Book by Dutch author remembers heroism of Dereham soldier during the second world war

A Norfolk soldier who died fighting for freedom in a foreign land has been honoured in the country where he made the ultimate sacrifice during the second world war.

John Bruce Millar, a 2nd Lieutenant, is among the second world war heroes remembered in a newly published book by Dutch author Ad Hermens, which looks at what happened to the areas of Geldrop and Mierlo in the south of the Netherlands during the war.

In researching his book, Mr Hermens uncovered part of the Dereham soldier's story before contacting the EDP in early 2010 to see if we could help him find out more about the soldier who he described as a 'liberator' of the area where he lives.

'We are proud of him. He gave his life for our freedom,' Mr Hermens told the EDP at the time.

After reading the EDP story, 2nd Lt Millar's family got in touch to share their memories of their brave serviceman, who they call Bruce.


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With the book now finished, they have spoken of how moved they are that 2nd Lt Millar is remembered in Mr Hermen's book and also in a special monument unveiled last year in Mierlo-Hout.

Nova Millar, 78, one of 2nd Lt Millar's sisters, who lives in Bishopgate, Norwich, said: 'I think it is a wonderful thing to be doing this after all those years. It shows how much they really must have appreciated what the British people did.'

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Another of 2nd Lt Millar's sisters, Heather Rose, 83, of Swanton Drive, Dereham, said she thought the book and monument were a fitting tribute to her brother and the soldiers he served with.

She said: 'Isn't it amazing? I think it is a great tribute. Bruce represents lots of other soldiers who also died at that time.'

Second Lt Millar, of the 24th Lancers, Royal Armoured Corps, died while fighting the Germans in Mierlo-Hout on September 22, 1944, when he was just 20 years old.

It was the very day the area was liberated from the Germans.

A Dutch girl called Francien Coolen, who was a member of the Red Cross, ran to help him, but he was too heavily wounded and died in her lap.

The local Dutch community have never forgotten him and the pages dedicated to him in Mr Hermens's Dutch language book – Geldrop en Mierlo tijdens WO-II 1940-45 – are just one of the ways he is remembered there. Mr Hermens has also received a royal award in the Netherlands for his book.

A poignant image of Francien comforting 2nd Lt Millar is also featured in a special monument in Mierlo-Hout, which was unveiled on September 22 last year.

Martial Rose, 2nd Lt Millar's brother-in-law, visited the Netherlands for the official unveiling along with 2nd Lt Millar's niece, Sue Best, and nephew David Bateman. Mrs Best, 61, from Roydon, near Diss, and Mr Bateman, from Forncett End, are the daughter and son of 2nd Lt Millar's late sister, Pat Bateman.

During the emotional trip, the three of them also visited 2nd Lt Millar's Grave at Mierlo War Cemetery, met Francien Coolen's family and Mr Hermens, and saw the book in the process of being made. Mr Rose, 89, described the trip as a very moving occasion and a lovely tribute.

In a speech he gave at the monument unveiling, he spoke of all the young men like 2nd Lt Millar who gave their lives, and of how important it was to remember what price was paid for a freedom.

Mrs Best said: 'What happened was an important part of their history in Mierlo-Hout, and it is fantastic they have involved us in their commemorations and are remembering Bruce and Francien's story. We have learnt an awful lot from them. It is lovely that they wanted to involve us and made the effort to find us.'

Second Lt Millar is also remembered in the Dereham Memorial Hall alongside Pat, who served in the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) during the second world war.

Second Lt Millar, a keen sportsman, went to a school in Quebec Road, Dereham, before going to a prep school in Hunstanton and later Worksop College, Nottinghamshire.

He joined the 24th Lancers straight from school and trained at Sandhurst.

emma.knights@archant.co.uk

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