The Brothers Miller from Ballina

BROTHERS: Edison Gordon and Robert Percival Miller.
BROTHERS: Edison Gordon and Robert Percival Miller.

NO-ONE can ever say definitely how many people died in a war.

For example, do you include civilians?

And what about the Auxiliary Services who fought so hard as fire-fighters, ambulance officers, part-time soldiers, doctors, nurses, and so on.

Then there was the merchant navy which struggled daily to deliver precious cargos of food, and essential supplies as well as troops; who brought home the wounded and sometimes had to bury the dead at sea.

It is sometimes difficult to obtain accurate information about the merchant navy.

One story we do have, however, concerns a young seaman who decided he wanted to fly aeroplanes.

This young man was Edison Gordon Miller (known as Gordon) and he was an engineer attached to the merchant ship Afric.

His plan was to leave the ship at its home port of Liverpool, England, and to join the air force.

It is not certain whether he intended joining the British forces or the Australian Flying Corps.

Gordon's parents were Thomas and Charlotte Miller of 'Glen Gordon', Tamar St, Ballina.

They had another son, Robert Percival, Gordon's younger brother.

Robert had tried to enlist in the army in August, 1914, but was rejected.

It is not known why he was rejected, but it could have been simply because he had a bad tooth.

In the early days of the war the officials were very particular.

He tried again in October and was successful.

He was only 19 at the time and he joined the 5th Light Horse Regiment.

He had been married to Marcella Cambridge prior to leaving Australia.

Both the Miller and Cambridge families were early settlers in the area.

Robert returned to Australia in 1919 after fighting at Gallipoli as a volunteer infantryman and later in Palestine with the Light Horse.

He was wounded several times.

His brother Gordon, however, was not so lucky.

He was drowned when the Afric was torpedoed in the English Channel in February 1917.

He was 23.

The Afric was a passenger/cargo steamship built in Ireland in 1899 for the White Star Line.

It was used on the Australia-England service.

In October 1914 it left Sydney carrying the first NSW and Queensland Army contingents.

It joined the rest of the convoy in Western Australia and set off to join the other British forces.

On its return to Sydney the Afric was converted at Cockatoo Island dry dock to transport 549 troops and 500 horses.

It then undertook five more transport voyages from Australia.

German submarines were deadly on marine vessels as they approached the English coastline.

They could hear the engines throbbing and because of this the English employed sailing ships which, unless sighted, could dodge and pass into a port without being attacked.

The Afric was 12 miles off the Eddystone Lighthouse at 5.15am on February 12, 1917 when it was hit by a torpedo near the engine-room.

It caused an explosion which stopped the engines, put out all lights, and severed communications.

All the engineers and greasers on watch were killed.

It is assumed Gordon Miller was one of these.

Topics:  anzac-centenary history war

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