Monday, 4 January 2010

William Millington—the sailor injured at Jutland

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Terence’s older brother, William Millington holding a baby. The name of his ship on his hat band was HMS Racer. In 1916 William was injured during the battle of Jutland, a ferocious sea battle off the coast of Denmark. My father’s cousin Brian has uncovered the proud record of William’s long naval service.

When I started my family history research in the 1990s, I was intrigued by the story told to me by my father’s older sister, Kathleen Robinson, appertaining to her father’s Uncle Bill. She was referring to William Millington, the brother of my great grandfather Terence (son of Alice and John).

Like many of Kath’s stories, some of the detail got slightly blurred in it’s transmission through two generations, but on the whole it has proved to have been remarkably close to the reality of the situation and the knowledge she gave me eventually led to my father’s cousin Brian uncovering very detailed factual records.

The trail began when Kath told me in 1999:

"My father was very fond of his Uncle Bill who died at Jutland in the Great War. We weren’t born then, but dad used to speak fondly about him. He was killed in action on a gun ship. Uncle Bill was our granddad Terence’s brother".

Initially there were no records appertaining to William or to his service record. There was a marriage of a William Joseph Millington registered in Birmingham in 1905, but I have no further details to clarify whether or not this was he.

In spite of making various searches of the records of the men who died in the Great War, there did not seem to be a record for a William Millington fitting our profile and yet Kath had been very specific in referring to the battle of Jutland which was a sea battle in 1916.

Brian Millington’s side of the family had a photograph of William in his naval uniform, holding an infant child. On the young sailor’s hat is HMS Racer and on his uniform he has three stripes. Brian’s research established that HMS Racer was the name for Royal Naval College Osbourne, which existed from 1903 to 1921. Brian speculated that perhaps William had been a training instructor at Osbourne, which is on the Isle of Wight, as he would have been 27 years old when the college opened.

Brian’s investigations thus led him to a naval expert on the Isle of Wight named David Gallop. Mr Gallop searched his records appertaining to the actual College, which used to train young officer cadets from the age of 12 and a half years old. His records included training officers and education staff, but not the ship’s company.

David Gallop suggested that from the photograph, William would have been a seaman (Ableseaman) or stoker. There is nothing over the stripes to say that he was a petty officer (crossed anchors with crown above) or leading hand / killick (single anchor).

Mr Gallop continued:

“The three stripes indicate that he was of unblemished character; they are called good conduct badges, given at 3 years, 8 years and 13 years. The maximum number of stripes that were given was three. So knowing that and the fact that his ’time’ would only start from the age of 18 (called ’mans time’) and that he was born in 1876, this would indicate to me that he must have been 31 plus when the photograph was taken, so this must have been about 1907 or after”

“The printout of HMS Racer at Osbourne would state that she was at Osbourne until 1914, that is when the college was named HMS Osbourne. So with this information you are now looking for a William Millington who was an ableseaman / stoker, ships company and was on board HMS Racer between 1907 and 1914, which narrows it down to just 7 years”.

Whilst David Gallop was unable to find a more specific record for William Millington, either at Osbourne or amongst those killed in the Battle of Jutland, he was able to send additional details about HMS Racer itself.

HMS Racer was attached to the naval training centre at Osbourne House, Queen Victoria died here in 1901


The ship was a 167 ft sloop built in Devonport and launched in 1884. During the 1880s Racer saw action around the coast of Africa and the Mediterranean, before being sent to America. In 1903, HMS Racer became attached to the new training centre based at Queen Victoria’s old residence at Osbourne. When the Great War started in 1914, Racer was converted to a salvage ship and continued to be used in this capacity until 1928 when the ship was sold and broken up.
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