Leading Seaman Sydney Stephen Milliner

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in New York.

The grave of Leading Seaman Sydney Milliner
The grave of Leading Seaman Sydney Milliner

Sydney Stephen Milliner was born on 8 December 1873 at Sittingbourne in Kent, the son of Richard and Louisa Milliner. The couple had two daughters and three sons before Louisa died on 8 December 1879.[1] By then the family had moved to Sandwich. The younger children were brought up by their aunt Rosa, a widow who brought three children of her own into the family, and later had two more children with Richard.[2]

Milliner, who worked as a labourer, enrolled in Royal Naval Reserve on 1 June 1895; he was allocated the number 1708A.[3] Early in 1897, he married Matilda Foster Dray in Ramsgate and later that year their daughter, Jessie Florence, was born.[4] By the turn of the century the marriage had ended—his wife and daughter were living with his wife’s future husband, and Sydney Milliner was working for the North Eastern Railway on a dredger at Tyne Dock; he lived in South Shields.

In late 1904 he married Catherine Hindhaugh, a local girl with two children from her marriage to a sailor who had drowned in the River Thames in 1901.[5] The couple had two children—Sydney born in 1905 and Florence in 1909.[6]

HMS Bacchante
HMS Bacchante

Milliner trained with the Royal Naval Reserve up to the outbreak of war when he was mobilised and joined the crew of the recommissioned cruiser HMS Bacchante. He served in Bacchante for a year taking part in the first naval battle of the war—the Battle of Heligoland Bight—although Bacchante did not engage the enemy. In October 1914 HMS Bacchante was transferred to 12th Cruiser Squadron and tasked with escorting ships to Gibraltar. Bacchante and her sister ship HMS Euryalus were sent to reinforce the defence of the Suez Canal in January 1915 and in March were sent north, to take part in the operations at Gallipoli. Bacchante conducted bombardments of Turkish positions during the landing at Anzac Cove and in later operations there.

Royal Naval Reserve Long Service & Good Conduct Medal
Royal Naval Reserve Long Service & Good Conduct Medal

On 25 August 1915 Able Seaman Milliner was discharged to HMS Europa at Mudros to await passage for England. He reported to HMS Pembroke, the shore based gunnery training establishment at Chatham, on 29 September for training as a gunner on defensively armed merchants ships. While at Chatham he was promoted to Leading Seaman on 7 December and in February 1916 he joined SS Canonesa, an armed cargo ship. For his 15 years’ service, Able Seaman Milliner was awarded the Royal Naval Reserve Long Service and Good Conduct Medal on 9 June 1916.

In April 1918 he returned to Chatham and qualified as a Senior Gunner. His final voyage was in the 4,782-ton cargo ship SS Batsford, which crossed the Atlantic from Weymouth to Portland, Maine in December 1918 and arrived in New York on 23 December. Milliner was the gun captain in Batsford, which had two other gunners—Thomas Horwood, a Canadian, and John Hunn. The crew had been struck by influenza and nine seamen were sent to hospital, including Leading Seaman Milliner.

SS Batsford
SS Batsford

He died of pneumonia in St Peter’s Hospital, Brooklyn on 11 January 1919 and is buried in the Nazareth section in The Evergreens Cemetery. There are 12 other CWGC burials in this cemetery.[7]

Leading Seaman Milliner is commemorated on the North Eastern Railway Memorial in York. The names originally engraved on the stone memorial have been recorded on bronze panels nearby.

North Eastern Railway Memorial, York
North Eastern Railway Memorial, York

His medals group comprises the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal, and Royal Naval Reserve Long Service & Good Conduct Medal.

His son, Sydney, was killed on 24 May 1943 when his house in Marsden Street was hit in the last German bombing raid on South Shields—in total, 28 civilians were killed. He is commemorated on the memorial of the Church of St. Michael and All Angels.

Acknowledgement:
William P. Gonzalez for the photograph of Leading Seaman Milliner’s grave.


1. (Back) Richard Milliner (1843-September 1927) married Louisa Knott (1846-8 December 1879) in the summer of 1870: Rose Mary (1871-NK); Florence Sarah (later Barnes) (1872-NK); Albert James (1876-17 October 1959); and Frank Richard (1878-1948).
2. (Back) Rosa (1857-NK) had married George Cotton, who died before 1891. They had three children: Edith Amelia G. Cotton (1886-1898); Blanch Louise Cotton (1889-1948); and Edward M Cotton (1887). Rosa then had two children with Richard Milliner: Herbert Milliner Cotton (23 August 1891-1980); and Minnie Milliner Cotton (later Burke) (14 October 1894-1988).
3. (Back) By the time of his death, in his third period of engagement his number had become 1708C.
4. (Back) Matilda Foster Dray (later Milliner, later Pratt) (1875-1955). Jessie Florence (later Wood) (1897-22 December 1950).
5. (Back) Catherine Small (1876-1957) married Gabriel Hindhaugh (1864-5 December 1901) in 1897 at South Shields: Catherine (later Outson) (12 November 1900-1991); and Gabriella ‘Ella’ (1902-NK).
6. (Back) Sydney (1905-1943); and Florence May (later Child) (19 March 1910-1990).
7. (Back) See also: Serjeant George Birkenhead, Trimmer John Walter Bowles, Able Seaman Thomas Drinkwater, Private William Richard Eveleigh, Leading Seaman William Charles John Geeves, Trimmer Percy Hyett, Able Seaman Patrick McDonagh, Stoker 1st Class Henry John Gardner Miller, Fireman Low On, Scullion William B. Parr, Stoker 1st Class Alfred Weeden, and Leading Seaman Sam Gordon Wills.

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