (1827-28), Hannah (1832-34) and Francis (1839-41. Even by the day’s standards this was a high infant mortality rate. By 1851 John (1st) had passed away but Harriot, an annuitant, was still at ‘Garden Cottage’. With her was John (2nd) who had married Mary and had 4 children of his own. These were Oliver (1846), John (3rd) born in 1847 and Harriot (1849).
Also in the household was Maria Scott, Harriot’s daughter, her husband William who was a ‘Stone Mason ‘from Stillingfleet and their 7 month old son William who had been born in Grimsby.
At the time of the census in 1861 Harriot had also passed away and John (2nd) was living in the High Street with his expanded family. In addition to the four above there was Francis aged 18, who did not appear on the last census, Thomas (1) born in 1851, Joseph (1854) and George (1858). John’s Brother 24 year old William was a lodger with them. John was employed as a ‘Labourer’. Others that did not appear on the census were Edward (17), John (14) and Harriet (12).
Ten years on the 1871 census data shows that the family were still in the High Street. Oliver, Thomas, Joseph and George were still with their parents along with William Scott, John’s nephew. Thomas married Emma Chadwick in 1873 (although in GRO records he is entered as Thomas Miller).
By 1881 Mary had died and 60 year old John was living with 42 year old son William. Also in the house was Caroline Richardson (37) described as a ‘General Servant’ and the two children Mary aged 11 and Joseph aged 1. It is probable that William and Caroline were in a relationship.
Thomas (1) had married Emma from Brotherton and was also living in the High Street with children Joseph aged 6 and Thomas (2nd) aged 1.
The family had moved to Jackson’s Yard and expanded by 1891 to include Frank (1885), Maria (1889) and Matthew (1890). There was also a lodger called Matthew Chadwick, probably Emma’s brother. Both Thomas (1) and son Joseph were employed as ‘Basket Willow Labourers’. Later in 1891 Joseph was killed in a fire at Wheldale Colliery with 4 other men, (see description of the incident at end of account).
At the turn of the century in 1901 the Milner’s were still living in Jackson’s Yard but eldest son Joseph had left home. Yet another Chadwick - George Harry was with the family, replacing Matthew. Thomas (2nd) was now employed as a ‘Miner’ whilst brother Frank was a ‘Glassblower’. Next door to them lived the Mattison family and on December 26th 1908 Thomas (2nd) married Frances Sarah Mattison (also known as Fanny).
By the time of the 1911 census Thomas (2nd) was living with his wife and I year old son Wilfred in the home of her parents who had moved on to the High Street. He was still mining and probably employed at the Prince of Wales Colliery as this is stated in his army records. Thomas (1) aged 60 and Emma were in Jackson’s Yard but only youngest son Walter was now living with them and a Willow Labourer’ like his father.
Over the next few years a number of changes occurred. Thomas (2nd) was to expand his family to include Thomas (3rd) in 1911, Ethel (1912), Monica (1914 and George Alfred (?). The family also moved into their own home in Low Street but at a later date moved again to Blackburn’s Yard.
By the time Thomas joined the army in 1915 his father had moved into what must have been a newly built house at Belmont.
After the War Thomas returned to his family and resumed his former occupation as a miner at Fryston Colliery. His brother-in-law, Thomas Mattison was not so lucky having been killed in action back on 26/9/1915.
It is noted that in ‘later’ life Thomas had a ‘shakey arm’ and hand which might possibly have been due to the onset of Parkinson’s disease or from his days as a driver in the RFA. All nine of Thomas and Fanny’s children survived into adulthood and 3 of his sons are known to have served in WW2. One of these was Wilfred who served as a Regimental Sergeant Major in the Royal Artillery in Greece in 1945 during a military career lasting 22 years. Wilfred died in 1984. Alf (George Alfred) also served in the army including a spell in India. Harry joined the RAF.
Thomas Milner died in 1939 aged 68 and his widow Frances Sarah in 1962.
The photograph shows no 15 & 16 Belmont Brotherton. The house on the end is the one that Thomas Milner (1) moved into almost 100 years ago.
Since then it has been continuously occupied by members of the Milner family with the current occupier Peter Milner and his wife Margaret moving in in 1962 after the death of Peter’s grandmother Frances Sarah. Thomas (2) occupied the house next door - No. 16 - sometime after he was discharged from the army and raised his family there including the above named Peter.
The single row of terrace houses at the back of the estate are the only ones still standing as the rest of the estate was demolished and replaced with single storey building.
This account makes use of information supplied by Peter Milner the great nephew of Thomas and Frances Sarah. Contributions also by Peter Milner the grandson of Thomas and Frances Sarah.