Poor quality photograph of Francis Hoyer-Millar, in 1944

Captain Hoyer Millar

Captain Hoyer Millar on a training exercise in late 1943

Captain Francis Kinglake Hoyer-Millar


Unit : "B" Company, 2nd Parachute Battalion

Army No. : 85213

Awards : Military Cross


Francis Hoyer-Millar was one of the 2nd Battalion's old hands, having served with them since the days of North Africa in 1942, and in all of their engagements thereafter. He was evidently a man who was keen to sample new cultures, as during his army service he seemed to make a habit of learning the language of every country he was posted to. He could speak German and, as the battalion's Intelligence Officer in North Africa, he was able to put this skill to good use when interrogating captured troops. In addition, despite the 1st Airborne's relatively short stay in Italy, Hoyer-Millar made good use of any respite that was granted to the 1st Para Brigade, and by the time of their departure he had managed to master the local language.


As Second-in-Command of B Company, Francis Hoyer-Millar had spent Sunday night in the area around the pontoon, but on the following day they were called to reinforce John Frost's force at the Bridge. Company HQ was set up on the western side of the defence, and the senior lady whose home this was did not seem to object to the paratroopers setting up firing positions and smashing the glass windows before barricading them with her furniture, however she beckoned Hoyer-Millar into one of the rooms and said "Please don't fire from here; it's my husbands favourite room", her husband being away at the time. Needless to say he was not able to oblige her, but it made little difference as the house was burned down over the following days.


Later in the day on Monday 18th, Sergeant-Major Scott entered Company HQ and reported to Major Crawley and Hoyer Millar that "Mr Stanford's had his chips". This seemingly unfeeling statement was inaccurate because Lieutenant Stanford, though shot in the head, was still alive and would survive the battle. However he was most definitely out of action, and B Company was in the very worrying position of having lost all of their platoon commanders.


That night, it was observed that B Company's positions had not been pressed very hard, and so the decision was taken to pass one of their platoons under the bridge to defend a building in the eastern sector. However it was first necessary to deploy a patrol; firstly to ensure that the area did not contain Germans, and secondly to protect a party of sappers who were to check under the bridge that explosive charges had not been laid. Captain Hoyer-Millar was chosen to lead this patrol of 12 men. They moved up to the wrecked German vehicles on the ramp and then onto the bridge itself. He could not see what was over the slope down the other side of the Bridge, and so he lobbed a grenade. To his surprise, five Germans appeared, three of whom were wounded, and offered their surrender. It is not known how long they had been hiding there, but it is likely that it would have been for some time as it was a perilously exposed position in daylight. Hoyer-Millar split his patrol on either side of the Bridge, and though they were not challenged by any German troops, they were fired on by a Bren gun from a nearby friendly position, prompting the Captain to shout "Stop firing that bloody Bren gun. It's only me". He later admitted that it was just one of those silly things that is said on the spur of the moment, but John Frost got to hear of it after the war and frequently teased him.


On Wednesday afternoon, during the truce that saw the area being evacuated of all the wounded, it was seen that German troops were breaking this peace and moving troops to fresh positions, closer to the airborne men. Major Tatham-Warter, who was by then in command of the 2nd Battalion, sent Hoyer-Millar to protest. He located an English speaking German officer, dressed in a long dark leather coat, and he warned him that if his men continued in that manner then they would be fired on. The officer insisted on only saying that there was no hope of them being relieved and that they should surrender, but Hoyer-Millar disagreed and informed him that they fully expected their ground forces to arrive at any moment. As hostilities began afresh some hours later, Hoyer-Millar was certain that he could hear a voice calling out "Captain Millar", or possibly "Captain Müller". He could only presume that he had introduced himself to the officer, but the efforts to hail him were quite pointless as he did not reply.


Hoyer-Millar said that on that final night, with the battalion crammed into a tiny perimeter and flanked by burning buildings and being constantly shelled, he was as scared at that time than at any other in his life. However he said that a strange feeling prevailed of "exhilaration mingled with pride and bitterness". In spite of everything, they had held out for three whole days and four nights, and yet they remained unbroken and alive. But Hoyer-Millar knew that this would not last long and, though they could withstand the night's shelling in their slit trenches, daylight would see an onslaught of infantry and armour that their hopelessly low ammunition could not hold at bay for long. The thought that British tanks may come to their rescue did seem quite unlikely, however he and the many other veterans of Sicily knew that they had been in dire straits before, and yet friendly tanks still broke through. During the final hours of the defence of the Bridge, Hoyer-Millar recalled a line of one of A. H. Clough's poems: " 'If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars'...but deep down there was the feeling, 'They've just written us off'."


Captain Hoyer-Millar was awarded the Military Cross for his deeds at Arnhem Bridge. His citation reads:


Captain Hoyer-Millar with two sections of B Company was ordered to hold a vital position astride the North end of the bridge at ARNHEM, soon after dark on D+1. As he moved into the position he was met by entirely unexpected automatic fire from a much stronger enemy force who had infiltrated under cover of dark. Without the slightest hesitation Captain Hoyer-Millar went straight into the attack and by the speed and ferocity of his assault killed ten and drove off the remainder. Later in the night he drove off a strong enemy counter attack from the South. On the morning of the fourth day Captain Hoyer-Millar took over command of B Company, when the Company Commander was wounded, at a very critical stage of the battle when his Company was being attacked and half his position had been set on fire. He displayed great courage continuously exposing himself to enemy fire, and so organised his defences that the enemy attack was repulsed. Later the whole of his position was set on fire but he continued to hold the area until ordered to withdraw. He then successfully evacuated the remnants of his company, himself remaining to the last. The whole of this time he was exposed to very heavy fire. Throughout the four days fighting Captain Hoyer-Millar had displayed the highest qualities of courage and devotion to duty, never sparing himself and showing complete contempt for danger.


With the cessation of hostilities in 1945, Francis Hoyer-Millar returned to the airborne fold with the divisional Battle School, which was posted to Norway with the 1st Airborne Division. Here he acted as John Frost's Adjutant, much to the pleasure of his unshakeable commander. Now with an eye to seeking a career with the Foreign Office, Hoyer-Millar became one of only a small number of British officers to begin the process of learning to speak Norwegian.


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