Abraham’s birth was registered in the third quarter of 1897 at Wolstanton. When he enlisted at Macclesfield on August 31st 1914, he gave his age as 19, when it seems likely that he was still only 17 years of age. From this we must assume that Abraham (also known as Abram) was determined to join the army even though he was not yet old enough.
He was one of at least twelve children born to bricklayer, John and his wife Elizabeth (nee Blease). John originated from Newport in Shropshire but Elizabeth and all of their children had been born at Harriseahead. Of the twelve children only one had died – possibly Harriet who may have been a twin to Charles. In 1901 the family lived at Newchapel and by 1911 had moved to Welsh Row – number 25. Abraham must have been one of the first living at Welsh Row to enlist:
Weekly Evening Sentinel – November 17th 1914
Well Done, Welsh Row
“Welsh Row, a small isolated hamlet of Biddulph, lying snugly under the shadow of Mow Cop, has done magnificently in responding to the country’s call for men. There are not many houses on this bleak hillside, but nearly every house has sent its man, either as a reservist or as a recruit in Lord Kitchener’s Army. John Henry Smith, a reservist of the Royal Field Artillery is with the Cheshires, and Albert Smith and James Barlow, both reservists, are with the 4th North Staffords. These three men write home to say that they expect to go to the front very shortly. Abraham Millward is with the Cheshires, and Joseph Higginson enlisted with the North Staffords at Lichfield last week. Three other Welsh Row men – Albert Cliffe, George Savage, and James Maxwell – are with the Territorials at Butterton Hall. Few localities around Biddulph can boast such a list.”
On enlistment, Abraham was described as of fresh complexion, with blue eyes. He was 5ft 4½in tall and he gave his occupation as bricklayer. The photograph above is of Abraham with two of his sisters. This was taken at Rowley’s on his last leave before going to France.
Rosa Rathbone is Abraham’s niece. She recalls that: “Two of his sisters, (one of whom was my mother), took him to have a photograph taken at Rowley’s shop. At that time Mr. F. Rowley was the photographer. Abraham is seen standing with his two sisters sitting either side. On the back of the photograph the name F.Rowley, Biddulph, Stoke-on-Trent, is printed. When Abraham was found the photograph was discovered in the breast pocket of his tunic and because the photographer’s name was on the back of the photograph, it was returned to Rowley’s in Biddulph. They displayed it in the window and it came to the notice of my father, Jonathan Nixon, and was returned to my family.”
The Cheshires trained at Basingstoke and Salisbury Plain in drill, marching, shooting and discipline. Training, identity discs and inoculations completed, the battalion were ready for the battlefield and were attached to 19th Western Division. Orders came to embark at the channel port for their crossing to Boulogne on July 19th 1915.
On arrival the troops marched up the hill to their rest camp before moving forward to their concentration area at St. Omer. The next few months found them holding the line in Flanders until Abraham took part in the division’s first action at Pietre in a supporting role during the Battle of Loos through September and October. His service records show that during February 1916, Abraham was in number 58 Field Hospital, suffering from scabies.
Late spring was a time when the division were preparing for a forthcoming battle; intensive activity ensued in readiness for this vital action, the Battle of the Somme. On July 1st 1916 the battle opened. The division were in lines close to the Lochnagar mines which were exploded at 7.30am and were followed by the initial attack on the enemy trenches. At this time the 9th Cheshires were held back in reserve in the Tara-Usna line, near Becourt Wood.
At 10.30pm orders came for the battalion to move forward to attack at La Boiselle. Again unbelievably heavy shelling and murderous machine gun fire took an immediate toll on the valiant men. The day had been a disaster for the British army and this late action fared no better. Sadly, it was in this action that our brave young Mow Cop soldier, Private Abraham Millward, fell on the battlefield.
Private Millward is buried in the Gordon Dump Cemetery at Ovillers-La Boiselle. He is remembered on the Biddulph memorials (as Abram Millward) and the Mow Cop memorial at St. Thomas.
Thanks to Rosa Rathbone for information.
Mike Turnock & Elaine Heathcote.