CWG: Gunner Ernest Millgate

Gunner Ernest Millgate

Ernest Millgate was born in late 1893, the fifth of six children to Henry and Agnes. Henry was a brewer’s drayman from Boughton, Kent, but it was in nearby Faversham that he and Agnes raised their family.

Ernest found work as a labourer in the town’s Cotton Powder Works, but when war was declared, he was one of the first to enlist. He joined the Royal Garrison Artillery as a Gunner on 5th September 1914, and was billeted nearby on the Isle of Sheppey. His service records show that he stood 5ft 9ins (1.75m) tall, had fair hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion.

Gunner Millgate’s military service was to be tragically short, as a contemporary local newspaper was to report:

A terrible tragedy occurred at Minster, Sheppey, on Tuesday morning last, Ernest Millgate… who joined the Kent Heavy Battery barely a fortnight ago, being accidentally shot by a comrade, George Walter Cornelius… a gunner of three years’ service in the same Battery.

Gunner Cornelius, it appears, was handling a rifle preparatory to going on sentry duty shortly after eleven o’clock on Tuesday morning. On examining the rifle he had found that the magazine was charged but that there as no charge in the bore. Apparently the cut-off was in operation, for he pulled the trigger and there was no discharge. He examined the breech a second time and, afterwards pulled the trigger again. To his dismay there was this time a discharge and Millgate, who was standing near, fell dead, having been shot through the head. The theory is that Cornelius’ great coat, which he was wearing, caught in and released the cut-off, thereby bringing the magazine into operation.

Faversham Times and Mercury and North-East Kent Journal: Saturday 19th September 1914

An inquest was held, and it was a verdict of accidental death was given.

Gunner Ernest Millgate was just 21 years old, and had been in the service of the army for just eleven days. His body was brought back to Faversham, and he lies at rest in the town’s Borough Cemetery, just a few minutes walk from the home he had left just a fortnight before.

The same newspaper also ran a report on on Ernest’s older brother, Henry.

Private Millgate was a volunteer for the Northumberland Fusiliers, and was called into active service a couple of weeks before his brother. He had been caught up in the fighting at Mons, le Cateau and the Marne, and was, according to the newspaper, injured.

Medically evacuated to England for treatment, at the time of his brother’s funeral he was in a hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Henry survived the war; he and his wife, Elizabeth, had two children, and he lived until 1939, passing away at the age of 52 years old.

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