Lancaster nostalgia: Heroes who won the Victoria Cross medal

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In Remembrance week we look back on two local soldiers awarded the Victoria in World War One for outstanding bravery.

The twin threads of courage and selflessness run through the stories of Victoria Cross winners.

Albert Halton, of Carnforth, who was awarded the VC during the First World War

Albert Halton, of Carnforth, who was awarded the VC during the First World War

It could scarcely be anything other, given the original Royal Warrant of January 29 1856 stipulated the medal should be awarded to “officers or men that have served Us in the presence of the enemy, and shall have performed some signal act of valour or devotion to their country”.

The criteria were amended two years later to make “extreme danger” a qualifying circumstance.

Life and limb might be threatened – in a fire on board ship, for example – but it was no longer essential that the valiant action meriting the VC had to take place in the heat of battle.

That in turn was overturned by a further warrant issued in 1881, when the primacy of courage “in the presence of the enemy” was reasserted.

James Miller awarded the VC in First World War

James Miller awarded the VC in First World War

Clearly, it was considered that the highest decoration for valour required a ‘live’ threat.

Naturally enough, that animate hazard is mostly posed by the enemy ranks.

Yet in World War One, there were some highly dramatic, often poignant, cases where the danger came from an unexpected source, closer to home; where allied soldiers looked death squarely in the eye as their own ordnance threatened to explode.

The enemy was ‘present’ – indeed that presence is an inextricable link in the chain of events. But in the pressure-cooker of front line action, the fact remains that soldiers were sometimes the authors of their own misfortune.

Albert Halton

(Private) May 1 1893 – July 24 1971

King’s Own, Royal

Lancaster Regiment

Poelcapelle, Belgium, 
October 12 1917

Albert Halton was born and educated in Warton, near Carnforth. While working for a local building contractor, he enlisted in August 1915 and was posted to France where he saw action and was wounded on the Somme in October 1916. After recuperation back in England, Halton rejoined his regiment on the Western Front.

After the objective had been reached during an attack near Poelcappelle on October 12 1917, Private Halton rushed forward under very heavy fire and captured a machine-gun and its crew which was causing heavy losses to his unit. Disregarding his own personal safety, he then went out again and brought in 12 prisoners.

After the war Albert worked at Lansil Silk Works, in Lancaster, until he retired in 1961. He died at the age of 78 and was given a funeral with full military honours before being interred at Lancaster and Morecambe Crematorium. His VC medal is held at the King’s Own Royal Regiment Museum in Lancaster.

James Miller

(Private) May 4 1890 – July 31 1916

King’s Own (Royal

Lancaster Regiment)

Bazentin-le-Petit, France, July 30-31 1916

James Miller was born near Preston in 1890 and served with the Kings Own Royal Lancasters.

He was working in a paper mill when war broke out, and one of the first to heed Kitchener’s call to arms.

By summer 1915 Private Miller was serving at the Western Front with the King’s Own Royal Lancasters, and a year on his battalion was in action as the Allies geared up for the Somme offensive.

Miller’s experience became a story titled ‘The Message’, often read aloud on how Miller of Withnell died.

l Both men’s stories feature in Victoria Cross Heroes of World War One by Robert Hamilton is published by Atlantic Publishing and is available priced £40.