20926 Private John Charles Milton, 5th & 2nd Battalions, Coldstream Guards
Born on 5th March 1892 at Digswell Water near Welwyn, Herts
Died on 29th July 1984 in Ringshall
John Charles (Jack) Milton was born at Digswell Water, the eldest of the 7 sons of Charles Milton and Charlotte née Clark. He was baptised at St John’s Church, Digswell on 17th April 1892. His father was a Shepherd.
His brothers were:
- Arthur William, born 2nd April 1894
- Bertie, born 20th June 1896
- Edwin, born 14th October 1898
- Wilfred Harold, born 17th August 1900
- Horace, born 25th March 1903
- George Thomas, born 2nd May 1907
His brothers Arthur and Bertie were born in Hertford, Edwin in Ivinghoe and Wilfred in Dagnall. By 1901, the family lived at 5 Dagnall. His father still worked as a Shepherd and John, 9, Bertie, 6 and Edwin, 4 were all at school. Wilfred, however, was a baby aged 6 months.
The National School Admission Register for Ivinghoe School shows that John Milton attended briefly as an Infant, between 4th September and 20th October 1899. A note then reads “Gone to Gaddesden”. However, in the Little Gaddesden School Log Book, there is no mention of him. As the family moved to Dagnall, he and his brothers probably attended Dagnall School.
The 1911 Census shows 19 year old John Milton working as a Farm Labourer and living at 5 Dagnall with his parents and brothers. Arthur, 17 and Bertie, 14 were Farm Labourers, while Edwin, 12, Wilfred, 10, Horace, 8 and George, 3 were then all at school.
To Ringshall 6
However, according to his Service Record, by 11th December 1915, John Milton lived at 22 Ringshall. That was the home of Charles and Elizabeth Collier, his future wife’s parents.
John, a Farm Horsekeeper aged 23 years 8 months, attested at Berkhamsted on 11th December 1915, to serve for the duration of the War. The next day, he was posted to the Army Reserve in which he remained until 12th December 1916. He was then 5 feet 9½ inches tall, weighed 137 pounds and had a 36½ inch chest. He attested under Lord Derby’s Scheme, more properly called the Group System, undertaking to serve when called up to do so. As a single man born in 1892, he was originally in Group 6, which was mobilised on 8th February 1916. However, John was not mobilised until a year after he attested.
On 14th October 1916, John Charles Milton, 24, married Frances Elizabeth Ann Collier, 26, at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden. John, still in the Army Reserve, is recorded as a Horsekeeper of Dagnall and son of Charles Milton, Shepherd, while Frances, of 22 Ringshall, was the daughter of Charles Collier, Gardener.
Through his marriage to Frances, John became brother-in-law of Victor Collier, who is named on the Little Gaddesden Rolls of Honour. Victor Collier had volunteered for the Bedfordshire Regiment in 1914 but was quickly discharged because of deafness. However, on 1st November 1916, two weeks after his sister’s wedding, Victor was called up for the Royal Horse Artillery in which he served at home and later in India until January 1920.
On 12th December 1916, six weeks after his marriage, John Milton was mobilised and posted to the 5th (Reserve) Battalion, Coldstream Guards. He was posted to Caterham in Surrey. He served as a Private, Service Number 20926 and remained in the 5th Battalion until 27th December 1917. However, between 4th and 25th May 1917, he spent 22 nights in hospital in Caterham suffering from Bronchitis; he was then granted 28 days’ furlough.
Then, on 28th December 1917, John was posted to the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards. He sailed from Southampton next day, arriving at Le Havre on 30th December 1917. He then joined the 2nd Battalion on 3rd January 1918; it formed part of the 1st Guards Brigade in the Guards Division. During 1918, the Battalion was involved in the following battles:
- The First Battles of the Somme 1918 – the Battle of St Quentin, the Battle of Bapaume and the First Battle of Arras 1918.
- The Second Battles of the Somme 1918 – the Battle of Albert and the Second Battle of Bapaume.
- The One Hundred Days Offensive – the Battle of Havrincourt, the Battle of the Canal du Nord, the Battle of Cambrai 1918 and the Battle of the Selle.
On Armistice Day, the Battalion was located North East of Maubeuge on the Sambre River, close to the Belgian border. Then, between 28th November and 12th December, John Milton was granted leave in the UK. However, on 2nd January 1919, he returned briefly to the Guards Division Base Depot in France before finally returning to England on 18th January 1919. A month later, on 18th February 1919, he was demobilised and transferred to Class Z Reserve. For his War Service, John was awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
An addition to the Little Gaddesden Roll of Honour 14
The original, pre-Second World War, wording on the left hand panel of the Little Gaddesden War Memorial on the village green, read:
This memorial is erected in honour of the one hundred and thirty six men who went from the villages of Little Gaddesden, Hudnall and Ringshall and served in the war of 1914 = 1918. The names of those who gave their lives for their country are cut on the stones here. The names of those who returned to England are preserved in the Church.
However, the Church Roll of Honour lists only 119 men; one of those omitted is John Charles “Jack” Milton, possibly because his association with the village was the result of his marriage rather than his upbringing. His name has been added to the 2018 Centenary Revision of the Roll of Honour. His brother-in-law, Victor Collier, Royal Horse Artillery is named on both the original and the Centenary Rolls.
On demobilisation, John Milton returned to 22 Ringshall, where he lived for the rest of his life. He returned to work as a Farm Labourer, for William Ashby at Dagnall.
The 1939 Register shows him working as a Coal and Builders’ Merchant Lorry Driver; he was also a member of the A.R.P Fire Service. Frances had “Unpaid Domestic Duties” and her widowed mother Elizabeth Collier, who lived with them, was incapacitated.
Elizabeth died in November 1941 and Frances on 27th December 1953.
The last of the Ashridge Estate tenants 18
In his 1983 book “Little Gaddesden and Ashridge”, the Rector, Canon Howard Senar, noted that 22 Ringshall was at that time the home of Mr John Milton, the last of the original tenants who purchased their homes from the Ashridge Estate when it was sold up during the 1920s. In 1983 John was 91 years old.
92 year old John Charles Milton of 22 Ringshall died on 29th July 1984. Then, on 2nd August, he was buried in the new churchyard of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden.
9. Little Gaddesden Marriage Register
14. Leonhardt, John (ed), 2002, A Century Remembered – a celebration of the Millennium in Little Gaddesden, Rural Heritage Society of Little Gaddesden, Ringshall and Ashridge
17. Little Gaddesden Burial Register
18. Senar, H (1983), Little Gaddesden and Ashridge, Phillimore & Co. Ltd.
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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson