On the night of 30th July, 90th Brigade had assembled at positions close to Trones Wood. Early the next morning the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers (RSF) and 18th Manchesters led the assault on the fortress village of Guillemont. In the mist of the early morning the leading troops were initially successful and the 17th Manchesters followed the 2nd RSF to the approaches of the village. By the time of their arrival, a relentless barrage prevented further support from the British lines. The attack faltered and the leading troops became isolated in fierce fighting with German troops who had sheltered in caves and tunnels. The 17th Manchesters withdrew and the 2nd RSF; with the 18th Manchesters suffered severe losses.
Relative to the losses in the previous battles, the 17th Battalion toll at Guillemont was comparatively light with 5 Officers and 274 other ranks Killed, Wounded and Missing. Members of III Platoon who lost their lives were:-
2nd Lieutenant Ralph Marillier Miller had died on the night of 30th July as the Battalion progressed to their assembly trenches. It is likely that Ralph Miller was held in reserve for the initial assault on Montauban, but we know of his brave exploits saving CSM Johnson on 10th July at Trones Wood. Sadly Charles Johnson’s father’s wish didn’t come true to see “…you may go through safely and be restored to your own people whole and sound.”
2nd Lieutenant Ralph Marillier-Miller was a former public school boy from Trinity College Glenalmond (TCG) in Perthshire. His Obituary in the Glenalmond Chronicle in October 1916 refers provides an insight on the boy and young man. “In his early boyhood he suffered so much from ill-health that he had to be kept at home and, when allowed to go to school, he was to his great grief forbidden to take part in games; however when the call came, persistence and determination triumphed over physical weakness…and soon proved himself a capable officer.”
Ralph’s elder brother Gerrard had been rugby XV, cricket XI and shooting VIII Captain for TCG. The contrast between the Miller brothers captures the imagination of current pupils at Glenalmond College and one may reflect on Shakespeare’s prose for All the World’s a Stage with Arthur Bell’s fitting soliloquy:-
“Brave Jockey! Not many days after that [Trones Wood rescue] came the report that he had got a gas shell ‘all to himself’ – killed of course. Would he have been one of Shakespeare’s ‘Even in the cannon’s mouth men’?” (1)
Ralph had originally enlisted as a Private 5278 in the Army Service Corps. He was commissioned to the 25th Manchesters in July 1915 and subsequently attached to 17th Battalion in June / July 1916. Ralph’s parents Charles and Helen had lived in North Berwick, although Charles’ address is charmingly identified as ‘Houseboat Madge, Brundall, Norfolk’ on his sons Medal Index Card. While there were many 17th Battalion officers from Edinburgh, many of these had grown up in England. While Ralph had been born in Felstead, Essex, he was brought up and educated in Scotland. He probably had enough of a Scottish accent for Arthur Bell and other troops to know him as ‘Jockey’. There remains a prospect that the ‘Jockey’ name may have related to Ralph’s work with horses.
Lieutenant Miller was 20 years old when he died. Dr Ruvigny’s Roll suggest Ralph was 23 years old and born on 27th February 1893. This apparent error may be connected with the sad confusion when the War Office reported the incorrect information of his death to Charles and Helen Miller. The Service Record for the Army Service Corps (ASC) confirms Ralph was 19 years old & 37 days when he enlisted in early January 1915. He must then have been 20 in the summer of 1916.
The ASC record indicated Ralph Miller had been a strapper (groom of horses in the Transport Specials) and previously employed as a Pupil farmer. He initially served in Edinburgh as part of No 2. Remount Depot and quickly went to France on 25th January 1915 with No 3 Remount Depot. He returned Home on 25th July 1915 when he was discharged from the ASC in Dieppe, on the grant of his Commission in the Manchesters. He had spent a short time in early July been treated in hospital for impetigo.
He was buried where he fell, likely to be between Bernafay and Trones Woods, and is commemorated at Thiepval as well as his school.
