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Millican, A.E., Eng., 1917

Photo: Bill Richardson

Albert Edward Millican's Will

On Tower Hill Memorial is the name of Chief Engineer Albert Edward Millican, serving with the Mercantile Marine who died 15/12/1917.

W.P. Richardson has supplied the following:


Albert Edward Millican was born on the 22nd July 1874 in Sunderland. His father was Robert Millican who was born in Alston, just over the county border in Northumberland. His mother was Mary Ann who was born in Newcastle upon Tyne. At birth, he had two older brothers, Robert William and Thomas. They were joined quite soon by two more boys Alfred George and Frederick James. The 1881 census shows the family living at 37 Rutland Street in Bishopwearmouth. Robert Millican was down as being a grocer. They were at the same address in 1891 but, by then, it was Mary Ann who was the head of the household, her husband having died early in 1889. By 1901, the family had moved to 22 Hawthorn Street South. Mary Ann was still the head of the household, she was 66 and seems to have retired. The two oldest boys had moved on. Alfred was down as a joiner and Albert and Frederick were both sea-going engineers. Albert's mother died in the spring of 1906.

On 9th October 1907, Albert married Helena Jane Gardiner at the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Crook. The witnesses were F. Edwin Millican, a cousin of Albert, and Evelyn Mary Gardiner, a sister of the bride. The Gardiner family lived in the village of Sunniside just to the north of Crook and how the couple came to meet is a mystery. On the marriage certificate, there was no occupation for Helena but she was a teacher. They set up home in 61 Colchester Terrace, Sunderland which remained their home. After Albert's death, Helena went back to teaching until shortly before she died in 1935. They seem to have been active in the community and the records show that Albert was a trustee of the Cleveland Road Methodist Church which was close to where they lived. There were no children.

Albert built his career on two strands, engineering and shipping. He began work in September 1889 with Messrs John Lyon & Co as an Apprentice Fitter. He was there until February 1896 when he began work with Messrs Clark & Co as a Fitter Journeyman but only until the summer of 1897. In December 1897, he joined the crew of the Agenoria as a Third Engineer. On the 13th July 1899, he gained his Certificate for Second Class Engineer and, shortly after that, he sailed as a Second Engineer on the Simonside ship number 106408, followed in 1900 by the Birchfield ship number 93774. He obtained his Certificate for First Class Engineer on the 21st February 1901 and had voyages with the Holmlea ship number 98513, (1901, 2nd engineer), Wearside ship number 109704, (1902, 2nd & 1st engineer) Salfordia ship number 108836, (1908, 2nd & 1st engineer). These all seemed to sailing from the North East to ports on mainland Europe and the outgoing cargo would have been mainly coal.

War clouds were gathering and on the 22nd July 1912 Albert joined the crew of the Paignton ship number 130181, as the Chief Engineer. Some 5 years later, the Paignton was intercepted by a U-boat and the description of this was: PAIGNTON, 2,017grt, defensively-armed, 14 March 1917, 40 miles NW from the Skelligs, captured by a submarine, sunk by gunfire, 1 life lost. So most of the crew survived. During part of his time on the Paignton, Albert held an RNR commission. The dates were the 27th January 1916 to the 16th April 1917.

Albert went back to sea on the 7th June 1917 as Chief Engineer on the Ribera but only for a few days as the vessel was sunk at sea on the 10th June 1917 by an U-Boat U61, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Victor Dieckmann.

So on the 22nd June 1917 Albert was back on shore and needed to submit an application for a certified copy of his certificates, the originals having gone down with the Ribera.

Having received his new certificates, Albert set off to sea again. The crew lists held at the National Archives show that on the 30th September 1917 he signed on as the Chief Engineer on the St Olaf. It appears that the ship was engaged in European trade and often sailed out of Cardiff. The records show that the St Olaf sailed from Cardiff on the 15th December 1917 with a cargo of coal for Honfleur. That was the last definitive record of either the ship or most of the crew and the records simply say 'missing, presumed sunk'. One body known to have been washed ashore was that of the ship's master, W.S. Dobbing which was found on the Scilly Isles. Dobbing, who also lived in Sunderland, is in CWGC grave in St Mary's Churchyard.

Albert left a will, which was probated on the 28th October 1918. The will was short and simple with everything being left to Helena Jane. The executors were his brother Alfred and a family friend, George Carter.

Due to the uncertainty of his death, it is only briefly mentioned in Sunderland memorials. The date of death is usually given as the 18th December but the records from a U-boat which claimed the 'kill' suggest a day or two earlier than that.

But for the research which went into this story, matters might have rested there. However, an approach to the CWGC was made and was successful. Albert and those of the crew who were not previously recorded were, in October 2015, added to the list of those who died as a result of enemy action.

Albert Edward Millican is remembered in Sunderland in S140.048 Part 8, page 174 and S140.120 and on our List of Ships’ crews.

Naval History site
The CWGC entry for Chief Engineer Millican

If you know more about this person, please send the details to janet@newmp.org.uk