His Story, His Words Part One

From The Beginning, Growing Up In Sunderland

I was born on the 23rd of October, nineteen hundred and ten, in Wear Street , Bishopwearmouth, Sunderland.  Sunderland is divided into two, it is Bishopwearmouth and Monkwearmouth, the River Wear separates them. Then my mother and father moved to Hedworth Street in Hendon and we lived there many years, my mother was always proud to say that it once belonged to a policeman.

As the years went on the first world war broke out 1914 and when I was six years of age or round about six, a zeppelin came over, it didn't come over Sunderland, I think it was near Hartlepools, it was south of where we were.  One of our old bi-planes went up, roared up and got above him and he fired right in the centre of the zeppelin and the zeppelin got on fire broke into two halves and the two halves were drifting about in the street and all the people were out in the street, it was daytime and everybody was cheering, the canopy where the Germans were  was on fire, they were very brave men these chaps, flying one of them things, I was only six an all and they were dropping out the basket or the canopy, whatever I said it was and I said to my mom look at them poor men and she says "their bloody Germans" you know".

I went to four different schools from 1914 to 1918, I first went to St. Paul's School, then I went to Cowan Terrace, Garden Street and my proper school was Hudson Road School, Hedworth Street run into Hudson Road where the trams used to go own there, right down the  town-moor and I finished up at Hudson Road School in Standard Seven.

I was top of the class once in standard five, Mr Pattenson, I still remember the names of the teachers in them days, there was Miss Wilkinson and Miss Minigan.  Now women teachers in them days didn't have to get married, they were all miss and this miss Wilson, oh! she was a very old lady but she was nasty, oh! my god.  She would walk round the class and if she anybody looking on, cause we were two at a desk, if she saw one of the lads looking over, she used to bring her hands together, CLAP!!, right across your ears and the bells, oh! she was vicious, now these come out of retirement, these two women.

Jim Miller at Hudson Road School, third row up, fourth from the left

But anyway, there was Mr. Pattenson, I remember him coming to the school, that was standard five and he'd just come out the army, he must of been in the cavalry because he had a scar right down his right cheek and the day I moved into that class, I got talking to the lad next to me, double desks like and he called me out, Mr. Pattenson, and all he said was what's your name and I said Miller sir and he said well I want a cane, I haven't got one, there's sixpence, go up the blind school and get one, a good one.  The blind school was where blind people went to make baskets and things like that you see.  So, I got this sixpence and up the blind school I went and tried a few canes and got a nice swisher (laughing), walking back to the school I kept swishing this stick ya know and fancy the teacher sending me for this ya know.  When I go back into the class, he tried it, swishing and he says right oh, now put your hand out and he caned me twice and he says "you know what that's for" and I said no sir, he says "well, you were talking in the class weren't you and that was it.

Then there was Mr. Dodds, he was in standard six, he had one leg, he lost a leg in the war, Dosher, we called him, Mr Dodds and Mr Wilkinson was the headmaster.

Well us kids we used to, opposite Hudson Road School was a synagogue and a cinema right next to it, the Villiers Cinema, that was in Villier Street, well youngsters ya know when the Hebrews were around they used to shout up this passage ya know, it's silly things to do and well we were ten or eleven year old then and there was me brother George and I with two or three kids, we thought of a game, cause there was a Jewish quarter where we lived, quite near and we played the game, we'd stand on our hands and bang on the door with our feet and run, like hell yeah.  Well it was my brother Georges turn, he was two years younger than me, George is dead now, he died when he was 65 poor lad but anyway it was his turn and there was glass windows and it was pitch dark and he put his feet through the windows, oh! dear and the lads were shoutin' "haway Miller, haway lad, haway man".  Anyway the next mornin' George, he had the stomach ache, he said he had like, so he didn't go to school.  I got to school, I hadn't been in the class five minutes before i was called to the headmasters office, there was a Jewish woman there and she said "that's the lad", that was me and I got blamed for what George did, you see, I got a right blinking walloping and I had to pay this woman back sixpence a week, you know and I got a slap on the cheek off me mother every  time she gave me the tanner.

