A farewell salute to Archie Miller: constant husband, father and friend; boon companion; successful business man; war hero and survivor; a person of courage, resilience and generosity. He will be greatly missed by all who were fortunate enough to call him a friend.
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. .John Donne: Meditation XV11, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624)
At approximately 7.30 PM on Monday 5th May, 2002, the bell tolled for Archie Miller. He was within two months of celebrating his 80th birthday.
I had enjoyed a friendship with him and his family for more than forty odd years. The news of his death saddened me deeply and in the first stages of my grieving at his passing and reflection on his character and life, the words of John Donne slid into my mind. I then better understood the meaning of those words: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
What was so special about this man? Let me share some information and thoughts about him and his life. After reading them you will understand why he ranked so high on my list of true friends and, I hope, will give you an insight into the courage, resilience and generosity of the man.
Archie was born in 1922. His name was registered as Albyn Miller, but as he progressed through life he became known as Archie or Alby to his close friends. Some called him by his nickname of "Dusty", a reference to the flour dust associated with the occupation of the miller.
When Archie was only seven years old his mother died. This left his father in the unenviable position of having to care for seven young children and still earn a living. Four of the children were old enough to cope with the situation, but Archie and two of his brothers became wards of the state and were subsequently placed in the care of foster parents. He remained with them long enough to complete his secondary education.
He joined the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) as an Ordinary Signalman 2nd Class on 14th August, 1939 Two weeks later the Second World War broke out and Australia followed England with a declaration of war against Germany. As a direct result, Archie’s signal course was shortened from two years to six months and the whole of Flinders Naval Depot (where Archie was stationed) commenced gearing up in earnest for war.
Archie recorded in a memoir written long after the war that The recruits were as green as grass. Nobody knew much about what war involved, even the officers, but none of us could wait and we were looking forward with great anticipation at going to sea and any adventure that went with it.
The signal course finished in May 1940 and Archie was drafted to a brand new escort sloop, HMAS Parramatta. Archie again: It was going to be a strange new experience for us brand new sailors with no experience of ships whatsoever, let alone warships. I remember walking up from the Administration block to our quarters the night before we left the Depot. I looked up into the night sky and saw a fairly bright star high on my left. I said a quiet prayer and asked that it would guide me safely through whatever was to come.
I said a quiet prayer and asked that it would guide me safely through whatever was to come. I wonder if Archie ever reflected back on that prayer and its plea for safe guidance through the dangers of war? He most likely did after he had experienced and survived an incident at sea later in the war: one which would be indelibly impressed on his memory for the rest of his life.
TO BE CONTINUED...in Part 2
© 2002 Patrick Talty