I’ve been researching my family tree for almost a decade now. I’ve tracked the family back in Yorkshire, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire to the 18th century. Its not generally a tale of glamour – just good honest folk (in the main) struggling to make a living. My family tended to be the labourers in rented houses for generation after generation.
My father remembered visiting the Miller ancestors in Norfolk – particularly in Hilgay and Ten Mile Bank. As part of the research I visited the village and unsurprisingly it has changed enormously. The addresses which appear on censuses change regularly which suggests they were having to take what accommodation they could get. There are still a couple of examples in Hilgay of the small cottages that large families of farm workers would share. For a couple of centuries at least the Miller family failed to break out of poverty and hard work. At the start of the 20th century my grandfather made the move to the North East to work in the burgeoning iron industry and another group had headed south to work on London’s new sewerage system. But there still remained Millers, Warrens and Greens in the area. For them the only escape was the Army. We have hints of service in the Boer War and then came the Great War. Our genealogical interest focused for a while on W. Miller whose name is engraved on the war memorial in Hilgay.
We knew of a soldier in uniform whose photograph was always above the mantelpiece in the family home in Ten Mile Bank but my father never knew who it was and the photograph no longer exists (unless any reader can help). He did know that there was a Billy Miller spoken of who was my grand-uncle (the son of my father’s grandfather Henry Miller). The first challenge was to try and identify whether the W. Miller on the war memorial was “one of ours”. There were two William Millers born around the same time in Hilgay and through looking at the census we could see that they are both part of the family tree. Trying to track military records was hampered by the sheer number of William Millers who served and the challenge that half the WW1 records were destroyed by fire. My brother and I finally unpicked the mystery and found a story of determination and bravery with a sad ending.
William Miller was born in 1893 and was at school in Hilgay when the 1901 census was taken. He lived with his father Henry and Mother Mary (Green Warren). Henry was a labourer and had three other children – Harry, Daisy and Sarah. As is usually the case by 1911 Daisy had left to the neighbouring village of Ten Mile Bank and poor Sarah had died aged six.
William joined the Norfolk Regiment in 1911 but was discharged in May 1913 due to his varicose veins. He tried again and was accepted by the Norfolk Regiment a second time in September 1914 aged 20. He trained in England before being discharged with Good Character on 18th November 1914. On the notice of discharge it declares him as “not likely to become an efficient soldier” presumably again due to his varicose veins. Amazingly he reapplied in January 2015 and was accepted by the Royal Field Artillery as a Gunner. He joined the British Expeditionary Force and sadly joined the thousands killed at Ypres on 21st September 1917. An online reference to one of his comrades reads
“The 59th Division, in which he was serving, had just relieved the 55th (West Lancashire) Division after attack in the area of Gravenstafel. On 20th September, 1917, assembling around Goldfish Chateau, just outside Ypres, the 59th moved up into the salient and Divisional HQ was set up in a pillbox on the eastern bank of the Ypres Canal. It is believed Walter together with Gunner Joseph Thomas Greer, Gunner W. Miller, Bombardier W.H. Deacon and Second Lieutenant S.T. Fox were all killed by a direct hit on the Ammunition Column they were in by an ‘Aeroplane Bomb’, possibly dropped from a Fokker! All the fallen comrades were buried, near each other, at Birr Cross Roads Cemetery, Menin Road, Ypres, Belgium.”
Gunner William “Billy” Miller is buried at the war cemetery at Leper (Ypres) and his name is on the Hilgay War Memorial. Thank you to the Downham Royal British Legion for their help in providing vital information linking the name on the memorial to our William.
If you have any further information about the Warrens, Greens and Millers of Hilgay and Ten Mile Bank I would love to hear from you.