Anyway, another instance like that was, playing football in the street, Hedworth Street and I wasn't playin' that match but some of the kids were in the street and they put the football through the shopkeeper's window, Mrs Robson, anyway some time late, I didn't know about this but some time later there was a policeman come to the door and he said have you got a lad called Jimmy here and me mother said and he said "well I want to see him".  Well I had run under the table (giggling) and he called me out, I was only about ten, nine, he called me out and i got blamed for kicking the ball through the window, now I wasn't playing, I had to go to court up in, pah what was the name of the street, up in High Street next to the brewery,  there was a big brewery, Vaux's brewery, it's still there now and the garrison ground was there where they used to have the fairground, there was also the Avenue Theatre which I used to go to but anyway I got fined five shillings putting that so called ball, I wasn't there, that was sixpence a week and I had to go up the police station every Friday, me mother used to give me the sixpence, we were very poor and pay this debt off.

Anyway I went on and when I got to the age of, oh yes I was top of the class once as well, twice I was top of the class.  When I was about thirteen, well I wasn't quite fourteen, I got a job at a restaurant, Lockards.

I come from a large family, there was five girls and five boys, there was about two years between them as they arrived.  My dad was out of work in fact me dad was born in Southampton and he came to Sunderland they were building steel ships, iron ships.  He come a place called Itchen Ferry, well I think that's the River Itchen and my mother belonged Sunderland, yes, a place called Carley, little tiny cottages and all my uncles lived up there, my Uncle Jack, My Uncle Tim, they were all in the Durham Light Infantry, there was three or four of them like, a big family.

My mother was named Hopper before she was married and her mother was named Snowball, they come form Bishop Auckland, at Paisley.  Anyway there was five lads and five lassies, I was the oldest son and my sister in Australia she was the oldest girl.

When the war broke out, my mother struggled, my dad was out of work, well in those days there was thousands of men out of work, especially up the North East, they hadn't much to do but just go to bed had they, you know, nothing to do and on the dole.  I remember my dad, they put him on the roads, making roads, terrible.  Then I used to take his bait up, a pie in a dish for him before I went to school.

When the war was on, my mother had a little cafe and I used to stand in the butchers because she was allowed so much meat, I used to stand in the butcher's queue because of the rations for my mother and when my mother came I used to run to school and she took my place in the queue.

In Hudson Road school I think, I think it was the Sherwood Foresters, they were there, you see the soldiers used to go in the schools and I used to go to the barracks with the class, the soldiers took a fancy to me and I used to fire a rifle, the rifle was on the floor of course and I used to pull the bolt back.  I used to run messages for them, a chap on guard would say "Jimmy go to your mothers and get me a loaf but don't let the Sergeant Major see you".  Sometimes on a weekend they would give me a tin of plum and apple jam to take to my mother to make some jam tarts.  She used to make peas pudding and things like that.

My dad, he was in the Durham's, I have my dad's discharge papers, he joined the Durham Volunteers and he was bought out because he was too young or something.

James Miller (father of James Henry Miller) Discharge Paper

He was called up when the war broke out and then they took him out of the army and yet he had to go down to Bristol on Barry Island to repair ships because he was a ship's riveter, left and right handed and his arms were bent with riveting.  He was a nice man my dad was.

Certificate For Enrolling As War Munition Volunteer

James and Jane Miller (Nee Hopper).  Father and mother of James Henry Miller

I never saw my grandparents I think there was one alive when I was born, the rest had all died, I have a photograph of my grandfather Hopper, he was a seaman, he was drowned at sea and he is in his navy clothes and he has got his thumb bandaged up and he is with my grandmother.

