The Man Who Never Gave Up
This is the life story of my father:
Mr Alfred Ernest Miles.
My name is Richard Miles and I live at 18 Stonebridge Close, Marlborough Wilts.
I am the youngest son of Mr Alfred Ernest Miles who lived at 29 Eastcourt Burbage Nr Marlborough Wilts. He was born at Hambledon in Hampshire and was married to Fanny Gertrude Sofia Jane Thorne from Easton Royal. Both were born on the same day, just one year apart. He worked for Mr Haines on the farm with his mates, until one day he saw a poster on a wall which read 'Kitchener's Army Needs You', so without a nod or a wink three from the same farm, volunteered. It was not long before they were in the front line. One night in France, all three men from the Wiltshire Regiment just happened to be on guard on the same night It was not long before the Germans started shelling 'wizzbangs' my Father called them. One of the three men was killed, my father was seriously wounded and the other soldier was not touched. My father was injured in the leg and his left arm was only hanging by a piece of flesh, with the other hand he held his injured arm across his chest and went as fast as possible until he was picked up by the medics, they carried him to a dugout shelter. While waiting to be transferred he heard lots of footsteps, and thought ' well this is it its the Germans', but luck was on his side, it was the good old tommies. He was transferred to Chelsea hospital in London, his left arm was amputated, he could never bend his leg again as his kneecap was smashed to pieces. Three times at Chelsea they gave up on him but the man he was, he pulled through, I think it was the whisky that my mother used to smuggle in, it was quite clever actually, put a small bottle in an umbrella and then fold it up. It wasn't long before he was helping the nurses rolling up the bandages. When he was well enough to work again, and of course have more children, because I was the youngest of nine so it just goes to prove that having one arm and a stiff leg, does not mess up your love life. In later years he worked for Bernard Ford, a well known Burbage solicitor and at another large garden at Mr Acklands, so I would like you to imagine my Father digging three big gardens, because his own garden was very large, with one arm and a stiff leg.
Pictures of Mum and Dad's lovely cottage and garden.
He had his little dog Rover, who went everywhere with him. Whilst at Ackland's garden, Rover his dog would sleep in the next field but he always knew when it was time to go home because he heard the clock strike 12, and he knew it was his master's time to finish work.
My mother and father were very well known and loved in Burbage. He used to have his pint of beer at the White Hart public house in the High Street; the first pint was always free and we never found out who bought it and the locals never let on. The conclusion we came to, was that the locals took it in turns to pay for it. What a wonderful gesture. His other interests in life was sexton of Burbage church, where he served as Sexton to the Rev. Cannon Sands right through to the Rev. Harris
His other love was singing in the choir where his six sons followed him in one by one until we had the full set comprising of Ern, Fred, Cecil ,Robert. Alan and Richard, the first five being able to ring the bells, in fact all five rang at Roberts wedding before the service, my job was to sing the solos in the choir and to sing at Fred's wedding in Salisbury.
My father was also the grave digger at Burbage cemetery, and when I returned home at nights from my apprenticeship as an upholsterer with G.B. Nicol, the well known furniture shop of Marlborough and Pewsey, I always had to pass the churchyard, so it was no surprise to see earth erupting skywards. Without another thought it was hang your lunchbag on the gate and get stuck in. Dad used to take the hole down the first three feet and my brothers and I always finished it off, which ever brother was nearest. His job wasn't then over because he had to help the vicar as sexton at every wedding , christening, and funeral.
It was wonderful to watch him peel the potatoes for Sunday lunch, he could hold a potato and knife in one hand and peel it. To light his pipe he would take the match out of the box, then he would stick the matchbox between two buttons in his waistcoat, turn his pipe upside down then strike the match.
My parents had three daughters, Alice, Olive and Mary, and it was lovely to see their faces when Ern and Mary celebrated their silver wedding to Vera and Hugh, together in Burbage church hall. We always had a party for them every year but the best one was the party for their 60th anniversary in the same church hall when all the family were there and my five brothers rang the bells for them. They both stood on the Green outside the church looking up, you could see they were overjoyed.
The family from left to right, Cecil, Alan, Mary, Fred, Olive, Ernest, Alice, Robert and Richard.
I followed my father into the Wiltshire Regiment at Devizes barracks and that's where the incredible happened. When I was in training I slept in the same room as my father. I served my time in Cyprus when the terrorist troubles were going on 1955-1957, but pleased to say unlike my father I came back in one piece. He died in Stratton St. Margarets Hospital July 1977, a very sad day for all the family. The hardest thing I have ever had to do was to tell my mother when I got the message that my father, and her husband, had passed away. Even when they were in their 80's, the times I walked in to the room and saw them holding hands on the settee, just proves how close they were. My mother lived for another five years in Coombe End house, near to where I live, before she passed away. Let's hope they are just as happy as they were before, now they are together again.
They were truly wonderful parents and he was the greatest man I have ever met.
Before I finish I would like you to read one obituary to him which was printed in the Gazette and Herald on July 28th 1977 by the well known local reporter, Mr. Stan Nuttley,
"One of Burbage's best known characters Mr Alfred Ernest Miles, a wounded soldier of the 1914-18 war has died in hospital at the age of 85.
A native of Hampshire, Mr. Miles spent most of his early years on the farm at Easton Royal, working for Mr. Haines, until he volunteered for Kitchener's Army. He was wounded the following year, one of his arms had to be amputated and he also had very serious leg injuries which made one leg stiff and useless. Despite his disabilities Mr. Miles lived an active life with a smile. He was gardener at the vicarage for three years and in later years was similarly employed by Mr Bernard Ford at Little Eascotts. No-one in the village had a greater association with the parish church than Mr. Miles. He was for years, sexton and clerk and used to dig the graves, despite the fact he only had one arm, until his health broke. He was also a chorister. He was a member of the Royal British Legion and Good Companions Club. He told me long before he died the way he got his injuries. He was serving with the Second Battalion Wiltshire Regiment on May 15th 1916. Alfie was among men holding an ammunition trench at Festeberg when someone shouted 'Alf'.
He turned to look around and that moment saved his life, the German 'Whizzbang' which would have hit him in the back, but instead cut off his left arm and smashed his knee. He was a great man and was the epitome of cheerfulness.'
I hope that anyone reading my father's life story will find it as interesting as I, and I am so proud to have written it, but as a son, it was just something I had to do before it was too late and lost forever.
Alfie's school photo
Alfie's war record
Richard Miles with his father's war medals
The above ©2001 Richard Miles
Mr. & Mrs Miles in their garden at 29 Eastcourt - now Rosewood Cottage
The above photo © 2001 Colin Younger