WALTER ALFRED GEORGE MILES

Private, 200170, 1/4th Royal Sussex Regiment
Killed in Action, 2nd Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917, aged 23
Buried in Jerusalem War Cemetery, Palestine
Commemorated on Upper Panel 26
 

Jerusalem War Cemetery

Private Walter Alfred George Miles was born at Forest Row in the second half of 1893. His parents, Walter William Miles and Edith Taylor, had married at East Grinstead in summer 1890, and by the time of the 1891 census had a baby daughter, Lena. They were living on Tomsetts Bank in Forest Row, and Walter senior, known by his second name William, was a butcher. By 1911, the family had moved to Mount Cottage, Forest Row, where it looks as if Edith might have been the principal breadwinner as a laundress, although laundryman is written in beside William's name in a fainter ink. Walter Alfred George was presumably known by his second name as he appears as Alfred Miles, a 17-year-old post boy working for the GPO. A six-year-old brother Charles completes the household.

Alfred joined the Royal Sussex Regiment at East Grinstead, although no precise record survives to say when. However, his name appears as a member of the Forest Row troop on a list of scouts who joined up before June 1915* so it was certainly during the first year of the war. It is possible that he joined up at the same time as fellow Forest Row post boy Alfred Jesse Sands, two years his junior, although the latter enlisted at Horsham. Before the war, there were eight companies in the regiment, but with the outbreak of hostilities, these were brought together as one battalion, and the 4th Battalion became Army Troops in the Home Counties division. Alfred was probably part of 'C' Company, which took men from East Grinstead, Crawley and Horsham. The battalion became the 1/4th as it was later followed by a 2/4th and 3/4th. His medal card gives as the 'previous unit served' 4/1568 1 / 4 Royal Sussex Regiment.

Alfred probably sailed from Devonport with his battalion on HMT Ulysses in July 1915 to join the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. By the end of the month, the ship had sailed first to Alexandria and then to Port Said. From there it sailed to Gallipoli and Mudros. On 8 August, a date marked on his medal card as being his date of entry into the Balkans theatre of war, the men disembarked at Suvla Bay in an attempt to draw Ottoman troops away from where an earlier landing of allied troops had become bogged down. Inevitably, the new contingent was also drawn into the stalemate of trench warfare, and it was decided to evacuate the 4th Battalion on 13 December 1915. Alfred had probably survived his first experience of the trenches in worse conditions than those on the Western Front.

There seems little material available on the battalion's movements in Egypt; the War Diaries have not survived, but in 1917 Alfred would have been moved with his comrades to Palestine. The first battle of Gaza was fought in March, and once again, Alfred survived the experience, although it ended in defeat for the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, as the Ottoman Army was strongly defending the area. Following the first battle, the Turks brought in reinforcements to protect both the town, a line of redoubts, and the road out towards Beersheba.

In an attempt to turn things around in a second battle, fought between 17 and 19 April, the British employed tanks, and, for the first time in Palestine, gas shells — 4,000 of them. The Turks were outnumbered two to one, but it was the British who suffered most. Casualty figures were three times as high as for the Ottoman army, and the British lost 6,444 men in three days, one of whom was Walter Alfred George Miles. After this second battle was lost, the British turned to French and Italian reinforcements, and finally took Gaza in a third battle in November 1917.

The Commonwealth War Grave Registration Report accurately gives Alfred's full name and those of his parents, but gives his age as 21. In fact, he must have been 23, an age which is correctly recorded in the Forest Row Memorial Book. This is not surprising given that the submission was signed by his father, W W Miles, then living at 1, Triangle Cottages, Forest Row.

Pam Griffiths

 

*  Thanks to Nigel Steer, ASL First Polegate Scouts, for this information.