                                    Grandparents Of James Henry Miller On Mother's Side                                  

My mother was only just five foot in height, a little tiny woman and she had all these children.  My dad used to bring me cigarette cards from Wills, Wills was from down in Bristol and he used to bring leaf tobacco and smash it up.  I used to love to see my dad coming home, he used to bring back full packs of cigarette cards, I wish I had them now, British Generals.

My dad came home after the war and he could not get a job and my mother lost her shop and we were in dire straits.

I used to get boots from the school and a jersey, my mother had no money to one.  Friday night was crying night for my mom, she had no money.  Tea was a penny a packet, Black and Green's tea, just a penny a packet and that used to last all week.  She got hard up sometimes and she would ask the next door neighbour (because they were pretty well off) if she could have half a loaf of bread until tomorrow.

My dad he used to get up very early and go into the fields and dig spuds up, he could of been arrested.  We used to have boiled potatoes for breakfast before we went to school, we were poor and still the children arrived.

My sister Martha, she is in a home now in Kings Lyn, she was in the ATS, she was only a little tiny girl.  I saw her born.  I knew my mother was pregnant, I was about twelve.  My mother said "Jimmy son, will you go and get Mrs. Summers, she was the midwife and she lived quite a way from our house and I ran, I did not have a half penny or penny for the tram car.  I knocked on the door of Mrs. Summers' and said will you hurry up and she says "she's alright Jimmy".  She had a bike and she was off.

Children were born in the houses then, at home, they were not born in hospitals or cared for.  Next door neighbours used to come in and friends and help with the confinement as they used to call it.  When I got home Mrs. Summers was there, I opened the bedroom door and I saw my mother with her hands on the back of the brass bed, she was in great pain and then my sister Martha was born, I shut the door quick.

One of the neighbours said "Jimmy, will you go and get Mr. Pervis", he was the vicar at St Pauls Church which was just behind our back garden.  Mr. Pervis he was in and I said "will you hurry up because my mother got a baby and you have got to come quick", because they were not expecting her to live, she was named in he house, she lived, she was in the ATS and now in a home, I don't know how old she is, she is in her seventies and that was that.

There was a slaughterhouse about twenty yards from our house, us kids used to go and watch the animals being slaughtered.  The Jews they used to come and they used to do chickens in their way of killing, they used to take all of the blood out of the meat.  we used to ask the slaughterers for the bladders of the pigs and play football.  The names of the lads was chicken white and we had names for all the lads in the street.

Starting To Find Work

When I was just about fourteen I got a job weekends at Lockards the cafe in Sunderland, near the station, I think it's still there Lockards, that was very nice because any food that was left I used to bring to my mother.  At Christmas time they gave me a watch, the staff did and I had to stand on a table, it was a pocket watch, I had to stand on the table and sing them a song and I song a song.  I used to sing in the streets as well for pennies and half pennies with this song and I used to play a melodeon, play a moth organ, I used to play the bones and the spoons, I was only a kid, all the kids did.  The song goes:

She's more to be pitied than laughed at
She's more to be helped than despised
She is only a lassie who ventured
Down life's lonely path, ill-advised;
Do not scorn her with words filled so bitter
Do not laugh at her shame and downfall.
Just think for  a moment,  consider
That a man was the cause of it all.
It's a man every time, it's a man
If he makes a blunder (thank you Mrs.)
The whole world forgives
But she has to suffer as long as she lives
If her head hangs in shame
Then who is to blame
It's a man every time, it's a man.

Extract From The Song:
(William B. Gray)

That was one of of the songs I used to sing, slow steps and get the pennies in for my mother.

One day, my mother, she was really hard up, she was crying and oh! my god, anyway, I said I'll get some money and I went up the street and there was a grate in the gutter where the water runs in and I stood there (I shouldn't of done this).  I saw a woman walking up the road, a Jewish woman and I started to cry, I could cry and I was looking at the grate, "what's the matter son", I said "me mother give me half a crown, Oh! Mrs. and I've dropped it down the drain, I daren't go home", Ah!, she gave me half a crown.  I was upset, I said "here you are ma", she said "where did you get that", "I found it in the street like", oh! my god, half a crown, ooh! get the bread in.

