Lieutenant James Joseph Miller RNVR (Auxiliary Motor-Launches)

In 1916 a small Royal Navy team arrived in New Zealand to recruit officers and motor mechanics for the Motor Boat Reserve. This was in response to the threat to Britain’s survival against the threat posed by German submarines. By
the end of the First World War nearly 200 hundred men and two women would volunteer in the Motor Boat Patrol.
One of the men was James Joseph Miller.[i]

James Miller was born on the 17th December 1895 the only son of Clara Kate and James Miller. The Millers were originally from Palmerton North but moved down to Plimmerton as James and his older sister Florence Evelyn were enrolled, in
1907, at Plimmerton School.[ii] James Miller served on the Plimmerton School Board from 1911.

In September 1915 Florence married Ronald Lock at St Andrews, Plimmerton. The ceremony was solemnised by the Rev Fancourt, assisted by the Rev Isaacson, with Florence being given away by her father.[iii]

On the 7th November 1916 James Miller (Senior) died in Plimmerton[iv] and a month later James Miller enlisted in Wellington, on 7th December 1916, in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR).[v] Temporary Sub-Lieutenant Miller
sailed for England, with 50 other New Zealand RNVR recruits, to be based initially at HMS Dreel Castle a depot ship at Falmouth, Penzance.  The men were then sent to HMS Herione, the Royal Naval College, Greenwich for officer training.[vi]

Officers Group (New Zealand) April 1917
Sub-Lieutenant Miller passed out with other members of the above group but is not, for some reason, in the photo with
his fellow New Zealanders.

Following the course Sub-Lieutenant Miller returned to attachment to the HMS Pembrooke which was a shore based barracks at Chatham but would have spent sea time on the Motor Launches based in the area. In August 1917 Lieutenant Miller was ‘lent’ as 2nd in Command to motor lighters operating from Dunkirk. Sub-Lieutenant Miller was recalled to England in September 1917 and attached to HMS Dreel Castle was the supply depot for Motor Launches operating out
of the Falmouth. The Motor Launches (ML) patrol provided anti-submarine protection in the areas around the British coastline and also in the English Channel.

On the 22nd September 1917 Sub-Lieutenant Miller was attached to HMS White Oak a steam drifter of the Auxiliary Patrol. HMS White Oak operated in the Isle of Wight area and supplied a number of Motor Launches. One of these ML’s was ML 423 and for Sub-Lieutenant this was his first permanent ship.  While with ML 423 Sub-Lieutenant Miller was promoted on 7th December 1917 to acting Lieutenant. For the next six months ML 423 would patrol the waters off the Isle of Wight on anti-submarine duties.

On the 1st June 1918 Acting Lieutenant Miller was appointed to ML 563 which operated from the Portsmouth area, he would remain with the vessel until September 1918.

We meet a friend – ML 531

The Motor Launches were built by Echo
( Electric Launch Company)  of the USA in 1915 specifically
for the Royal Navy. The vessels were between 80 – 88 feet
long and armed, nominally,  with 1 x 3 inch AA gun and
some carried depth charges. Powered by 2 standard petrol motors, they were capable of 19 knots. The ML’s carried a
crew of nine men.

Acting Lieutenant Miller’s final war – time posting was with ML 323, which operated from the depot  ship
HMS Dreel Castles, during the final months of the war. Acting Lieutenant remained with the Royal Navy until the 20th March 1919 when was demobilised.

James remained in England writing to the New Zealand Defence Department , 19th February 1920,[vii] to ask about the payment of the difference in payments made to New Zealanders in the Imperial Forces, like himself, compared to those
in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) who were on higher rates of pay. James indicated that he had remained in London to attend the London University  studying to be a doctor. The response from New Zealand Defence was that the payment of 150 pounds, which was close to the average 1920 annual wage of 160 pounds, would only be paid if James returned to New Zealand.

There is no record of James returning to New Zealand but he did become a Doctor as on the death of his mother in 1937
Dr James Miller, London and his sister Mrs R S Lock inserted a death notice in the Evening Post.[viii]

In the Royal Navy officers were not given a serial number but were know by the rank and name only.

Kathleen E Gibson; Seventy-Five Years 1904 – 1979, Plimmerton School and its Environment; Apex Print Ltd. Petone.
RNZN Museum: New Zealand in the Naval War 1914 – 1918.
Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Files: Lieutenant James Joseph Miller RNVR
Papers Past Online
Lt James Miller: The Archive Department & Research Centre of the Fleet Air Arm.

Officers Group (New Zealand) April 1917 Greenwich: Auckland Musuem
We meet a Friend ML 531: (Text and background) Google Photos

[i] Lieutenant James Miller; Royal Navy Archives
[ii] Enrolled Ex-pupil’s From 1904-1929: Seventy-five Years 1904-1979 Plimmerton School and its Environment.
[iii] Marriage Lock-Miller (7th September 1915) Dominion
[iv] Death Miller (8th November 1915) Evening Post
[v] Lt James Miller: The Archive Department & Research Centre of the Fleet Air Arm.
[vi] Lt James Miller: The Archive Department & Research Centre of the Fleet Air Arm.
[vii] Archway Archives New Zealand – Military Files: Lieutenant James Joseph Miller
[viii] Deaths Miller (4th March 1937) Evening Post 
We meet a Friend ML 531