Michael Eric Miles


By 1914, the Miles family had been part of Hoxne life for the best part of one hundred years. Michael's grandparents, George and Hannah Miles had both been born in Hoxne in 1837 and by the time of the 1881 census they had six children one of whom was named Michael. By the time of the 1891 census Michael had married and was himself a father of two daughters and four sons. Michael Eric Miles was born in Hoxne in 1894 the first son of Michael and Eleanor Jane Miles, and in common with many working class families the Miles were a large family. Michael junior had an elder sister, Edith Claricine (born 1892) and a number of younger siblings; George William (born 1896), Arthur (born 1897), Kathleen May (born 1899), Gilbert Redevers (born 1900), Maud Olive (born 1902), Frank Reginald (born 1904) and John William (born 1906). Michael senior's occupation was a farmhand and horseman, it was a career that both of his elder sons followed for by the 1911 census George William was working as a farmhand for the Paterson family who farmed in Hoxne, Michael Eric however had spread his wings and was working in Yorkshire.

By 1911 Michael had travelled to Bedale in Yorkshire where he is recorded as a cowman working for the Barker family on Leases farm, situated some two and a half miles from Bedale itself and four and a half miles from Catterick. The census records that Michael was born in Syleham rather than Hoxne but this confusion may stem from the fact that by 1911 the Miles family was indeed living in Syleham. The other interesting information revealed by the census, and this may account for Michael's employment in Yorkshire, is that the other worker, a horseman aged twenty one, was his cousin Owen James. Owen James was the son of George Miles, Michael senior's younger brother and like Michael Eric was born in Hoxne though his birthplace in 1911 is listed as Eye the town where his parents were living at the time of the census.

It appears that Michael soon tired of being a cowman, in April 1913 he travelled to Richmond and enlisted in the Alexandra, Princess of Wales Own Yorkshire Regiment, now more commonly known as the Green Howards, although this title did not come into being until 1922. After training Michael joined the 2nd Battalion, which was stationed in Guernsey as Garrison troops, much of the activities they carried out drills, parades, physical exercise and field craft were those that were carried out by all regiments but as part of their garrison duties, they would be responsible for providing ceremonial guards for the Lieutenant Governor as the sovereign's representative. They would also compete against the local Militia units from Jersey and Guernsey in exercises but given the nature of the posting, the social side was as important as the military when securing a good relationship with the local population. Regular concerts would have been given by the regimental band and corps of drums together with other musical events, at the higher end of society the officers would have been very sought after for balls and dinners.

At the outbreak of the First World War the 2nd Battalion was ordered back to England and landed at Southampton on the 28th August (The 1st Battalion was stationed in India where it remained for the duration of the War). The battalion was not immediately sent to join the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F) in France instead it was held back to form part of 7th Division, the Yorkshires being combined with the Bedfordshire, Royal Scots Fusiliers, Wiltshires and Queens Own Cameron Highlanders into the 21st Infantry Brigade. Concentrated in the military camps at White Moor and the Old Racecourse on the outskirts of the New Forest village of Lyndhurst, the 7th Division brought together regular army units that had been based around the Empire and itself formed part of IV Corps under the command of Sir Henry Rawlinson.

The reason why IV Corps was not immediately sent to France was that it had been earmarked for Belgium where it would support the Belgium Army in its defence of the fortress city of Antwerp which had come under siege. Events overtook these plans as German siege artillery had commenced bombarding the outer fortifications on September 28th, and although the Royal Navy Division arrived there on the 3rd October, their presence did little to stave off the outcome as the city surrendered on the 9th. Many in the British High Command were only too pleased to have IV Corps transfer to the coastal plain of Flanders which was part of a wider desire amongst the B.E.F.'s commanders and British politicians to redeploy the Army to Flanders where, it was hoped, the war could return to the open warfare of August and early September. In addition it was hoped that the move would give the British more independence from the French High Command as well as access to the channel ports which would shorten the logistical tail between the B.E.F.'s depots in the U.K. and the front. The more cynical amongst the French High Command also felt it gave the B.E.F. easy access to channel ports and home should the occasion arise.