We used to get bones and boil them in the pan and my mother used to have a big pot of porridge as well, a great big pot, it used to last all week that did.  She was a good cook, my mother.  She died when she was 85, first time in hospital and she died in Sunderland.  I was at Sunderland at the time and when I got to the hospital she was still warm.

I worked in a cafe while I was still at school, I worked weekends, they did not believe in staying on at school in them days, you had to get out, you left school at fourteen, boys became apprentices and girls became skivvies, working in Jewish houses as servants, my sister did she worked for Jews.

I did leave school and i went round the town in Sunderland, calling into shops and asking if they wanted a boy, I got down to the East End of Sunderland, it was a long way from where I lived, the East End, the River Wear was just across the road, the East End was a bad spot of Sunderland, it had a bad name, in fact the first flats were built in Sunderland, they called them Harrisons Buildings, they were built when I was around fourteen or sixteen, about seventy year ago, anyway, I got this job at a butchers shop, there was an old woman in there and her husband and I said "do you want a boy", "no" he said and his wife said "now wait on" and she said "come here son, you want a job", I said "yeah" and she said "you can start working for my husband here" and that was my first job after leaving school.

I think I got four shillings a week and at weekends Mr. Sharples, that was his name, he used to give me sausages and meat.  I had to stand outside the shop on a Saturday night, flogging this meat off, "come on sixpence a pound, here is a nice rump steak".  My mother got me an apron made, a blue and white apron.  I was still in shorts, I was still wearing short trousers and stockings.

I had worked there quite a long while, I used to make sausages and mince the meat and got on quite well.  I always used to take Mr. Sharples up to the tram, he was in his sixties, maybe older, I always used to take him up to the tram because he had no car, then I used to walk home.  One Saturday night he was sitting on a barrel in the back shop doing some work, I said "come on Mr. Sharples get your tram" and he said "no Jimmy, i'm stopping, I've got work to do and help yourself to anything that is in the window", I said "I can't", anyway he came and made me a great big parcel, he said "goodnight" and I said "goodnight, you'll be alright Mr. Sharples", "yes, yes" he said, "don't worry".  I went home and my mother said "god what is all this here", I said "Mr. Sharples give us it".

On the Monday morning, going back to work the shop was shut, it adjoined the co-op stores and they used the same toilet in this big yard.  I had a mate called Scotty Coates and he was working in another butcher called Eastman's, just up the road.  I went up the road to the shop and I said "Mr. Sharples has not come yet.  I had been there about half an hour when I heard the ambulance coming down, they used to ring a bell ding a ling a ling a ling in them days, I went to see where the ambulance was going, it went round the corner to the back of the shop in the back lane, there was a crowd of people there and a policeman, I heard somebody shout "that's Mr, Sharples' boy", the policeman come to me, he said "hello son, you work for Mr. Sharples", I said "yes but he is not here yet", he said "oh! well, Mr. Sharples has had a bit of an accident, give me your address, go home and I will come and see you after".

I ran home and said to my mother "Mr. Sharples, something has happened to him, the policeman is coming up this afternoon to see me".  What had happened, he had got into debt with the meat people, he had gone into the toilet outside with a long knife and stuck it through the back of his neck and nearly cut his head off, the door was shut.  A girl from the co-op went round to go to the toilet and sore all this blood coming from under the door, she sore Mr. Sharples with his head nearly hanging off, he had committed suicide.  I had to go the inquest, the coroner gave me five shillings for being a good witness, I was the last person to see him alive.  I went to his funeral and with the five Shilling my mother bought me a pair of grey long trousers, it was the first time I had had long trousers.

Part Two