Staff Sergeant Walter Miles

Regiment: Royal Army Service Corps, “A” Supply Coy.
Service No: 878 (Previously 11029, Royal Garrison Artillery)
Date & place of birth: 2nd qtr. 1885, in Heyshott, Sussex
Date & place of death: 25 March 1920 (aged 34) at Cambridge Military Hospital, Aldershot

Walter Miles was a regular soldier who had served in the army since 1902, where he reached the rank of staff sergeant and trained as a master baker.  His military career saw service in Gibraltar, Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and the Western Front. Having survived the fighting, he died after the war from influenza.

Family background

Walter Miles was born in Heyshott in early 1885, the third child of twelve born to John Miles (1863–1938) and his wife Alice Emily née Lambert (1862–1944). John had also been born in Heyshott, as had his father George before him. In his teens, John was employed as a bricklayer’s labourer. He married Alice from Cocking in October 1884, although the couple had already had two children, a son Percy, born in late 1881, and a daughter Alice born in early 1884, who died as an infant. Alice was the daughter of Thomas Lambert, whose family operated a haulage business from Cocking and gave their name to Lambert’s Yard in the village.

Walter was born a few months after the marriage and in 1891 the family were living at Heyshott Green, where John was employed as a general labourer. Ten years later, the family were living at Lower Green, Heyshott when George was working as a woodman. The couple now had six children living at home, having lost two further children as infants and Percy had left home. Walter was now the oldest child living at home and was employed as a baker’s apprentice, aged 16.

At the time of the 1911 census, John and Alice were living at Hoyle Lane, Heyshott with their five youngest sons. Walter was now in the army.

Military service

Walter enlisted in Chichester on 5 May 1902, when he gave his age as 18 years 2 months, although he was actually a year younger. He joined the Royal Garrison Artillery and was sent to Dover the following day to start his training, before being sent to Gibraltar in October 1902 as part of 49 Company, RGA. Although his rank was a gunner, he trained as a baker in the army and in November 1904, he was transferred to the Army Service Corps with the rank of private. Having initially signed on for three years, he had now elected to extend his service to eight years. On joining the ASC in Gibraltar, he was appointed as a Baker (Second hand), being promoted to Foreman Baker in July 1906, following which he was promoted to Lance Corporal in August 1906.

He remained with the ASC in Gibraltar until March 1908, before returning to the UK, where he was stationed at Bordon camp. At Bordon, he successfully completed a Field Bakery course and was again promoted to Second Corporal in August 1908, before moving to Aldershot the next month.

In October 1909, he agreed to extend his service further, to twelve years with the colours. After spending six month at Trawsfynydd camp in North Wales between March and September 1910, he returned briefly to Aldershot before a posting to Curragh camp in Ireland in November 1910, where he was to spend the next ten months. In March 1911, he was promoted to corporal and in September, he again extended his service, to 21 years.

He then served in Egypt for three years from September 1911 to October 1914, based first in Alexandria and then in Cairo from March 1912, where he completed his training as a master baker in June 1912. He continued to be promoted, to Lance Sergeant on 10 February 1914 and then to Sergeant on 17 July 1914.

In October 1914, he returned to the United Kingdom, but after three months, he was sent to the Western Front on 16 January 1915. In France, he received further promotions, to Assistant Staff Sergeant in May 1915, and finally to Staff Sergeant on 14 June 1916.

He returned to England in December 1916 for three months, before he was sent to Mesopotamia (Iraq) in April 1917.He remained near Basra for three months, before moving to India in June, where he was stationed at Bangalore.

Death & commemoration

In October 1918, he showed the first signs of illness, being admitted to hospital in Bangalore with influenza. After 10 days, he was discharged from hospital but was shipped back to England on 28 December 1918 as an invalid, on board the SS “Erinpura” which had been commandeered from the British-India Steam Navigation Company and converted to a hospital ship in August 1915.

By June 1919, he had made a full recovery and was sent to Cologne in Germany with “A” Supply Company with the (now) Royal Army Service Corps, as part of the Army of the Rhine. Before long, however, he became ill again and in September 1919, he was admitted to the Herbert Hospital in Woolwich. He remained in hospital for seven weeks, before being discharged on home leave.

Grave of Walter Miles in Heyshott churchyard
Grave of Walter Miles in Heyshott churchyard

He returned to Aldershot in November 1919 but again fell ill in March. On 17 March, he was admitted to the Cambridge Hospital in Aldershot blue and breathless, with a high fever and weak pulse. He failed to recover and died at 3:10 am on the morning of 25 March 1920. The death certificate gives the causes of death as Influenza and Pericarditis (an inflammation of the pericardium, the fibrous sac surrounding the heart).

He was buried in St James churchyard at Heyshott, close to three other men who had returned from the war and died in England. He is also commemorated on the war memorial window in St James Church in Heyshott.

Subsequent family history

Walter’s parents, John and Alice remained in the area where their deaths were registered at Midhurst in 1938 and 1944 respectively.

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project