His Story, His Words Part Two
I think it was the same week that Mr. Sharples died that I met a mate of mine and he told me that a fishmonger by the Victoria Hall in Sundeland is advertising for a lad. I got dressed up and when I got to the shop Mr. Wardle (the owner) was there with this other lad, Mr. Wardle said "what can I do, I know I will spin a coin up to see who gets the job", he said to the lad "what is it, heads or tails" and then he said "oh! you've lost, it's heads". I got the job, it was a fiddle. I used to go down to the fish quay every morning with a cart. When the trawlers came in they used to haggle for the fish, it was sold by auction. There was cod, crabs and halibut.
We used to got there and load the barrow up, there was cobble stones leading from the fish markets up to the streets where the tram cars used to be, this was the East End of Sunderland again. He used to give me a push up the bank until I go on a level road, then he would get on his bike and go to the shop. I had to pull the barrow, it was heavy, I was only a lad. When I got to the fish shop all the fish was put in an ice tank, blocks of ice because the were no fridges in those days.
There were fish called Gurnards, I used to skin them, there were spikes on them, I learned a lot about the fish. At the fish market, at the quay, any crabs with the legs off, they used to sling them out and fish with heads off, the kids were down there picking the fish up, there was nothing wrong with them.
I used to get fish of Mr. Wardle to take home. I did not have a bike, I had a basket and I used to take orders out, they were nearly all Jewish people I went out to, specially on a Friday, a big day that was, with fish. They had a greengrocers shop as well next door, I had to work for them as well.
The Victoria Hall was right opposite the shop, he asked me if I would like to work in the Victoria Hall selling programmes, chocolates and cigarettes. I must of stunk of fish. So at night time I used to go to the Victoria Hall, when all the plays were on, like Quality Street. I used to go up and down saying "chocolates, cigarettes, programmes". For every dozen programmes I sold i got one extra penny, it was a few coppers extra. So, I had the two jobs and my mother was alright with the money, I used to have about a shilling.
When I was fourteen I started going to dances, Morrisons Hall in Bridge Street, Sunderland, doing the Black Bottom, The Charleston. I used to dance with the big girls, I was like Norman Wisdom, falling over and laughing.. I used to go with my sister, my sister Daisy used to take me, the one that is in Australia.
I was in the cubs, Vaux's Own was the name of the cubs. I had a scout knife, my dad bought me a scout knife and I cut my thumb on it. I went for my badges, I got some badges, I don't know where my mother got my jersey from and my tie and hat. I liked it. I was in the cubs first and then I was in the scouts.
I liked football, I played rugby for Hudson Road school, my mother said i had to pack it in because when I came in from the wet I was thick of mud and she had to wash my clothes.
I had some relations at New Herrington, that is a part of Sunderland., they were named Clarke and they were all miners. I had a cousin, she was pregnant and the doctor came to the house and killed her, I have a book about it, he killed her, he cut her open and he was drunk, her name was Nelly, I was there at the time and us kids were all chased out of the house, my mother was there.
I had cousins and they were all on different shifts up at the Dolly Pit, that was the name of the pit, they were in Catherine Terrace and I had a cousin called Dolly and she was named after the pit. My Aunt Kate, that was my mothers sister, all she seemed to be doing was baking, washing and getting the hot water ready for my cousins, they were all on different shifts and that was the first time I saw my Uncle Fred, naked in a little bath tub in front of the fire. The toilets, they were not flush toilets, they were bins and the bin men used to come around and empty them. All the houses were colliers houses, cottages and there was a round ring for the youngsters and a big ring for the grown ups.
When I lived in Hedworth Street, there were two families, there was a family upstairs called Oliver and we only had the one toilet and that was in the backyard, we all used to use it and if you wanted to go to the toilet and there was somebody there, you had to wait. There was only one wash house and they used to use them and I used to help my mother with the ringing machine, oh! the big rollers, ringing around.
I joined a band, me and Scottie Cones, we joined Sunderland Street Mission Band, they gave me a French horn to play and he had a trumpet, the neighbours used to complain when we were practising so we gave that up.
