Witness to an atrocity

HMS Suffolk anchored in Shanghai in 1937.

HMS Suffolk anchored in Shanghai in 1937.

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My recent photographs of the China Station and the British fleet anchored in Shanghai harbour brought a letter from George Milliner about an awful experience his father William had when based there.

Royal Marine William Milliner was drafted to the new cruiser HMS Birmingham in November 1937. The following January he became engaged and a few weeks later Birmingham left for the China Station.

As a corporal William was appointed ship’s postman and in the course of his duties he became a frequent witness to Japanese atrocities while ashore.

On one occasion he recalled what took place in Shanghai post office. A Japanese patrol rushed in and the officer beheaded the Chinese postmaster there and then in front of William.

Although covered in the unfortunate man’s blood, William still had the presence of mind to grab the mailbag as he fled. Imagine the reaction when he returned on board.

He was still aboard Birmingham when she took part in the evacuation of troops at the end of the ill-fated Norwegian campaign in the Second World War.

In July 1940 he was married and joined the new battleship King George V where he was a member of the X turret team during the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck.

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