Lieutenant Colonel Charles Milne
158th (Milne’s Men) Battalion
When the boys go marching through that mud, filth and slime under their pack, singing with that forced and indefinable gaiety which is the spirit of the troops, a lump comes into my throat and I can’t talk about it. I think that the devil when he sees it must laugh with glee and the angels weep tor sheer pity.
(Milne’s interview, Vancouver World, 12 Sept 1917, 1)
Charles Milne was a gentleman militia officer with the 6th Duke of Connaught’s Own Regiment. Born in Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland on 25 September 1866, he had served several years in the Gordon Highlanders before moving to Canada. In January 1916, he was authorized to raise the 158th Battalion from Vancouver.
In 1900, the 6th Regiment had been named in honour of Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, who became Governor General of Canada in 1911. When the 158th was formed it officially retained the name “The Duke of Connaught’s Own” but was colloquially known as “Milne’s Men.”
Prince Arthur inspected the battalion before it departed overseas in November 1916. After disembarking, the 158th was absorbed into the J.H.D. Hulme’s 1st Reserve Battalion. Having witnessed German bombing over London, Milne explained, “I would rather be under shellfire any time than go through one of those raids.”
Milne went on a tour of the trenches during the Vimy offensive before returning to Vancouver in September 1917. At home, he provided an unusually thorough description of his experiences overseas to the Vancouver World: “He swallowed hard and his hands shook when he detailed some of the incidents of his visit to France…”
Milne had special praise for the near-miracles performed by battlefield surgeons. He recalled one case of “a soldier whose lower jaw was shot through, with the effect of leaving the jaw sagging away at one side.” A Vancouver doctor, Capt. Flndlay, “a born mechanic,” built a machine from bicycle spokes and “other paraphernalia” to keep the soldier’s mouth open for nourishment. The surgeon then took a piece of bone from the man’s leg along with skin from his arms to build a new jaw.
According to Milne, “the only blemish to be seen is the thin white line where the skin joins, and the small mark of the original bullethole.” He added, “Even stranger things than this are being accomplished by the surgeons”
The former 158th commander concluded:
If the boys at home who could go over, could only learn of these things, their manliness alone would be sufficient to make conscription unnecessary.
What I want to do now that I am at home is to impress and sear into the minds of the folks at home that we must do something as good for these Tommies, the noble and good boys who have suffered, fought and taught the great lessons of life under the worst conditions imaginable. What can we do for these returning men?
Milne died in Los Angeles in 1949.