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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

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Lieutenant Harry James Graham Stirling Miller-Stirling (02.08.1886 to 16.10.1917), 1st Battalion Nigeria Regiment

Lieutenant Edward George Bradshaw Miller-Stirling (08.04.1890 to 14.03.1917), Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps, 69th Punjabis (Indian Army), 2nd Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)

Second Lieutenant Arthur Eustace Stirling Miller-Stirling (15.07.1895 to 19.06.1971), Indian Army, attached to the 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders

The Miller-Stirling Family in World War 1.

Edward and Harry Miller-Stirling are commemorated together on headstone 377 in the family plot at Strathblane Cemetery, Stirlingshire, Scotland, but lie in solitary graves in foreign fields; one in modern day Iraq, the other in Tanzania, a reminder that The Great War was not only fought on the Western Front but also featured campaigns as far flung as Mesopotamia and German East Africa. Their names do not appear on either the War Memorial or Roll of Honour.

Both men were the sons of Empire, destined for the expatriate life before war broke out; one managing a tea plantation in Ceylon, the other an Administrative Manager for the Colonial Service of Nigeria. However, once war was declared neither hesitated to join up.

The Miller-Stirling’s were one of Scotland’s most prominent families, part of Clan Stirling, whose origins can be traced back to Walter de Streverlying, (b.1130), and today is now linked to the English aristocratic Fitzroy family through marriage. Branches of the family included the Stirlings of Ardoch, Glorat, Law, Ballagan and Drumellier to name but a few. The Miller-Stirling family seat was Craigbarnet (also known as Craigbernard), which was situated on steep and south-facing ground on the flank of the Campsie Hills, between Strathblane and Haughhead on the road to Lennoxtown. Part of the walled garden is still visible on the left hand side of the road, perched behind today’s Craigbarnet Farm, but nothing remains of the old stately home, which was demolished in the 1950’s. The former estate entry gates and West Lodge still remain on the Strathblane side of the farm.

Local historian John Guthrie (1834-1894) in his book “The Parish of Strathblane and its inhabitants from Early Times” relates the story of the Jacobite Rising and how James Stirling of Craigbarnet was taken prisoner in May 1746, alongside James and Hugh Stirling of Kier, who were the young Pretender’s bodyguards. They were apprehended on board a Dutch tobacco ship sailing between the Clyde and Holland and incarcerated at Dumbarton Castle. However, shortly afterwards he escaped, but was never able to return to Craigbarnet, leading the life of an outlaw, hiding in one of the cottages in Kirklands, at the foot of the Spout of Ballagan. Legend has it that Bonnie Prince Charlie secretly met with him at the old castle at Craigbarnet and may have hid in the attic of the Kirklands’ cottage for a time.

The Miller-Stirling name evolved when Charles Edward Graham Stirling of Craigbarnet died on 06 August 1898 ‘without male issue’. When his daughter Caroline Frances Graham Stirling (22 October 1857 - 12 March 1946) married Commander George H Miller OBE, RN and Black Watch (30 August 1853 - 17 January 1924) her husband agreed to change his surname to Miller-Stirling.

They had four children. The eldest was Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Georgina Caroline, born in Greenock on 09 March 1885. Harry James Graham Stirling was the first son, born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 02 August 1886. He was followed by Edward ‘Eddie’ George Bradshaw, born in South Queensferry on 08 April 1890. The youngest was Arthur Eustace Stirling, born in Inverness on 15 July 1895.

Harry James Graham Stirling Miller-Stirling BA attended Keble College, Oxford University, before joining the Colonial Service in the Northern Nigerian Protectorate, based in Kaduna and Sokoto. His correspondence home between 1910-1917, when he was both civilian and soldier has been retained and is held at the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth & African Studies at Rhodes House, Oxford.

After war broke out he enlisted as a Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, Northern Nigeria Regiment. This Battalion merged into the Nigeria Regiment, part of the West African Field Force, and it saw action in French Sudan, French Niger, German Cameroon and German East Africa.

The 1st Battalion sailed on HMT ‘Berwick Castle’ from Lagos Roads to Dar es Salaam on 15 November 1916 under the command of Brigadier-General Frederick Hugh Cunliffe CB, CMG. It arrived on 09 December 1916 and four days later was on the move by train to Mikesse, followed by an exhausting march to Ruvutop Camp; soon after it faced his first action against the Germans at Mkindu on 18 January 1917.

However, Harry Miller-Stirling was still in West Africa, based at Madoava (Madawa) in French Niger assisting the French quell unruly Aulliminden or Iwellemmedan Tuareg tribesmen. This role was to last until April when returned to Sokoto in Nigeria. On 24th June he wrote to his mother from Zungeru, informing her that he would be sailing from Lagos on the 3rd July for East Africa. From earlier correspondence it’s clear he was under pressure from the Colonial Service to resume his civic duties in Northern Province, but he insisted on going to war despite knowing what had happened to his brothers, Edward and Arthur.

He wrote, “You must not worry about me: as you know we must all go if we possibly can…I think we all wish this beastly war was over. Arthur was able to go to France at once. Poor Eddie also went and after over two years… he gave his life as so many other splendid fellows have done and it would not be right that I should hang back…As the eldest it is especially up to me to do what I can and I know you really feel this too and would not like to think that I had stayed on here just because my first half dozen applications had been refused: nor could I ever feel any sense of self-respect.” His final words are so poignant, “Don’t worry about me. It is only going to be a change to a new part of Africa.”

