William Milne took up the profession that so many Europeans who came to Canada in those days took; Farming. Handy sized 160 acre lots of prairie were available by a wise Canadian government who knew that the opening-up of the West to immigrant settlers and their subsequent development of these lands benefitted the Dominion as well. All that was required was hard back breaking work to tame it.
As the First World War took hold of the British Empire, many rushed to the colours and many did so at a more relaxed pace. Many of those British-born had begun to benefit from their efforts and were not drawn immediately to enlistment and some were anxious to return to the British Isles. While patriotism must have played a large part, some must have found it a convenient excuse to “go home” after failing to find their fortunes or finding the toil too much. Statistically, those from the British Isles did less well in the rural Canadian settlement and British-born made up almost 70% the CEF enlistments early in the war. William Milne’s fortunes as a Farmer are not specifically recorded but it was not until a full year into the War that he enlisted in the 46th Battalion of the CEF in Moose Jaw SK, in September 1915. He was 23 years old.
Arriving in the UK with his Battalion in November 1915, Pte Milne’s Service File is rather bare until April 1916 when he spent alternating stints in Hospital in Aldershot and Bramshott for Influenza and Venereal Disease. Considered almost a self-inflicted wound, he was appropriately docked sixty cents a day in pay for his VD. He transferred to the Continent in June 1916 and joined the 16th Battalion in the Field. Here Canadians would serve on the great Somme battlefields until November. Although his actions at his Divisions battles at Flers-Courcelette and Ancre Heights are not recorded in his file, Pte Milne remained on strength with his Battalion despite repeated visits to Field Ambulance Units for Influenza complaints throughout the winter of 1916/17.
On the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the 9th of April 1917, Pte Milne and 16th Battalion as part of 3rd Brigade 1st Canadian Division were on the right of the Canadian Corps and have the furthest to advance to gain the day’s objectives. Almost as soon as his Battalion rose out of their jumping off trenches, Pte William Johnstone Milne noticed an enemy machine gun holding up the advance to their first objective at Black Line. Skillfully creeping by crawling on his hands and knees with a bag of grenades over his shoulder, through mud and shell holes, he approached the enemy position unseen and threw a grenade. The blast destroyed some of the crew and demoralized the rest into surrendering., the MG was captured and the advance continued. Later, in front of the Red Line, 16th Battalion was again held up by enemy fire. Milne again crept forward hole to hole and again made use of a grenade to blast an MG in a camouflaged concrete pillbox. He completed its submission with a bayonet attack that demoralized the MG crew to the point of surrender. Again, the advance continued but at some point, shortly thereafter and in some unknown manner, Pte Milne met his end on the Vimy battlefield. Although seen to fall, his remains were never recovered but he is enshrined on the Vimy Memorial and his Victoria Cross and two war medals are displayed at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.