His Commanding Officer – probably Lieutenant Colonel Grisewood – had witnessed Lieutenant Miller’s death while he provided further selfless support for his fellow troops “I found young Miller looking after another officer who had been badly gassed (presumably 2nd Lieutenant Owen); he got up to explain…and a shell hit him full…A very capable young officer; everything I gave him to do was well done. His brother officers loved him.”(DR)
A similar report is provided in the October edition of the Glenalmond Chronicle:-
‘How he met his death is related by a brother officer. “The enemy was dosing us heavily with some new gas shells, little detonation but much gas, and I was trying to get the men settled in assembly trenches, for which purpose I had to go along the top of the trench in one place. I found Miller looking after another officer who had been gassed and a bit shell-shocked. I sat down on the parapet and he came up to me to explain what had happened; almost as soon as he got up a shell hit him full; death was instantaneous.” (Courtesy Glenalmond College)
His Officer Commanding – presumed to be Captain Fearenside also recognised Ralph Miller’s popularity with his men; supporting Arthur Bell’s thoughts “Although he had been with the regiment only a fortnight, he was well liked by all and was a promising officer…” (DR)
The Brigade Padre, Robert Balleine, also confirmed the swift popularity of Lieutenant Miller in a letter to the grieving parents ‘Your boy was really loved by officers and men and his loss is keenly felt. I had a great admiration for his simple, good character, and his thought and care for his men won their genuine appreciation.’ (Courtesy Glenalmond College & DR)
Charles Miller’s youngest son Reginald (Rex) de Hoechpied Miller also lost his life in the war serving with 14th Roysal Welsh Fusiliers.
Ralph’s sporting elder brother, Gerrard served as 2nd Lieutenant with the 8th Seaforth Highlanders and later ran boat builders, F Miller & Co Ltd in Norwich. The third brother Ronald also attended TGS. He served as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Machine Gun Corps and became a mining engineer after hostilities.
CSM Joseph McMenemy 8730 also died on the Guillemont assault, aged 27. With no known grave Joseph is commemorated at Thiepval. In the absence of officers, Sergeant McMenemy had led Arthur Bell and A Company on the ‘last lap’ into Montauban. He was then promoted to CQMS when he joked with Arthur about being more careful when replacing damaged his steel helmet. Joseph had been promoted to CSM by 30th July. Arthur Bell made a footnote requesting that his final observations on CSM McMenemy should not be published. Suffice to say Arthur had a lot of respect for his NCO Pal. It’s not certain Joseph McMenemy was part of III Platoon as the Mook of Honour shows him as II Platoon Sergeant, but he was alongside them at Montauban and assumed to have been their Company Sergeant Major at the end of July 1916. Born in Beswick, he was the son of John McMenemy, of 20 Bispham Street, Thorp Road, Manchester. Joseph had been working in a cotton mill in 1911, living in Bispham Street with his father and sister Margaret.
Primary school teacher Lewis Charles Brownjohn 9045 lost his life at Guillemont, aged 26. The pupils of St. Lukes School in Longsight will have mourned his loss, along with his wife, Eveline and parents, John and Annie Brownjohn. Lewis and Eveline (Mellor) had married in July 1915. Born in St. Giles, Oxford, Lewis had been living at 2 Lansdowne Road, Crumpsall in 1911. Identified as a Lance Corporal on the Heaton Park Roll, Lewis had been promoted to Corporal when he arrived in France on 8/11/1915 and Sergeant by 30th July 1916. He has no known grave and is commemorated at Thiepval.
Many of III Platoon will have been wounded at Guillemont, although records are limited. 2nd Lieutenant Alan Holt was injured in the back and foot during withdrawal. He recorded events in his letter home.
“I got up to the village in the mist with my men without any casualties but after spending three hours there and losing a lot of men, we were ordered to retire…and how I got back I don’t know; very few of my men did as we were swept by two machine guns. I got a machine gun bullet through the sole of my foot, another through the holster of my revolver, also a piece of shell which went through the holster and smashed the handle of my revolver on the way. Just as we were leaving the village, I was hit in the back with a small piece of shrapnel…How I long for a little peace and quiet and to see you all again.” (JH)
(1) Arthur Bell’s notes – The Steel Helmet, Courtesy Roger Bell
(DR) De Ruvigny’s Roll