Shandon minister lost both sons

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Lt-Iain-Miller-wTHE minister of Shandon United Free Church and his wife paid a heavy price when they lost both their sons in World War One.

The Rev Hugh Miller MA and his wife Annie Scott married at Rhu in 1887, five years after Mr Miller became the minister of the Gothic church on Kirk Brae opposite the pier.

Mr Miller had been a distinguished student in the Free Church College, particularly in the department of natural philosophy, and his abilities as a preacher were said in W.C.Maughan’s well known book ‘Annals of Garelochside’ to be much appreciated by his own congregation and by all who heard him.

The couple’s first son, Walter Douglas Miller, was born at the Shandon Manse on August 4 1892, and three years later his brother Iain MacLeilain Miller was born.

Iain was the couple’s first loss, killed in action with the 2nd Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at the battle of Loos on September 25 1915 at the age of 20. His parents heard the sad news in a telegram from the War Office.

Educated at Larchfield School in Helensburgh and Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh — where he was a member of the Cadet Corps — he entered Glasgow University in the session 1913-14, and became a member of the Officers Training Corps.

At the outbreak of the war he volunteered for foreign service, and was appointed Second-Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion of the Argylls.

At the end of August 1914 he joined the regiment at Woolwich, and while there he was promoted to full lieutenancy and transferred to serve with the 2nd Battalion.

Lieutenant Miller was in the trenches from the first week in January 1915 until his death.

The captain of the company in which he served wrote a letter to the lochside minister and said that Lieutenant Miller was killed as he was leading his men on an attack on the German trenches.

He wrote: “I am afraid I have to tell you that Iain was killed yesterday during our attack on the German trenches while very gallantly leading his men.

“I cannot express sufficiently the grasp he obtained of soldiery, and what his platoon owe to him for getting them together and making them the good soldiers they were.

“He was always cool, and never have I seen him consider himself when the welfare of the men was concerned.

“He had been in my company the whole time, and I can’t tell you how much I feel his loss.”

Iain himself had written the day before his death: “What a night of rain we had last night, and I had to stand in it for about 10 hours, and so was soaked to the skin, and had to sleep in a sopping kilt and jacket all night, and had no food for 23 hours, and am I a whit the worse?

“No, I am as well as ever I was.”

Later in the same letter he added: “We had a five-a-side football competition in the company, and I am glad to say that my ruffians won.

“We are deep under the ground just now, and I am writing at the dinner table to catch the post. The night is very warm and muggy, and the old Bosch is firing his machine guns very hard.”

He is buried in Cambrin Churchyard in the Pas De Calais area.

Lt Walter MillerHis older brother Walter, a Royal Flying Corps pilot, lost his life just over a year later on October 2 1916, at the age of 24.

Walter was a pupil at Larchfield School and then Allan Glen’s School in Glasgow. In 1910 he matriculated as an engineering student at Glasgow University, where he played rugby for the 1st XV and was a member of the Officer Training Corps.

He is recorded as having left university in 1914 without graduating, probably when war broke out, and he quickly enlisted, serving first as a gunner with the 120th Clyde Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery.

He was commissioned in the army as a 2nd Lieutenant, but later was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps which had been founded in May 1912.

Promoted to Lieutenant, he joined 15 Squadron RFC at Droglandt in France in August 1916. The squadron had been formed in March 1915 at South Farnborough, and went to France as part of the 2nd Wing in January 1916.

He was immediately in action, piloting a Bleriot Experimental 2C two-seater aircraft armed with two machine guns and with a modified wing and tail configuration designed to provide a stable reconnaissance platform.

It was described as “a sort of maid of all work, a general purpose hack, which could be used for reconnaissance, artillery observation, spy dropping, or any other job that turned up”.

But it was not as manoeuvrable as the German aircraft, and suffered heavy losses.

Lieutenant Miller flew daily over German lines until the day he died. His observer, 2nd Lieutenant Carmichael, survived badly wounded, but was taken prisoner and later told what had happened.

He said that they were flying BE-2C no. 4190 about four miles over German lines above a small town at the Somme and were just about to turn for home when they became involved in aerial combat and the pilot was hit by machine gun fire.

The aircraft plunged to the ground and caught fire. Walter Miller was named as missing in action.

He is commemorated at the Arras Flying Services Memorial, together with more than 1,000 airmen who were killed on the Western Front and have no known grave.