Don’t believe everything you read: story of Winston Churchill Millington, DCM

I am doing some research on Caribbeans who served in the First World War for a talk in October. I want to include some case studies for people who received gallantry awards. I ran an internet search and found a lot of websites mentioning a Winston Churchill Millington. The websites say he served in the British West Indies Regiment (BWIR) in Egypt and Palestine and received a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). Many of the web sites include a photograph of him and one links to a photograph on Flickr with him receiving the medal from Major-General Chaytor.

I was immediately suspicious because most of the websites said more-or-less the same thing and none provided more detailed information such as battalion in the BWIR, regimental number and date of announcement of the award in the London Gazette.

There is a habit for websites to repeat information without first verifying it and I hoped to find out more.

I first searched the National Archives’ catalogue for Winston Millington OR Churchill Millington across the whole catalogue = no hits. I then searched for Millington recipients of the DCM – the index is under the document reference WO 372/23. There are 11 hits but this also includes recipients of the Military Medal – none seem relevant. Most soldiers who served overseas should have received the British War Medal and if he received a medal for service in Palestine he should be found in the index to army medal rolls. There are too many Millingtons and so I limited the search  for Millingtons who served in the West India Regiment or British West Indies Regiment as these two regiments are often confused. There are only two results a Fitzroy Millington (6715) and a John Millington (6716); both of whom served in the British West Indies Regiment.

Maybe the index to DCM and the medal rolls was incomplete or there was an error in the indexing. Military-Genealogy website  has an online database to the DCM. It lists two G Millingtons and 17 recipients for the British West Indies Regiment - though checking these against the National Archives’ medal index cards only 5 are for the British West Indies Regiment and 12 for the West India Regiment.

Lastly, I checked the distribution list for soldiers from the British West indies Regiment who were demobilised or whose next of kin lived in the Caribbean (WO 329/2373). This document lists soldiers from all the Anglo-Caribbean countries except for Jamaica. I checked the lists for Trinidad and Tobago (John and Fitzroy Millington are listed) and Barbados (no Millingtons are listed).

I think that it is fair to say that someone called Winston Churchill Millington didn’t receive the DCM and didn’t serve in the British West Indies Regiment.

But is there a grain of truth in this story?

He is said to have been born in Barbados in 1893 and moved to Trinidad as a child in 1897. I searched familysearch.org which has a good database of Barbadian baptisms, births and marriages to about 1900 and I could not find anyone called Winston Millington or Winston Churchill with Churchill as either middle-name or surname (in case it was his birth surname). This could be because the index is incomplete or that he was born under a different name. A few people are recorded with Churchill as a forename but none as a surname. Millington is a common Barbadian surname.

It is possible that he is one of the two Millingtons listed and that “Winston Churchill” was a nickname he used later in life. The medal roll (WO 329/2326, p472) shows that they were both in the 5th battalion which did serve in Egypt and the Middle East.

Millingtons BWIR

They have consecutive service numbers and so were likely enrolled into the 5th battalion at the same time. Could they be brothers? If “Winston” was one these men which one was he?

The National Archives holds the surviving service papers for British soldiers who served in the First Word War and these have been indexed and digitised by Ancestry. There are papers for John Millington who was discharged on 6 June 1917 with a deformity of the toes (hammer toes) which he had from birth; he is on the Silver War Badge Roll (WO 329/3167, p2951) also on Ancestry.

His papers provide some biographical information: John Millington was born in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and his parents are recorded as Robert and Julia Millington of 75 Oxford Street. He enlisted in the 3rd battalion Trinidad Light Infantry Volunteers (private 787) on 19 February 1916 aged 19 years and 9 months (therefore born circa May 1897). He embarked for Egypt on 28 March 1917 and joined the 5th battalion on 30 April. He was invalided home on the Magdalena from Alexandra on 15 May 1917.

This therefore leaves Fitzroy as the possible candidate. An online list of the 3rd Trinidad Contingent which embarked on the Magdalena for Alexandria on 28 May 1917 lists both Millingtons and notes that Fitzroy was in the 1st battalion – many men were moved from the 5th battalion to the 1st and 2nd battalions and so he may have participated in the campaigns under Chaytor for which “Winston” is associated.

chaytor_BWI_crop

“Maj Gen Sir E W C Chaytor Commanding Australia & New Zealand Mounted Division, decorating a BWI corporal”

The photograph shows a Lance Corporal receiving an award from Major General Chaytor. The caption on Flickr  suggests that it is Winston Millington but the New Zealand Mounted Rifles website has a comment from Dr Richard Smith, researcher of the BWIR and author of the book: “Jamaican Volunteers in the First World War”  who believes the soldier pictured is: “661 Lance Corporal McCollin Leekam of Trinidad. He was gazetted in the London Gazette of 29 March 1919 as Leekham, an error which was subsequently corrected. His Lance Corporal’s stripe is clearly visible and no other BWIR L/C received a medal during this period.” Another site, the Kaiser’s Cross  also suggests that the photo is of Leekam.

