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  • Claire Jordan

"It's the Only Way"

This is James Miller, a little lad from Hoghton, near Preston whose family moved to Withnell, close to Chorley in Lancashire, where he found a good job in the local paper mill.

In 1914, he was 24 and exactly the kind of young man Kitchener’s long arm was pointing at from the recruiting posters. Jimmy became Private Miller of the 7th King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and fought at Lens and Loos in the autumn of 1915 before his Battalion moved to the Somme the following spring, ready for the Battle that would commence on 1st July.

In the first week of July, they fought like lions at La Boisselle and spent the following weeks, each hour of which must have felt like a century, helping to consolidate positions at Mametz Wood and Bazentin-le-Petit.

It was here on 30th July that Jimmy Miller, an apparently ordinary young Lancashire lad, rose alone to face down the monsters when the crucial moment came.

Several months afterwards back at home, Lewis Williams, the Secretary of The King’s Own Old Comrades’ Association, wrote some verses to raise funds for the Red Cross. He called it ‘The Story of the Message’ and, in some of Mr Williams’ words, here is what happened that day:

“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.”

Jimmy was buried in what became Dartmoor Cemetery, close to Albert on the Somme and his courage would be immortalised with a Victoria Cross.

Little Lion Man, you are Not Forgotten.

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