In the late afternoon of the 4th October Michael and the Yorkshires left their camps and marched the three miles to either Lyndhurst Road or Brockenhurst railway stations, and as recorded by one resident “when they left, we lined the roads and gave them a hearty goodbye”. It was the first of many goodbyes as the camps remained in operation throughout the War but the 7th Division was not forgotten by the residents of Lyndhurst as the West Window of the Roman Catholic Church, Our Lady of the Assumption and St Edward, the Confessor, commemorates men from the Division. Although the rail journey to Southampton Docks would have not taken very long embarkation was not complete until 11 pm, the first troop train comprising Staff Headquarters and A and B companies embarking on the Leyland Lines S.S. Caledonian whilst the remaining companies and transport were loaded onto the SS Victorian. Sailing separately, both vessels reached Dover where sealed orders were opened and they became aware that their destination was Zebrugge, the Captains of both vessels ordered no lights to be shown and all the men to assemble on the upper decks in case of attack. The Caledonian arrived at Zebrugge at 4am but did not dock until 9am, A and B Companies disembarked and marched through the town to the railway station where they entrained for Bruges arriving there at 5pm, they then had a short march to their billets in the suburb of Assebroek. C and D Companies did not arrive until 9 pm on the 7th October and the wheeled transport followed under its own steam. The billets were described in the regimental War Diary as “good and well concentrated” but it is clear that the atmosphere was tense as outposts were established around the bivouac and the Belgian Army was manning the main line of outposts to protect against a possible German advance.

At its formation IV Corps was an independent command under the control of the War Office, but as the Yorkshire Regiment concentrated in their billets in Assebroek, the Corps was brought under the command of the B.E.F. Ordered forward in support of the Belgians, IV Corps moved towards the city of Ghent, the Yorkshires however began a bewildering series of marches that took them on the 8th from Assebroek to the small town of De Haan on the coast, then they about turned and bivouacked in the small village of Klemskerke a few miles from De Hann. On the 9th they left Klemskerke and marched back to their original billets in Assebroek via Bruges. At 3pm on the 10th they had a short march to Beernem where they went into billets. The Belgians had now started to retreat from their line on the Schelde Canal to a new line on the Yser River, the British also started to withdraw. On the 12th October the Yorkshires were in Koolscamp moving onto Roules on the 13th and hence to Ypres on the 14th where the 21st Infantry Brigade arrived footsore and weary and joined forces with the French 87th Territorial Division, the Regimental War Diary notes that the Battalions billeting party was fired upon but it is not clear by whom. On the 15th the Yorkshires left their billets and marched to a railway station some one and a half miles east of Ypres where the Brigade took up defensive positions.

Ypres was an ancient town, all major roads converged on the town and this made it a strategic communications hub in this part of Flanders with all major roads converging on the town. The 1st Battle of Ypres (there would be a further four battles so named during the course of the War) was in fact a series of battles, covering the period 19th October to 2nd November 1914, that were fought between the Allied and German Armies. The object of the German offensive against Ypres and the surrounding area was to break through the Allied lines and capture the channel ports of Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne. After the trauma of the retreat from Mons and the brief exhilaration of their advance against the retreating Germans after the latter's failure on the Marne I, II and III Corps of the B.E.F. had been spirited away from their positions on the Aisne and regrouped in Flanders, they were soon to be joined by the Yorkshires and the units of IV Corps. By the end of the Battle of Ypres, the so called “race to the sea”, the attempt by the combatants to outflank one another and deliver a decisive defeat on their opponents, was at an end and the era of trench warfare began.

