A Miller's Tale part 2
Private Sylvia May Miller nee Bennett Auxiliary Territorial Service
Sylvia May Miller
The Woman Sylvia May Bennett was born on 5th January 1922 in a village called Carrvale near Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire. She was one of several half sisters and brothers from her parents’ previous marriages. Her father was a miner and her mother took in washing for people or wall-papered rooms for sixpence. As a child Sylvia was often ill, but she still attended a CofE school in Duckmanton, walking the 1½ miles with her brothers and sisters. These were hard time for families of miners and there was little work available, there was also the General Strike of 1926 and Sylvia would often survive on meals provided from the soup kitchens. Each day Sylvia would leave school at 11:30am to prepare lunch for her Headmaster and was paid 6d a week. When she left school aged 13 she was offered a place at college in return for cooking for all the teachers but had to refuse as she needed to help her mother at home. Aged 14 she started work for 5/- a week working as a home help and often worked away from home, sending the money to her mother. She had a number of home help type jobs and worked at a Dole School in Chesterfield and Skegness. During this time Sylvia’s father was lucky to survive a major mining disaster in which 80 people lost their lives. Sylvia continued working in service and in 1938 moved to Skegness whe she worked for a Potato Merchant, Nottingham Boys’ Home on Roseberry Avenue and a sea front hotel. It was here in 1939 she met her future husband Thomas ‘Dusty’ Miller during a blind date. Following the outbreak of World War 2 Dusty was sent abroad in the Royal Air Force and on 27th June 1940 aged 18 Sylvia joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service as a Volunteer, later Private. She was billeted in Burton Road Barracks, Lincoln and then at Burton Cliff House where she met The Princess Royal, Princess Mary.
During late 1942 she became pregnant with her first son James Ernest and left the ATS on 30th December that year. For her service in the ATS Sylvia was posthumously awarded the War Medal 1939-45. During the war Sylvia had a number of jobs, an electric welder making jerry cans earning over £10.00 a week, she kept some of her money ready to marry Dusty after the War. She then became a signal woman at Hollis Lane Box near Chesterfield, for this she received a ¼ lb of tea, 2lb of sugar and a tin of milk above her monthly ration. On 15th December 1945 aged 23 Sylvia Married Thomas Miller by special licence at St. Matthews Church in Skegness, and had four children James Ernest who was born in 1943, Graham Charles Thomas born 1947, Jennifer Elaine born 1951 and Joseph Edwin Miller 1957.Life became hard again after the war with accommodation for a young family hard to find. Until 1947 they had to live separately at their parents’ houses waiting for property but following the birth of Sylvia’s second son Graham (who Tom incorrectly registered as Charles!) they were given a house on a new council estate in Winthorpe at 37 Count Alan Road. Dusty was now working for the local Urban Council earning £4.00 a week and they bought some chickens, the eggs they laid supplementing their diet and making a little extra cash. The following summer they took in a paying guest which helped costs, she took in a Scottish drummer, Arthur Britland who played in the orchestra at Butlins. He came back for the next seven or eight years and at the end of the season he would be joined by his mother and brother, Albert Britland. They became very close and were treated as part of the family and when Jennie was born in 1951 were asked to be Godfathers.
In August 1952 Sylvia and Dusty had made plans to emigrate with the family to Queensland in Australia as he had secured a job in the Australian Army. Sadly tragedy struck when Graham was killed after being struck by a car on 2nd June 1952 aged only four, Sylvia did not want to ‘leave’ Graham in the UK and the emigration was cancelled. In 1956 Sylvia began working again as a chalet cleaner at the Derbyshire Miners Holiday Centre and became pregnant with Joseph. Dusty was called up for the Suez crisis having by now enlisted into the Army Emergency Reserve and did not return until January 1957. In 1969 they bought themselves an Austin Seven and Syliva aged 38 learnt to drive. Sylvia worked part time at the St. Barnabas Hospice Shop on Drummond Road until March 1993 and was a staunch member of the Seathorne Methodist Church from about 1946 until her death. Sylvia died on 29th January 1994 aged 72 her funeral service was held at Seathorne Methodist Church followed by cremation at Boston Crematorium with Reverend John Graham officiating. Her ashes were scattered in the grounds.
The Story For the story behind this medal click Thomas Miller's page.
Before her death Sylvia began a biography which gives a lot of interesting detail of her life. Click here to read it. .
- War Medal 1939-45: Unnamed as awarded.
This page last updated 1 Mar 17