John Russell Miller was my Great Grandfather. He was born on October 30, 1884 in Belfast, Northern Ireland to Walter Miller and Agnes Fee. I know nothing about his parents other than their names. The Allan Line steamship, Tunisian, arrived in Montreal on May 28, 1904 with my Great Grandfather as one of its passengers, and thus began the Canadian story of this branch of my family.
He settled in Toronto, and was listed in the census data of 1911 and later as a “presser.” Family stories tell of his work at the Timothy Eaton company working on lovely high end clothing. He married Elizabeth Brady in Toronto in 1910. Elizabeth was also born in Northern Ireland, and had also arrived in Canada in 1904 although later in the year than John. When they married, John was 25, and Elizabeth was 20. They had two children soon after their marriage, Samuel, born in 1911, and Dorothy, born in 1914.
I have a small glass cup that was purchased at the Canadian National Exhibit in 1912 and given to Elizabeth. I’ve had it in my possession for over 15 years–my grandmother gave it to me when I was living in Ontario, and she told me that it had been her mother’s. I’m just now realizing that since Elizabeth would have only had one child when this was purchased in 1912, and he would have been an infant at the time, it must have been John who bought it for his wife. This is the only tangible artifact I have in my possession of any of the Davids. I’ve always found this a very special family heirloom, but it is even more beautiful to me today.
John enlisted in the war effort on November 11, 1915. He joined the Canadian Army Service Corps which provided supply services to the troops in France, and in England was responsible for feeding the troops. After training in Toronto, he sailed for England, arriving on Christmas Eve, 1915.
John worked as a cook with the corps, and it appears that he was in England for the entirety of his service. I have no information about why he was not in a combat role, as there is nothing in his medical report from enlistment that would indicate that he was anything other than a healthy 31 year-old. That said, early in his time in England ,he was hospitalized for “rheumatism” and “myalgia” with pain in his ankles, chest, and back, and he was diagnosed with chronic bronchitis in 1917, so it is possible that this could have been indicative of a broader condition that would have made combat service untenable.
He spent the war moving to various places in England and filling in as acting corporal and acting sergeant at times. He was specially trained, and was sent for a period of two weeks at one point to a school of cookery, and it appears that he was given special assignments cooking for senior ranks. It was after the official conclusion of the war that he was actually wounded in his role. On February 13, 1919, he was severely scalded as he attempted to pull a pot of boiling water off of a stove.
He was in hospital for over seven weeks as the second degree burns on his left foot were treated. By mid-April 1919, he was sent to Kinmel Park in northern Wales to await repatriation to Canada. Interestingly, he narrowly missed being present for the “mutiny” of Canadian soldiers at Kinmel Park, protesting the length of time it was taking to be repatriated, and the conditions that they were living in as they waited. John was only at Kinmel for a few weeks, sailing on May 3 for Halifax aboard the RMS Mauretania (sister ship to the famous RMS Lusitania that had sank in 1915 after being hit by UBoat torpedoes). He was back in Toronto and discharged by May 14, 1919. He had been overseas and away from his wife and children for nearly three and a half years. His son Samuel may have remembered him, having been 4 years old when his father went overseas, but his daughter Dorothy who had only been a year old when he left, certainly would not have. I’m sure it was a tremendous adjustment for everyone. My grandmother was born less than two years later.
Many years later, John’s son Samuel also participated in a war, as a pilot in the Royal Air Force, Sadly, Samuel did not survive his war, as he was shot down in 1941. John passed away eight years later on April 9, 1949 at the relatively young age of 64.
My grandmother remembered her father very fondly. I dedicate this post to her: Florence Elizabeth (Miller) Foster, 1921-2010.