Captain William Ewart Gladstone-Millar

Captain William Ewart Gladstone-Millar

William Ewart Gladstone-Millar was born in Paisley in 1890. Educated at Paisley Grammar School, he then gained Degrees in Master of Arts and Bachelor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow. Although now a trainee minister, he volunteered as a combatant with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1915.

He did his basic training at the Regiment’s headquarters at Stirling Castle, where he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant. His first posting was to Mortonhall, on the south side of Edinburgh. Every day the soldiers marched to the training trenches in the Dreghorn Woods to prepare themselves for the horrors of the Battle of the Somme which were to await them.

In the two month battle for High Wood (July to September, 1915) 2nd Lieutenant Gladstone-Millar was shot through both legs. He found himself faced with two terrible choices – to lie where he was, hoping for the help of a German doctor and then captivity, or to try to crawl back to his own lines. He chose bravely to crawl back through the hell that was the Battle of the Somme, and was operated on in a field hospital

He was then stretchered on to a hospital train, repatriated to a military hospital at Reading, and onwards to the National War Hospital at Bangour in West Lothian, where his family and friends could visit him. After a year’s convalescence he volunteered to return to active duty.

The now promoted Captain Gladstone-Millar was recorded in action by the war artist Fred A. Farrell. The drawing depicts the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders defending the River Lawe at Locon in April 1918. The exact location recorded by Farrell can be seen on the original trench maps.

At the second Battle of the Marne in July 1918, Captain Gladstone-Millar was in charge of ‘A’ Company, as they fought alongside the French. He received his battle orders by signals, one of which instructed him to make ground to the north-west ‘consequent on any success of the French’. His Company finally advanced to the north at Montagne de Bligny where he was to win the Military Cross.

In l919 he was still serving in the Army of Occupation in Cologne, but that year he returned home to civilian life. He married, and as a Church of Scotland minister had his first parish in the Gorbals in Glasgow.

When WW2 broke out he went down to the recruiting office in Arbroath, where he now had a parish, to enlist in his old Regiment, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. He was refused as a combatant because at 49 he was deemed too old, but he was told he was needed as a Chaplain. His first posting was to be with the very secret Commando unit at Lochailort in the Highlands, and his next was to go on Operation Torch  – the invasion of North Africa in l942. His last posting in the Army was at Glencorse near Penicuik in l945, not many miles from his first in l915, at Mortonhall and the Dreghorn trenches.

Captain Gladstone-Millar had made – and lost – very many close friends in WWI. The memory weighed heavily upon him of one particular young man, 2nd Lieutenant W T Radcliffe. When 2nd Lieutenant Radcliffe was killed right beside him, Captain Gladstone-Millar had to bury him hastily in a makeshift grave. This incident took place at the 2nd Battle of the Marne.

In the l950s Captain Gladstone-Millar made a pilgrimage to this battle site to try to find the grave. On the first visit to the area he thought he had found the site in the Bois de Courton, a steep hill on the side of the Ardre valley. Standing there, his memories came flooding back of the Gordon Highlanders being ‘chewed up’ by the French 75s (large artillery guns) due to the confusion of signals flying back and forth in English and French. He had just witnessed Scots soldiers being killed by their Allies, the French.

On a subsequent visit to France, Captain Gladstone-Millar discovered that 2nd Lieutenant Radcliffe had been re-buried in the nearby Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Marfaux. Why did the memory of this particular young man haunt him so? Did he save his life? Or was it just a case of “Why me? Why was I the lucky one?”

In his journal recording the visit to the Cemetery Captain Gladstone-Millar described the scene very poignantly:

Now there is no sorrow here, only pride. There is the scent of roses and new mown hay. The sun shines in a clear sky. There is silence for a moment. There is no bird song.

 For the full story of Captain Gladstone-Millar, M.C. and his war service click here

Captain William Ewart Gladstone-Millar.
Studio portrait of Captain William Ewart Gladstone-Millar.
Officers' School of Instruction, Stirling, July-August, 1915.
Officers of 'A' Company Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in France.