His brother Edward George Bradshaw Miller-Stirling, had initially joined the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps to serve in Egypt, where he received a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant with the Indian Reserve of Officers. He was then appointed to the 69th Punjabis in January 1915 and subsequently fought at Suez Canal and Gallipoli. A brief spell on the Western Front with the Bareilly-Meerut Division of the Indian Army Corps at the Battle of Loos followed, but he returned to Egypt in November 1915 and then moved to Aden. Once the Turks had retreated he requested a transfer to the 2nd Royal Highlanders (The Black Watch) in June 1916. He was appointed Lieutenant and was once again deployed against the Turks, this time along the Tigris in Mesopotamia.

Edward took part in the captures of both Kut-el-Amara and Baghdad, and buoyed with this success the Black Watch chose to consolidate these gains by pursuing the Turks further. On 14 March 1917 his Battalion was to clash with the enemy at Sugar Loaf Hill, a ridge and at Mushaidie (Mushaidieh) Railway Station, approximately 25 miles from Baghdad, where Edward was so seriously wounded that he succumbed to his wounds aged only 26.

Edward was buried where he fell and was commemorated on panel 25 the Basra Memorial in Iraq, which, until 1997 was located on the main quay of the naval dockyard at Maqil. However, Saddam Hussein ordered the Memorial’s relocation to Nasiriyah, and unfortunately it has since been declared unfit for purpose. In the meantime the Commonwealth Graves Commission has produced a two volume Roll of Honour at its HQ in Maidenhead until the real memorial can be repaired. In addition, Edward is commemorated on the Nuwara Eliya War Memorial in the Central Province of Sri Lanka, close to the High Forest tea planation, Maturata, where he worked, and at Lennoxtown (Campsie Parish) War Memorial. He was posthumously awarded the Victory Medal, British War Medal & Star (issued by the Government of India).

He is also commemorated on the Southsea and Eastbourne College Roll of Service (1914-1918) where he was educated. It confirms that prior to sailing to Ceylon Edward attended Aspatria Agricultural College in Cumberland followed by farming experience at Woollerand, Kelso. It recalls that “he was keen on sports of all kinds, particularly rugby football..” The Milngavie & Bearsden Herald in the article ‘An Officer Dies of Wounds’ was also to highlight Edward’s sporting prowess; “he was a champion hockey player...and prominent member of the Lennox Castle Cricket Club.”

Upon arrival in East Africa it wasn't long before Harry was heavily involved in fighting the Germans in East Africa, trying to defeat Lieutenant Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck. This very able German commander had been ordered to make a complete nuisance of himself by committing as many British Imperial forces as possible to the campaign, keeping them as far away as possible from the Western Front. Because of his exploits, guerrilla tactics, fearsome Askari troops, and ability to outmanoeuvre the British, he became a national hero.

Numerous skirmishes between the combined South African and Nigerian troops, under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Jacob van Deventer, and von Lettow-Vorbeck, culminated in the Battle of Mahiwa (15 - 18 October 1917). A heavily outnumbered German force of approximately 1,500 was confronted by 4,900 in what was the largest battle in Africa during WW1 and last major one in the German East Africa. Despite losing over a third of its numbers (600) Von Lettow-Vorbeck’s force inflicted 2,700 (killed and wounded) casualties on the British Imperial troops.

Harry’s 1st Battalion Nigerian Regiment was tasked with blocking the enemy on the Mahiwa-Nyangao road, but due to a breakdown in communications on 16 October 1917 it became isolated and vulnerable south of Namupa Mission, and promptly ambushed by the German’s commanded by Captain V Goering who attacked from Mremba Hill.

In his book ‘With the Nigerians in German East Africa’, Captain W.D. Pownes described how this was “the most disastrous day for the Nigerians since the formation of the force” in which “Captain Stretton and Lieutenant ‘Stirling-Miller’ were killed, and the rank and file suffered most heavy losses...By the death of their gallant commander the Brigade lost one of its best officers who had endeared himself to all that new him.”

The author was describing Captain Alexander Lynam De Courcy Stretton, who had won the Military Cross a year earlier in German Cameroon. Sadly, not only did he leave a widow, but tragically his mother was to lose all four sons during the Great War (all commemorated on Salcombe War Memorial). In the same vein, apparently Caroline Miller-Stirling never recovered from the loss of her beloved Eddie and Harry, and, like Queen Victoria, insisted on wearing black to her dying day. Craigbarnet became a very sad place. Her daughter Bessie, who served as a secretary at Craigmaddie Auxilliary Military Hospital, lost five boyfriends during the War and never married.

Harry was 31 years old when he died in Africa. He is also commemorated on the British & Indian Memorial, Dar es Salaam, (Tanzania), Lennoxtown’s (Campsie Parish) War Memorial, and the South Africa Roll of Honour 1914-1918. He was posthumously awarded the 1914/15 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal.

The youngest brother, Second Lieutenant Arthur Eustace Stirling Miller-Stirling, served in the Indian Army, attached to the 1st Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, and survived the War. However, he went missing on 24 October 1914 during the Battle of La Bassee, near Lille. According to his Army Index Card he was erroneously reported ‘Killed In Action’, before being confirmed as a Prisoner of War at Danholm Camp, Straslund, an island off the German coast, where he remained for the remainder of the War.

While at Danholm he forged a strong friendship with Charles Gladstone of the Royal Flying Corps, grandson of the former Prime Minister, William Gladstone, who became the Housemaster at Eton for both of Arthurs’ sons, John and Hubert.

John Miller-Stirling married Lorna Margaret, whose father Norman Mathewson Nairn, a Scots New Zealander, alongside his brother Gerald, founded Nairn Transport Company, a pioneering trans-desert service between Beirut, Haifa, Damascus and Baghdad from 1923 to 1959.

The Miller-Stirling line was to continue through Arthur. His grandson James Graham Nairn Miller-Stirling (b. 1956) continued the family tradition of international travel by moving to the Far East. His granddaughter Diana Miller-Stirling (b.1959) married Lord Charles Patrick Hugh Fitzroy.

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