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141 Days: The Battle of the Somme

Private James Miller VC

Private James Miller VC
Accession Number: KO1342/01

James Miller was born in March 1890 at Taylor’s Farm, Hoghton, near Preston He later moved to 1 Ollerton Terrace, Withnell, near Chorley. James worked at the local paper mill at Withnell Fold. On the outbreak of war he enlisted into one of Lord Kitchener’s New Army Units - the 7th Battalion, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.

He went overseas with the rest of the battalion in July 1915. He saw action at Lens and Loos in the Autumn before to moving to the Somme in April 1916. The battalion was in action at La Boiselle between 3rd-7th July and spent the end of the month consolidating a position near Mametz Wood and Bazentin-le-Petit.

Following the battalion’s capture of enemy positions at Bazentin-le-Petit on 30th July, Private Miller was ordered to take a message during a break in telephone communications. He carried the message under heavy shell and rifle fire across open ground. On leaving the trench he was shot in the back almost immediately. The bullet came through his abdomen. He compressed the gaping wound, delivered the message and staggered back with the answer, falling dead at the feet of the officer to whom he delivered it.

Contemporary illustration of the action for which Private Miller was awarded the VC.
Accession Number: KO2590/376 and KO1474/01

Private Miller is buried in Dartmoor Cemetery, near Becordel. In his home village of Withnell a memorial was erected by public subscription on the edge of the village churchyard. It takes the form of a Celtic Cross of Cornish Granite.

The memorial was cleaned and restored in 1988.
Accession Number: KO1731/05

The Victoria Cross was presented to George Miller, James’s father, by King George V at Buckingham Palace.
Accession Number: KO1731/01

Ellis Williams, a former Colour Sergeant in the Regiment, and the Secretary of the Old Comrades Association recorded Miller’s gallantry in a poem entitled “The Message”.


To the Glorious Memory of Pte. James Miller V.C.,
late of the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.

[No. 12639 Private JAMES MILLER, late Royal Lancaster Regiment. For most conspicuous bravery. His battalion was consolidating a position after its capture by assault. Private Miller was ordered to take an important message under heavy shell and rifle fire and to bring back a reply at all costs. He was compelled to cross the open, and on leaving the trench was shot almost immediately in the back, the bullet coming out through his abdomen, delivered his message, staggered back with the answer, and fell at the feet of the officer to whom he delivered it. He gave his life with a supreme devotion to duty. - Official Report.]

Now, put away your books, my lads; come sit you by my side;
And I’ll tell you the glorious story how Miller, of Withnell died.
I’ve told you oft of the Spartan boy, how Spartans nobly bore
Themselves to guard the narrow pass, in the grand old days of yore.
You have read great Nelson’s story, of Trafalgar, ‘cross the foam;
And also of the dauntless three who held the bridge at Rome.
I’ve told you, too, of Gordon’s death, the bravest of the brave,
And of the noble Kitchener, now gone to his ocean grave;
But none fell nobler than this lad, of Lancashire the pride,
So let your children’s children tell how Jimmy Miller died.

We had shelled the Hun from his dug-outs, our batteries had smashed him in style,
We had hurled the foe from his trenches, driven him back for a mile:
But many a hero had fallen, many a husband and son,
Who’d gone to their rest, left us weakened. Could we hold that which we had won?
So our captain cried out, “Here, Miller! A message to Company D.
I know you and trust you well, Miller, so bring back the answer to me.
You never have yet shirked a duty, you never have reasoned why;
For God’s sake do not fail me now, but bring me the reply.

I hate to ask this sacrifice, but it’s the only way,
If you but get this message through you’ll save some lives to-day.”

Just a brief salute to his officer; he cleared the trench at a bound.
He dashed out into the open, out on the shell swept ground,
With a hearty cheer from his comrades. The rest is hard to tell,
But, with scarce a score of paces gone, an angry bullet fell
And pierced him through from back to side. He halted for a span
(Ye shot not well, O marksman, to slay so brave a man!),
Then pressed his hand firm on his wound and gamely struggled on.

So got his message through at last, his short life all but gone.
“Now stay you here, brave Miller, you have nobly run your race;
And you are sorely wounded, lad. Let another take your place.”
“Don’t ask it, sir. Why waste a life? You’re open to attack.

I’ve brought this message right through hell -
I’ll take the answer back.”
Then brave men sobbed as he started off across that danger zone.
They could not, dare not, “queer his pitch”; that’s a creed in the old King’s Own.
So he reels along in his agony, now on his knees he crawls,
With his life’s blood ebbing drop by drop; a dozen stumbles and falls.
But the goal is reached as he murmurs, “Relief - sir - all - is - well.”
Then he dropped at his captain’s feet and died.
So Miller of Withnell fell.

His name is off the roll call now; so brave where all were brave.
He’s laid by gallant soldiers in his lonely honoured grave.
He saw his duty plain and straight, he went for it there and then,
So I think our Saviour won’t be hard on a man that died for men.
Cheer up, ye hearts of England! Cheer up, ye Britons all!
Bear up, ye wives and mothers, so sick at duty’s call.
The soul of our race is in men like these, who fight till latest breath,
And, like the sentinel of old, stand “faithful unto death!”
This deed yet stands aloof from all, heroic, grand, alone;
The pride of all the British race, the pride of the old King’s Own.
So when you hear folk talk of heroes tell this story far and wide,
This story of “The Message: How Miller of Withnell died.”

October, 1916.
Ellis Williams


Next: No Man's Land

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