The photo may not necessarily relate to Leekam either. A search of the National Archives’ catalogue reveals that there are 7 British West Indies Regiment lance corporals listed in WO 372/23: 6 were awarded Military Medals and one who was awarded the DCM. Checking the cards you can get some further information: such as theatre of war and date the award was announced in the London Gazette which could be some time after the act of bravery.

Military Medal:

  • 9741 Joseph Boyce, 7th battalion, gazetted 23 February 1918 (France)
  • 14997 Clarence Cummins, 4th battalion, gazetted ? (France)
  • 18 Thomas N Alexander, gazetted 18 October 1917 (Egypt)
  • 2441 Vere E Johns, 1st battalion, gazetted 2 April 1918 (Egypt)
  • 661 McCollin Leekam (amended from Leekham), gazetted 29 March 1919 (Egypt) – 1st battalion
  • 2063 David Soloman Sampson, gazetted 3 July 1919 (Egypt) – 2nd battalion

Distinguished Conduct Medal

  • 503 Richard Turpin, gazetted 17 April 1919 (Egypt) – 1st battalion

Chaytor was in command of the 1st and 2nd British West Indies Regiment in September 1918 in Palestine and Jordan and therefore only those who were gazetted for Egypt after September 1918 are likely candidates – which reduces the list to Sampson, Leekam and Turpin.

The war diary for the 1st battalion (WO 95/4732) adds further information – it includes an account of operations in Jordan published in the Trinidad Royal Gazette, 3 April 1919 and the issue of immediate awards for actions on the nights of 22/21 and 21/22 September 1918 and includes Leekam and Turpin – both from Trinidad.

Richard Turpin DCM

McColin Leekam

The diary for November contains citations for men who were awarded Military Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medals and Military Medals for action in Jordan and a report for 25 November 1918 when the 1st and 2nd battalions were inspected by Major General E Chaytor. It includes his speech and finishes with:

“General Chaytor then pinned on the ribbons of the decorations on those officers, NCOs and men who had received immediate awards for the operations in the Jordan Valley.”

I therefore think that the photograph relates to this occasion and so shows either 503 Lance Corporal Richard Turpin (DCM) or 661 Lance Corporal McCollin Leekam (MM).

The war diary for the 2nd battalion (WO 95/4732) for 19 November 1918 says that Sampson was awarded the Military Medal by the Commander-in-Chief Egyptian Expeditionary Force on 31 October 1918, and so may not be the person in the photograph (assuming that it relates to the inspection by Chaytor on 25 November).

———————–

Notes on images: The medal rolls and citations are from documents held by The National Archives under the references WO 329/2326 and WO 95/4732. I do not know who holds the photograph of Chaytor but I cropped the image from the New Zealand Mounted Rifles website.

 

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3 responses to “Don’t believe everything you read: story of Winston Churchill Millington, DCM

  1. Very interested to read your research as I too was not convinced who it was that General Chaytor was pinning the medal on to. Then I came across this link today with a clear picture of Lance Corporal T.M. Leekam, along with other volunteers of St. Mary’s College, as depicted in the C.I.C. Annual 1919 “War Memorial Number”, St. Mary’s College of the Immaculate Conception, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad: http://caribbeanhistoryarchives.blogspot.it/2014_04_01_archive.html
    What do you think does the LCpl in the picture getting the medal from Gen Chaytor look like LCpl Leekam in the above link? Anyone got a clear picture of LCpl Turpin?
    Regards
    Peter Jones

  2. Peter, thank you for pointing me to Gerard Besson’s blog. It is a wonderful resource for anyone researching Trinidadian servicemen in the First World War. I haven’t seen these photos before and I hope that the centenary commemorations will bring many more photos of West Indians out of boxes and albums and into the public eye.

    Having looked at the photo of Leekam I am not sure if he is the same person. However, Besson does think so and he has both photos.

  3. I am afraid that the nzmr website ID, repeated several times on the web, appears to be quite wrong.

    Corporal T.M. Leekam, MM, was of part Chinese descent, much fairer than the soldier in the picture. Leekam had a broad nose and down-turned mouth, and Chinese features. Whereas the Corporal in the picture is very dark, has a sharp nose and straight mouth. I believe the family name would have been rendered more properly as Lee Kam in Chinese. Indeed, further research suggests that he was involved in a court case in 1924 over a 1921 mortgage in which his full name is rendered as Theodore McCollin Lee Kam.

    A photographic portrait of Leekam appeared in his college magazine. This clearly confirms that he is not the person in the picture with General Chaytor. Please see here

    With best wishes,
    Christopher Buyers

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