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Regimental History

Victoria Cross Holders of the King's Own Royal Regiment

Private James Miller VC

Victoria Cross awarded posthumously to Private James Miller, number 12639, 7th (Service) Battalion, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment

James Miller was born on 13th March, 1890 at Taylor’s Farm, Hoghton, near Preston, the son of George and Mary Miller. The family later moved to 1 Ollerton Terrace, Withnell, near Chorley and James worked in the local paper mill at Withnell Fold. On the outbreak of war he enlisted and as Number 12639, Private James Miller and joined one of Kitchener’s New Army Units, the 7th Battalion King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, which was raised at Bowerham Barracks in September 1914.

He went overseas with 7th Battalion King’s Own in July 1915 and saw action at Lens and Loos in the Autumn, prior 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 near Bazentin-le-Petit on 30th July, Private Miller was ordered to take a message during a break in communications. The 'London Gazette' recorded the subsequent act of gallantry for which Private Miller received a posthumous Victoria Cross:-

“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 through his abdomen. In spite of this, with heroic courage and self-sacrifice, he compressed the gaping wound in his abdomen, delivered his message, staggered back with his answer, and fell dead at the feet of the officer to whom he delivered it. He gave his life with a supreme devotion to duty.”

Private Miller is buried in Dartmoor Cemetery near Becordel on the Somme. In his home village of Withnell a memorial, in the form of a Celtic Cross of Cornish granite, was erected by public subscription on the edge of the village churchyard. The memorial was cleaned and restored in 1988. The Victoria Cross was presented to Private Miller's father by King George V at Buckingham Palace. Ellis Williams, a former Colour Sergeant in the King’s Own and the then Secretary of the Old Comrades Association, recorded Miller’s gallantry in a Contemporary poem entitled “The Message”.

His Victoria Cross was donated to the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum by his family in September 1989.


Private James Miller VC
Accession Number: KO1342/01


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

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

         
Three different versions of "The Story of the Message" sold to raise funds for the British Red Cross Association.
Accession Numbers: KO0272/05, KO0418/05 and KO1731/03

 
 
Poem, The Story of the Message by Ellis Williams, Honorary Secretary The King’s Own Old Comrades’ Association. To the Glorious Memory of Private James Miller VC.
Proceeds for the British Red Cross Association.
Acquired by donor’s mother, Annie Turner, born at Longridge, in 1900. Living at small farm at Wheelton, the next village to Withnell where James Miller had lived. Kept in the family and regularly looked at over the past years.
Accession Number: KO3125/01

Cigarette Card: The Great War: Victoria Cross Heroes

    
Cigarette Card Private James Miller VC.
Issued by Gallaher Ltd, Belfast & London. The Great War, Victoria Cross Heroes. 6th Series of 25. Card number 140.
Accession Number: KO2304/02

    
Left: Private James Miller's shaving mirror and case, showing the damaged caused by one of the bullets which killed him.  The mirror is on permanent display in the King's Own Museum.  Right: Private Miller's Victoria Cross and case of issue.
Accession Number: KO1731/02 and KO1731/01

 
Detail of Victoria Cross, front and rear.
Accession Number: KO1731/01


The grave of Private James Miller in Dartmoor Military Cemetery, photographed in 1989.  His Victoria Cross is attached the the headstone.  It was later donated to the Regimental Museum by his family.
Accession Number: KO1731/04


Private Miller is buried in Dartmoor Cemetery near Becordel on the Somme. In his home village of Withnell, Lancashire, a memorial, in the form of a Celtic Cross of Cornish granite, was erected by public subscription on the edge of the village churchyard. The memorial was cleaned and restored in 1988.
Accession Number: KO1731/05


Memorial Cross, at Withnell, near Chorley, Lancashire.
Accession Number: KO1731/06

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