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Sisters share memories of Dereham war hero

PUBLISHED: 12:30 06 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:40 07 July 2010

Heather Rose and Nova Millar who are the sisters of 2nd Lt Bruce Millar.

Heather Rose and Nova Millar who are the sisters of 2nd Lt Bruce Millar.

Emma Knights

He is a second world war hero who died fighting for freedom and as with every soldier the news of his death was painful for his family back home.

At just 20 years old 2nd Lt John Bruce Millar made the ultimate sacrifice when he was killed as he fought the Germans in the Helmond area of the Netherlands.

He is a second world war hero who died fighting for freedom and as with every soldier the news of his death was painful for his family back home.

At just 20 years old 2nd Lt John Bruce Millar made the ultimate sacrifice when he was killed as he fought the Germans in the Helmond area of the Netherlands.

Far from forgotten, the soldier from Dereham is to be honoured in a book by Dutch author Ad Hermens about the area's wartime history.

And following an report in the EDP asking if anybody could help Mr Hermens find out more about him, two of 2nd Lt Millar's sisters, Heather Rose, now 81, and Nova Millar, 76, have come forward to speak about him and share correspondence written soon after his death.

The letters were sent by their father Edgar John Millar to their late sister Pat Bateman who at the time of 2nd Lt Millar's death was 21 and with the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) in Dover. They provide a poignant reminder of the human cost of war and an insight into the emotions of a family dealing with the devastation of losing a loved one in battle.

The first one was written on September 28 1944 - the day the family received the dreadful news about 2nd Lt Millar, of the 24th Lancers, Royal Armoured Corps, and who they called Bruce.

Part of it reads: “We have heard the worst possible news from France - a telegram at 8.30 this morning from the army people telling us that Bruce was killed in action on September 22.

“We know this will be a terrible blow for you, the same as it is for us, but we must think of him happy and loveable as we knew him to be and leave it to time to soften the blow - write to your Mummy dear as soon as you can.”

When Mr Millar writes again on October 5 1944 he tells his daughter “the storm is abating a little and we are able to see some of the sunshine of life” and in this letter and the next he goes into more detail about how the family was attempting to come to terms with their loss.

In many ways it seems that the little things in everyday life helped to keep them going, with Mr Millar telling his daughter about sending her boxes of apples, a visit from Auntie Hilda, and a school prize day, in between writing about what happened to his son.

Mr Millar speaks of his wife Maggie, known as Gree, being especially brave about their son's death, and he tells of how the family were told more detail of what happened to 2nd Lt Millar in a letter from Major Dunlop who was in charge of his squadron.

“Bruce's troop was attacking a strong point to clear the way for the infantry when a grenade burst near him and part of it struck him in the head killing him instantly,” he said, adding that it was a source of comfort that the family would in due course be told the location of 2nd Lt Millar's grave, and echoing some of the word's from Rupert Brooke's poem The Soldier.

“That is something I am glad about. I think it will be somewhere near Antwerp and that will be our corner of a foreign field that is forever England.”

At the time of their brother's death Mrs Rose and Miss Millar were just 16 and 10-years-old. They both clearly remember the day the telegram arrived at their Dereham home carrying the awful news.

Mrs Rose, of Swanton Drive, Dereham, said: “It was terrible that day. The telegram boy came with the telegram. I opened the door and took the telegram. My father knew what it was. It was awful.”

Miss Millar, of Bishopgate, Norwich, added: “The telegram came at about 8.30am. I was playing the song Lili Marleen. My father came in and said that was never to be played in this house again. It was the only time I saw my father cry.”

Both Miss Millar and Mrs Rose remember 2nd Lt Millar as a big brother who was jolly, outgoing and fun to be with.

Miss Millar said: “He was lovely. He had all the time in the world for me. I used to follow him around and I used to love it when he came home.”

Mrs Rose said: “He was away at school a lot but he would always play with us when he came home. He was a great one for sport - cricket, rugby and golf.”

Second Lt Millar went to a school in Quebec Road, Dereham, before going to a prep school in Hunstanton and later Worksop College, Nottinghamshire. He joined the 24th Lancers straight from school and trained at Sandhurst.

Mrs Rose and Miss Millar are proud their brother, who is buried in Mierlo War Cemetery, is to feature in a book about the Helmond area during the second world war.

Miss Millar said: “It is a lovely idea. We feel that the people of Holland must be really grateful for what the British did, for Mr Hermens to want to put everything into print.”

Excerpts of the letters from Mr Millar to his eldest daughter Pat:

“You do not often hear from me and when you do it is usually a letter full of nonsense but this morning nonsense is beyond me.

We have heard the worst possible news from France - a telegram at 8:30 this morning from the army people telling us that Bruce was killed in action on Sept 22.

We know this will be a terrible blow for you the same as it is for us but we must think of him happy and loveable as we knew him to be and leave it to time to soften the loss.”

“After the action was over they were able to bring him back to their base and he was buried by their chaplain and in due course we shall receive the exact position of his grave. That is something I am glad about. I think it will be somewhere near Antwerp and that will be our corner of a foreign field that is forever England.

Mummy has been especially brave and maybe even I have not yet fully realised how brave she is.”

“I do not know whether I have already told you but Bruce was killed whilst taking the town of Helmond on the night of Eindhoven in Holland.

They were mopping up Helmond and Bruce was ordered to take his troop of three Sherman tanks and outflank one of the strong points, and whilst going through some gardens and standing up in his tank directing his troops a lurking Jerry threw a grenade at him which exploded at the side of his head and killed him instantly.”

“It has been a great shock to us all but we must all try and remember him as the happy loveable lad that he was and as we knew him to be and be glad that he was ours if only for 20 years.”


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