Friday, July 9, 2021

Robert Thompson Miller

Robert Thompson Miller
(attribution in references)

Robert Thompson Miller, son of Joseph M. Miller and Alice Athya, was born in Auckland, New Zealand on July 21, 1894. He was the third child of four—George Athya Miller, Aileen Catherine Miller, Robert Thompson Miller, and Marjorie Alice Miller. If you follow my blog, you know one of the surnames I research is Athya, the source of my husband’s Scottish ancestry. Athya is not a very common name so anytime I find someone with that surname, I’m very interested. Robert’s mother Alice was the daughter of John Athya, born in Scotland about 1829 and his wife Catherine Bell, born in Scotland about 1831. To date, I have been unable to connect this line of Athya’s to ours. It’s a work in progress—I’m guessing there’s a connection there somewhere.

World War I started on July 28, 1914 when Robert was 20 years old. Most likely in preparation for enlistment, Robert was examined on June 5, 1915. During the examination, approved by B. J. Dudley, it was determined that Robert was 5’ 10” tall, had a dark complexion, brown eyes, and dark brown hair. His chest measured a minimum of 32 inches and a maximum 35 inches. Robert’s teeth were in fair condition. He was troubled by varicocele (varicose veins within the scrotum). It was noted in the medical record this condition had been present for many years and as a farmer, Robert had never had any trouble from it. Robert’s religious orientation was of the Presbyterian faith.

A little over a year after the war began, on August 24, 1915, Robert enlisted in the Army at Trentham, New Zealand to serve with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Trentham was a “suburb of Upper Hutt, a city in the Wellington region of New Zealand” according to Wikipedia. Wikipedia also notes that … “The Trentham Military Camp was used extensively for training soldiers in preparation for World War I …” so it appears he would stay in Trentham to prepare for the war. When filling out the recruitment paperwork, Robert stated he was born in Auckland on July 21, 1895, a year later than recorded on the New Zealand birth index found on He listed his father Joseph Miller of Station Road in Otahuhu, Auckland, New Zealand as his next-of-kin. Robert listed Station Road as his last residence so he was apparently living at home with his parents. At the time, Robert worked as a farmer. When asked for the name and address of his present or last employer, he answered J. V. Hardie, Poro, O, Tarao. Robert wasn’t married. He had never been imprisoned by the Civil power. Although not at the time of his enlistment, Robert had previously served five years of cadet training, two years with Col Cadets and three years with Ter’ls in Sydney Australia. Some, if not all, was compulsory military training under the Defence Act of 1909. He had never been rejected as unfit for the military or naval forces of the Crown. Robert was willing to be vaccinated and to serve in the Expeditionary Force in or beyond the Dominion of New Zealand for the term of the present European war or longer.

Robert served in New Zealand’s military for just a short time, August 24 to November 13, 1915, before entering the foreign service with the 3rd Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, A Squad, 8th Reinforcements of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. According to Wikipedia, “the Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment was a mounted infantry regiment from New Zealand raised, in August 1914, for service during the First World War. It was assigned to the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.” Robert held the rank of Trooper, Service Number 13/2573.

Mounted Section Aucland Mounted Rifles (attribution in references)

The 8th Reinforcements left Wellington, New Zealand for Suez, Egypt aboard the H.M.T. Tufua on November 13, 1915. During the voyage, the troops would have been responsible for the care of their horses. They arrived in Suez on December 20, 1915. On January 23, 1916, they left by train for Canal, Zeitoun (a district in Cairo, Egypt). Once in Zeitoun, the men and horses spent time in desert training. He was still in Egypt on August 1, 1916. 

Robert received a gunshot wound to his right wrist on April 19, 1917, the first day of the Second Battle of Gaza. He spent time in the hospital at Moascar, Egypt, which I believe was a base camp. In May 1917, Robert posted back to the field with his regiment and spent time recovering in Alexandria, Egypt. In July 1917, he was admitted from the field to a hospital in Heliopolis, Egypt (I believe Aotea Hospital) suffering from gastritis and varicocele. He was discharged back to duty with his regiment by mid-August.

The Battle of Beersheba took place in southern Israel on October 31, 1917. According to the New Zealand History website detailing the capture of Beersheba, “On the morning of 31 October 1917 men of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade attacked Tel el Saba, a fortified hill 3.2 km north-east of Beersheba. After six hours of hard fighting the New Zealanders captured the hill.” Robert apparently was engaged in the battle and died from wounds received that day. Age the age of 23, Robert was buried in section D.4 at Beersheba War Cemetery in Palestine. 

Robert's headstone in Beersheba War Cemetery;
photo from New Zealand War Graves Project (attribution/link in references)

A History Sheet in his New Zealand military record notes “no evidence of a will.”

Robert was awarded the 1914–1915 Star Medal, British War Medal, and Victory Medal for his service. His medals, along with a plaque and scroll, were sent to his father at Gray Avenue, Mangere Crossing, Otahuhu, Auckland, New Zealand. 

Robert's medals (left to right:1914-1915 Star Medal,
British War Medal, and Victory Medal
(attribution in references)

Robert was not the only member of the family who served during World War I. His brother George served as a Lieutenant in the 10th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment and Royal Air Force and his sister Aileen served as a nurse.


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