The McMillans originated from Manchester and lived there until about 1893, when they moved to Heaton Moor. On 17 December 1885, George was born in Chorlton on Medlock, Manchester, as was his older sister, Amy, and younger brother, John. Two other brothers, Sydney and Herbert, were born in Heaton Moor.
At the time of the 1901 Census, John McMillan was a successful mercantile clerk in his mid-forties. His wife Mary was also 46. They were living at 8 Gladstone Grove, Heaton Moor with the children. Perhaps the word “clerk” might underestimate John’s occupation, because the family could afford to employ a live-in general servant (at the Census, 23 year old Ellen Malamphy).
Little is known about George’s early life but, for a while before the war he was the Honorary Secretary of the Heaton Mersey Lads’ Club. He had been educated at Manchester Grammar School. Also in his spare time, he had also been a member of the Territorial Army, serving for three years in the Royal Army Medical Corps, but his required service period had ended, so he was not mobilised when War was declared August 1914. He worked as a clerk for the District Bank.
He joined the army, at Salford, on 24 September 1914, shortly after war was declared, intending to join the Lancashire Fusiliers, but was assigned to the 24th Battalion Royal Fusiliers as a private (service number 5259). This was commonly known as the 2nd Sportsman’s Battalion of the Regiment, after the many recruits who were accomplished athletes. It is not known if George had any particular sporting talent. His enlistment papers show he was just over five feet eight inches tall and had a 34 inch chest (which he could expand a further 2.5 inches). He had dark hair, brown eyes and was of a fresh complexion.
Whilst still in training at Woodcote Park, he was transferred to the 29th Battalion on 14 June 1915. A week later he was in trouble for “irregular conduct on the march” and was confined to barracks for eight days. On 14 April 1916, he was transferred to the 21st Battalion and, now at Bethune in France, found himself in trouble again, on the 17th, when he failed to comply with an order and was confined to barracks for two days. A further move, on 9 June, was to the 12th Battalion and he joined this unit In France as part of a draft of replacements for casualties.
Many young men from middle class backgrounds were selected to become officers within weeks of enlisting but it was not until 25 April 1917 that George left the Fusiliers to train for his commission. He had originally applied in January 1915, but his application was rejected. He applied again on 1 March 1916 and was originally selected to join 17th Officer Cadet Battalion at Rhyl from 8 January 1917 but this must have been postponed until the April
The Army was hard-pressed for officers by this stage of the War and George was only away from the front for a few weeks, before he joined the 2nd East Lancashires as a 2nd Lieutenant on 11 June 1917. Less than two months later he would be dead.
George would become another casualty of the first day of the Third Battle of Ypres, commonly known as Passchendaele. The 2nd East Lancashires would attack with the other battalions from their Brigade. The 1st Worcestershires and 2nd Northants. would lead the attack capturing enemy positions east of Bellewaarde Lake, a couple of kilometres outside the town centre of the Belgian town of Ypres (now Ieper). George’s Battalion, together with the 1st Sherwood Foresters, would then leapfrog the leading units to capture the second objectives on the crest of the Westhoek ridge.
The men were in their assembly trenches by 1am on the 31st and attacked, on schedule at 5am. Half of “C” and “D” Companies captured the first line of German trenches. The remaining men of these Companies carried on and captured the support trenches a little further on. At this point, half of “A” Company moved forward into what was now No Man’s Land and set up an outpost line, mainly in shell holes, about 150 yards further still. The other men of “A” Company acted as carriers through the attack, bringing up fresh supplies of ammunition, etc. The fourth company, “B”, acted as “moppers up” dealing with any pockets of German resistance, such as men in dugouts.
The East Lancashires consolidated their newly won positions and were able to beat off three enemy counter attacks during the day with the use of Lewis Gun (light machine gun), mortar and rifle grenade fire. They were also shelled heavily by German artillery. The Battalion had suffered nearly 70 fatalities during the attack and the following hours and, probably, four times that number wounded. During the afternoon, it started to rain and the ground quickly turned to mud. Over the coming days and weeks, it remained unsafe to venture out to collect the dead and many bodies simply disappeared into the mud. George’s body was never recovered and identified and his name is inscribed on the Memorial to the Missing at Ieper.
Amongst George’s effects that were sent home to his family were a number of letters and photos. He also had a steel mirror in a case, fountain pen, cigarette case and a slightly damaged wallet. He also had a supply of visiting cards.
In the early 1920s, the McMillan were still living in Heaton Moor but had moved to 11 King’s Drive.