Private Frederick Keith Miller, right, who was born and raised in the Eastside district near Ponoka is shown here with a friend Airman Joseph Johnson. Miller, who enlisted with the Canadian Armed Forces in 1943 would join the North Nova Scotia Highlanders R.C.I.C Light Infantry and was trained as a ‘stretcher bearer’. He would serve with the ‘Novas’ during the horrific but victorious 1944 Second World War confrontation against the Germans in the Battle of Caen in Normandy, France, and made the supreme sacrifice for his country. Photo courtesy of the Fort Ostell Museum

Reflections: Looking back a brave Ponoka soldier

Private Frederick Keith Miller is recognized in this week’s Ponoka News history column

By Mike Rainone for the News

It was around the year 1902 that the Miller brothers, Fred and Will came into Alberta looking for homesteads after working in the sawmills of Ontario. They travelled by horseback until they got bogged down in the mud, and often had to walk for many miles looking at prospective land on which to settle. The irony of it all is that they didn’t take a homestead in the middle of all that muck, which by the way is now Jasper Avenue in the centre of Edmonton, but rather came into the Ponoka area and eventually both staked a claim on property in the Eastside area, where the local residents claimed that the weather was always good.

After placing a down payment on a place a ½ mile north of the Eastside School house, Fred was joined by his wife Mary and infant son Frank, with Bazil being born in Ponoka on the way out. The family lived in the Eastside district until later taking a homestead in the Earlville district, and became actively involved in the United Church. Frank had to walk back and forth to Ponoka each week to work in the big sawmill on the Battle River, and it was in March of 1906 that their infant son Bazil would stroll away from the home place, and despite a frantic search by the neighbours in a blizzard was found in the Chain Lakes area, but sadly did not survive.

Daughter Helen was born in April of the same year and once the Earlville homestead was improved and sold, the family would move back to the Eastside district, where they made the final payment and settled into their new home. In 1911 a son Keith Miller was born, but tragically on the same day a hurricane struck the neighbourhood, with many buildings being damaged and the nearby Turner barn being literally picked up and dropped somewhere else. In February 1915 another son George Arthur was born, but so very sadly both Mary and the baby would pass away.

In 1918 Fred Miller would marry Mrs. Catherine Johnson, with a sister Catherine and son Joe being instantly added to the growing family and then with a son Angus being born to the new union in 1920, the growing numbers at the Miller homestead was now standing at seven. Fred would serve as a School Trustee in the Eastside District for many years and took an active part in current politics, sitting as a delegate for three years. Over those rugged and challenging times he and his son Frank worked very hard out in the fields and around the farm to keep the wolf away from the door. Fred Miller passed away in 1959, while the children stayed in the area for a time, married and raised their families, and still carry on the proud Miller family tradition, which all began in the Eastside district 117 long years ago.

Private Frederick Keith Miller

The second son of Mary Belton and John Frederick Miller grew up on the pioneer family farm in the Eastside district near Ponoka with four brothers and two sisters, attending the Eastside School and then Ponoka High School until Grade 11, when Keith dropped out to continue the grand family tradition of farming. As a bachelor he would work on the homestead for another 12 years before accepting a position as an Attendant at the Alberta Hospital Ponoka, at which he served from 1941 to 1943.

By age 32 Frederick Keith Miller was strong and in good health, which made him a desirable and willing applicant to join the Canadian Armed Forces, enlisting in Calgary on April 21, 1943 and beginning his military training. Private Miller became a ‘stretcher bearer’ and was attached to the North Nova Scotia Highlanders R.C.I.C. Light Infantry, also known as the ‘North Novas’, who were responsible for the rescue and recovery of soldiers wounded or killed in the line of duty. In 1944 the North Nova’s would find themselves in the middle of the horrendous ‘Battle of Caen’ in Normandy, France and the Regiment would fight tirelessly for weeks as they tried to retake Authie. On July 7th the Highland Light Infantry was thrown into the heavy relentless action, with the battle raging non-stop both in the air and on the ground assaults in what would later be considered as one of the fiercest battles ever fought in the history of the Second World War. Going into the following day the weather was mild and fair and the steady assault continued, but despite the horrific attack of ‘Moaning Missies’ missiles from the enemy , the Nova platoons would bravely press on, and with the support of tanks the trenches were cleared and overtaken. The Canadian Battalion had endured a very long day, but they would fight on to claim Authie and then moved forward to the front, where they defeated the Germans and proudly secured the victory. As those victorious survivors stood on a rise of land that overlooked the River of Orne and the City itself they also realized however that the hard-fought victory had come at the terrible price of the loss of 250 of their comrades, including their Commanding Officer.

In a military letter dated August 7, 1944 that was signed by Major General H.F. G, Letson to Helen Miller in Ponoka, it stated that it was with deep regret that they had learned of the death of her brother Private Frederick Keith Miller, who was killed in action in France while in the service of his country. Private Miller was 33 years old when he died and was buried with full military honours at the Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Reviers, Calvados, France. For his service and bravery his family was posthumously presented with the France-Germany Defence Medal and the CVSM and Clasp and his name was listed in the coveted ‘Book of Remembrance’ in Ottawa, and shall be forever seen on the Wall Plaque of Honour and Military Service in the Edmonton Legislative Building. Private Frederick Keith Miller has always remained in the thoughts and hearts of his remaining family members and friends in the Eastside and Ponoka districts, both then and through the ongoing generations.

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