Another mate was Geordie Blackburn, I knew Geordie when we were fourteen. There was Geordie Blackburn, Bobby Antlet and another lad, his father was Italian and his mother was an English woman but I forget his name and there was myself, I was only about fourteen at the time. Those three lads they used to have six bags, hessian bags, they would start of about eleven or twelve o'clock at night and walk all the way to Ryhope Colliery and the next morning I would go down to Jimmy Hearts in Sunderland, he used to loan wheelbarrows out and for sixpence I could have the barrow all day. I used to pull that barrow all the way to Ryhope and there was a bank called the Hall Bank and you had to run down it to get up the other side and by the time I got there they had filled six bags of coal, just imagine youngsters doing that today. They would put them on the cart. I would have a rope around my shoulders with me between the barrow shafts, I would run down the hill and sometimes my legs would leave the ground. Puffing and blowing I would get up the other side and pull the barrow all the way to Sunderland. Each of our mothers had a bag of coal and we sold the rest for sixpence a bag, because we used to do this regular, sixpence would pay for the barrow and the other sixpence we had we had three ha'pence each, we would have a penny fish and a ha'penny worth of chips.
I left my job at the fishmongers for what I thought was a better job as a French polisher in Sunderland Street, I did not like it that much, I used to polish bedsteads, the owner was a Jew.
Emigration To Canada
I went with a group of lads, The Salvation Army Boy Farmers. I was out of work, I was only getting five shilling in groceries and a chit. like most young lads I wanted to make a fortune and my sister was the same, she emigrated to Australia because she wanted a better life, we were hard up. I had a brother, Billy, he is still alive, he joined the army when he was fourteen, I have a picture of him in his uniform, he joined the Durham Light Infantry, he was a band boy, he is still alive, he served in Malta during the war, he was transferred to the Northumberland Fusiliers where he a was bugler to the commanding officer there, the Governor General.
Brother William (Billy) Miller
James Miller. 2nd Row Up, 4th From Left
I went to Canada by boat with a Salvation Army scheme, it was advertised in the paper, I wrote off about it, I had to go down to Leigh On Sea, there was a big Salvation Army farm there, I learned to drive horses. It was like being in the army, we were all in beds we used to get up in the morning and go to church and things like that. It was rough work, cleaning the sties out, the name of the place was Hadley, down the south. I was there for three months.
I went to Canada on the SS Montcalm, sailing from Liverpool and there was no one there to see me off, I did not feel strange leaving home. When I was a little lad I was always on the wonder. When I was three or four and living in Wear Street, I got out of the back garden, I managed to open the gate and get out, there were chickens in our garden. I was picked up by the police, they knew where I was living, my mother came to get me from the station in High Street, she was in tears when I saw her. I was sitting in the sergeant's high chair, I was covered in jam and I had a pocketful of pennies that the police had given me and then I went home. they put other catches on the gate to stop me getting out but I got out again and i tried to find the police station. I don't remember how I got back home this time but my mother had my name and address stitched onto my Jersey or gansey (slang term used up the North East) and please return.
The journey out on the Montcalm was rough, it took a week to get there, there were no planes flying there then. I remember going up the crows nest. We landed at St Johns New Brunswick, when we arrived the St Lawrence River was frozen up. I got to the farm, I do not remember the name of it, it was OK but I was just drifting here and there.
SS Montcalm. Canadian Pacific Liner
Canadian Passport Photo Sailing To Canada
James Miller On a Farm He Was Working On In Canada (Circa 1927)
The work was hard, I had to get up at five in the morning, we were called hired hands. I got fed up and my mother kept writing to me to come home, I think it only cost me five quid to come back, I came back on the SS Montclare, Canadian Pacific Lines, I landed back in Glasgow.