For the Yorkshires the Battle of Ypres began at 4am on the 16th October when the Battalion left its billets and took up position as the 7th Divisions advance guard, its objective was to seize the village of Gheluvett and attack the Germans who had taken up positions some three miles to the east astride the Menin Road. In the event they captured the village of Gheluvett with little opposition and no casualties and continued to advance for a further mile where A and B companies killed or captured a number of Germans. After digging rough trenches the Yorkshires were relieved and took up billets in Gheluvett, although the next day they were back in the trenches under shellfire and suffering the attentions of German snipers. Relieved during the morning of the 18th the Battalion was pulled back to the village of Becelaere and, in the words of the War Diary, occupied “rather indifferent billets”. The Germans however were now pressing and on the 19th Michael and his comrades were ordered back to the trench system they had occupied on the Menin Road after successfully taking Gheluvett. On the 20th both British and German artillery instigated a tremendous barrage, the Yorkshires were yet again on the receiving end of the German shells but suffered no casualties. A series of night attacks followed this barrage and although the battalion lost an officer there is no mention of other ranks being killed or wounded. This would soon change on the 21st the Battalion War Diary states that there was another artillery barrage in which the Yorkshires had a “few casualties caused by shrapnel” the 22nd saw heavy fighting with German infantry columns moving towards the British lines but these were dispersed by artillery, machine gun and rifle fire. This was not achieved with without the loss one of whom was the Battalion machine gun officer, Lieutenant F.C. Ledgard, who as the War Dairy records “lost his life doing good work”. The 23rd dawned with a heavy German bombardment on the British trenches, which hastily dug, did not offer much protection and casualties were heavy. The bombardment continued on the 24th and there were “a good many casualties” and on the 26th “D” Company's trench was “blown in by high explosive”, causing yet more casualties. More losses occurred when A company had to be moved from one side of the position to the other to protect the Battalions flank against advances made by the German infantry.

Pulled out of the front line on the 27th the Battalion was bivouacked in Sanctuary wood behind the frontline but were back in action on the 28th to support the Cameron Highlanders and suffered twenty one casualties in the process, at nightfall they were relieved by the Gordon Highlanders. Placed in reserve A and B companies were called on to support the Royal Berkshires who were under heavy infantry assault, forced to withdraw the Yorkshires were quickly reorganised by their Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel C A C King who led a successful counter attack which regained the lost ground, casualties were again heavy but other than listing the Officers killed or wounded the War Diary does not record the number of other ranks who were killed, wounded or missing.

If anything the 30th October saw an increase in the intensity of fighting. A large number of Germans occupied a trench in front of the extreme right flank of the Battalion which was held by a Lieutenant Brooksbank and his platoon, firing on the Germans Brooksbank and his men caused “a good deal of damage” but were unable to be reinforced. By mid afternoon the Yorkshires had received a belated order to withdraw, the delay in receiving the order meant that they now occupied a very forward position and that there was a possibility that both their flanks could be turned by the Germans. Under constant attack the Battalion had seen their Commanding Officer C A C King and his second in command, Captain E P Griven both killed. Captain B Blundell took over command and decided to risk a withdrawal during daylight rather than leave it until dusk, this was accomplished with the loss of ten men and on reaching Ghelvett they quickly prepared what the War Diary calls “bomb proof” trenches. As Lieutenant Brooksbank is not listed amongst the officer casualties it maybe that he and his platoon made it back to the Yorkshire lines.

Given what had gone before the next three days could be considered quiet, the 31st was spent in the bomb proof trenches and only a few casualties were sustained, on the 1st November the Battalion received a message from 1st Corps Headquarters “please congratulate the Yorkshires on their stout performance” at this point the Battalion only numbered 300 men. Fortunately for the survivors the 2nd November was the “same as previous day, everything quiet with us”. An officer who witnessed the Yorkshires returning from the front recorded that “they had three weeks growth of beard and dirt on their faces. Their eyes were sunken far into their heads. They had not had their boots off for over three weeks; had been under hellish fire practically the whole time, subjected day and night to continual attacks which they had always repulsed”.