SS Montclare. Canadian Pacific Liner
I was in Canada for four years, I still have my passport, I had to get a Canadian passport which cost a guinea. I came back in November 1930 and I could not get a job, there was unemployment again, there were three million men out of work, it was especially bad up the North East. I had no stamps and I could not get any dole, I had been away.Joining The Army
I went home and told my mother. On the Tuesday i got on the train and asked where Fenham Barracks was, it was up the Scotswood Road, that was where I had to go. I got to the barracks and the guard room was there, I was asked what I wanted, I said "I have joined up", I had some papers with me, a sergeant took me to a barrack room where there were some more lads, we started to meet and talk to one and other and asking each other where we come from.,one lad said "god I was not half lucky I had the last vacancy, the Durham's is full up" and another lad said "well I had that", seemingly we were all told the same tale, there was such a large recruitment drive for the Durham Light infantry in those days, there were pit lads and unemployment. The pay was fourteen shilling a week and two brown suits. The recruiter had lied to us, he wanted us to join the Royals or the Suffolks or the Wessex or the Lancashire Fusiliers, there was hardly any recruiting for these and there was such a vast amount who wanted to join the Durham Light Infantry.
I met the sergeant, his name was Sergeant Wilson, he was going to take charge of us and teach us how to be a soldier, the squad I was in was called Salamanca, it was named after a Crimean battle honour, another one being Inkerman. I had to go to the stores to get fitted out and a chap handed me some clothes and he said "what in the hell are you doing here" and I said "hello Uncle Harry". My uncle, he joined up in 1905 or 1906, he was a store keeper for the depot at Fenham Barracks, I did not know this at the time, he was with the 1st Battalion, he was in Ballikilner, I have a photograph of him there which was taken in 1926. The 1st Battalion went on the Rhine after the first world war and he married a German girl called Minna, she was a blonde girl, I remember they came to my mothers house for a holiday and there was hell let loose, cause, my mother wanted to know why he wanted to marry a German girl, my mother would not speak to her and so they left the house. My Uncle Harry was in married quarters at Fenham Barracks with my Aunt Minna and I used to go across to the married quarters every night for my supper.
James Miller's Uncle Harry At Fenham Barracks 1926
There were about forty men in the squad, I used to know the name of nearly all the lads, I only know the name of about three of them now. Sergeant Flanagan was our instructor.
I was in Salamanca Squad but ten days after joining I was coming from my Uncle Harry's quarters, I was running up the steps into the barrack room and I slipped, we used to have hob nailed boots in those days and i slipped on the step, I had a book folded in my right hand and as I fell I clutched this book and I broke my knuckles, three of them on my right hand. I went to the MI room and from there was sent down to Catterick Hospital, just ten days after joining up and I was in the hospital for about twenty one days, when I got back they said it might effect my army life because of it being my trigger finger. At Catterick I got in with the old soldiers, I liked it because my arm was in a sling and i was in uniform and I looked like a wounded soldier, it was a bit of fun. I can't remember how I got to the hospital once I had left the train, it might of been on a bus. I learnt how to play Nap there, that is Napoleon, they were alright those old soldiers, some had moustaches, some were from the 1st world war. Here was also the first time I saluted a woman, you had to salute the sisters, they were classified as Lieutenants or something like that.
When I got back to the barracks I had to wait nearly eleven months for another squad to start, this was Inkerman Squad. Sergeant Flannagan our instructor was very strict ( I met him again 5 years ago, he had become a major who had won the Military Medal). He was very strict, he was a good soldier and he taught us how to be soldiers. I was at the depot for eleven months and while I was there I passed my third and my second class of education.
I used to get up at 6.00 am, we had PT (physical training), knickers and vest, we had a pot of cocoa and a biscuit, then it was keep changing into uniform then out of uniform and we did square bashing (drill on a barracks square) a lot, we learnt how to salute, up one two three down, everything was done like that including your rifle. The Durhams used to carry their rifles at the at the trail not on the shoulder, they did carry them on their shoulders but mostly at the trail (the firearm is gripped firmly with one hand at the balance point), all our drills were from the trail, you would fix bayonets on the march, it was quite a life. At first, drill was horrible because they used to pull you up, as you were, as you were, stand to attention properly, stand at ease properly and if you see a Union jack flying you have to salute it if you were in uniform, it was tough but we got used to it, it was very strict.