We do not know at which point during these series of actions Michael Miles received his wound, neither do we know the nature of the wound although with the almost continuous artillery bombardment borne by the Yorkshires from the 20th October it is probable that it could have been from shrapnel. Although Michael's medical records do not appear to have survived we can trace, with a fair degree of accuracy, his journey from the front. Having been pulled out of the line by his comrades the first stage of Michaels journey would to the Regimental Aid Post (RAP), this was usually situated close to the frontline and was manned by the Battalion Medical Office, in the Yorkshires case this was Lieutenant R G Holton, who together with his orderlies and stretchers bearers would be the first to treat Michael's wounds. The British Army was only too aware that a soldiers chance of surviving a would be entirely dependent on how quickly he was treated so the RAP only had the facility to carry our basic first aid on the wounded so that they were either patched up and deemed fit to return to the line or else or were transferred back to an Advanced Dressing Station (ADS). The wounded walked, if they were capable, if not they were stretchered by Royal Army Medical Corps personnel across the intervening ground between the RAP and ADS. In theory the ADS would only be 400 yards from the RAP but depending on local circumstances, this distance could not only be greater but the journey hampered by a landscape that had been mutilated by high explosive shells. As the War progressed removing the wounded became more organised with collecting posts and relay posts being positioned between the RAP and ADS staffed by teams of stretcher bearers. For the those still capable of making to the ADS on their own Walking Wounded Collecting Posts (WWCP) were established. The sheer volume of wounded men coming back from the front necessitated such detailed organisation.

The ADS was usually established in a tented camp or large building and although better equipped than the RAP its function was very similar, to provide sufficient treatment to establish whether the soldier was fit enough to return to his unit or, if not, to prepare him for transfer to the Main dressing Station (MDS) either by horse drawn or motor ambulance. The MDS was situated some a mile or more from the ADS, they did have a holding capacity so men could be kept there for up to a week, presumably to allow them sufficient time to recover before sending them back to their units or to stabilise their condition before moving them to the Casualty Clearing Station (CCS). In the early stages of the War the MDS had little or no surgical capacity but as the casualties mounted it became apparent that urgent surgical work could save lives and so fully equipped surgical teams became attached to the MDS organisation.

Casualty Clearing Stations were usually grouped together some 12 to 15 miles from the front. They would also be close to a railway station or junction and an individual CCS usually served a single Division, these were large and well equipped medical facilities catering for at least two hundred wounded men in, either in beds or on stretchers. As with the previous medical centres the CCS would assess the severity of a soldier's injuries, but with a holding capacity of up to 4 weeks, those who were considered capable of returning to their units were treated and then sent back when their recuperation was complete. Those whose wounds were more serious were operated on by surgical teams and, once stabilised, transferred by train or river or canal barge back to a base hospital. It is a sad testimony that CCS's were usually surrounded by large military cemeteries. Michael's journey ends in Boulogne where, in November 1914, a number of Base Hospitals had been established to accommodate the thousands of wounded coming in from the front. Base Hospitals can be divided into either Stationary or General., there were two Stationery Hospitals for every Division and these could accommodate 400 casualties, most were based in requisitioned civilian hospitals and in Boulogne during 1914, there were two numbered 7 and 13. A General Hospital was usually based in a large Hotel or similar building in close proximity to a railway line, some Base Hospitals such as The Hotel Christobel in Boulogne were linked to the British Red Cross, there were a further two Base Hospitals in Boulogne at the time of Michaels admission, they were numbered 11 and 13. A patient stayed in these hospitals until they recovered and returned to their unit or they were shipped back to Britain for further surgery and possible discharge from the Army.

In theory, having initially surviving his wounding and the vicissitudes of his transfer back to the Base Hospital, Michael should have stood a reasonable chance of survival. Unfortunately, Michael's wounds must have either been very serious or some form of infection may have occurred as he died on 3rd November 1914 aged 22 and was subsequently buried in Boulogne's Eastern Cemetery. The cemetery contains the bodies of 5,577 soldiers who, like Michael, died of their wounds.

On the 19th September 1914, Michael's brother, George William, who in 1911 had been working on the Paterson's farm in Hoxne, joined the 3rd (Hull) Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment. He gave his address as Howden Road, Holme and his occupation as a farm servant. George survived the Great War but it is not known if he returned to Hoxne.