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T G Miller Obituary - Extended version

Terence G Miller 1918-2015

Terence Miller (‘TG’) was an East Anglian by birth, the only son of George Frederick Miller of Cambridge and Marion Johnston of Port William Wigtownshire.  He was particularly proud of his mother’s Scottish seafaring ancestry.

‘TG’ took the Cambridge Natural Sciences Tripos Part 1 in 1939 but suspended his degree so he could volunteer for the Army.  He was made a 2nd Lt and Troop Commander with the Royal Regiment of Artillery Special Forces (1939-41).  In 1940 he was a member of a commando unit which attacked the nitrate factory in Norwegian Glomfjord.  This attack should not be confused with the later Operation Musketoon raid on the hydro-electric power station at the head of the same fjord in 1942.

In October 1942 he was transferred to the Glider Pilot Regiment, to become part of the 1st British Airborne Infantry Division (1942-46).  The No1 wing, B Squadron, No 3 flight was headed by Captain Miller and although based at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, it normally flew from Manston in Kent.  He flew his Horsa glider (along with 250 others) into Normandy on D-Day -1, and returned intact. He immediately travelled on the back of a motorbike to RAF Brize Norton where he married Inga Catriona Priestman, the third daughter of Austin Preistman, MD, of Folkstone, Kent. On September 17th 1944 he returned to action again in operation ‘Market Garden’, this time as one of some 2500 Horsa pilots at Arnhem.  He was captured on 26th September and ended up as ‘a guest of the Third Reich’.  Officially he was initially reported ‘missing believed killed’, but he finally returned from Northern Germany in December of that year.

Upon demobilization in 1946, ‘TG’ recommenced his undergraduate course.  From 1948 - 1953 he concurrently held both a Research Fellowship at Jesus College and a University Demonstratorship at the Sedgwick Museum.  His first book titled ‘Geology’ was published in the Foyles Handbook series in 1950 and the preparation of the second book ‘Geology and Scenery in Britain’ commenced.  Meanwhile in 1949 he joined the Geologists’ Group in the Corps of Royal Engineers, Territorial Army (TA) and in 1953 the Emergency Reserve of Officers.

The year 1953 was a critical cross-road since there were no vacancies at Cambridge and as with many geologists the oil industry beckoned.  However, before joining Shell, a new lectureship in stratigraphy was advertised at the University College of North Staffordshire (Keele).  He always reckoned he swung the interview by arriving in a rather flashy sports car, a smart, very shiny Riley coupe that he had borrowed from a mature student acquaintance. The Department of Geology was just three years old but had grown rapidly with a teaching staff of five.  His brief was to give a course in the ‘Principles of stratigraphy with special reference to the British Isles’ and to teach field geology. Students found that they were encouraged to keep abreast with the literature as it was published and he was to write ‘it was becoming clear, even in the 1950s that something was brewing at the extremities of geophysical/structural research’.  Annual Easter geological field courses provided a great opportunity to spend time in the Welsh and Scottish hills and mountains which he loved.  At the same time he ‘hoped that the [field] work would be charmingly unstructured’.  He also wrote ‘I always took the view that rocks would speak for themselves and that rubbing noses with them would sort out the men from the boys from the view point of ability and keenness for geology’.  ‘TG’s own research was into aspects of Upper Palaeozoic bryozoan and the published results of this led to the award of a Senior Lectureship in 1963 and the following year the army promoted him to Lt Col.   

‘TG’s intellectual interest in the relationship between, and relative value of, sciences and the arts and their contribution to human progress was developed in the new university’s commitment to multi-disciplinary studies across undergraduate courses. The idea of a liberal education and the development of democracy, indeed the idea of a university itself, were foundational challenges throughout his career in these post-war years.

In 1965 British geography experienced an earthquake. Totally against expectations, ‘TG’ was appointed Professor of Geography at the University of Reading.  Even within the University there was unrest. The key factor in the equation focused on the military.  Academics in the Territorial Army Corps of Engineers Geological Group were obliged to spend approximately one month a year on duty.  For ‘TG’ facilitated field experience of various parts of the World, and NATO training.  The latter involved the new science of Terrain Analysis and Trafficabilty which mushroomed in the 1960s.  Foresight into future developments in physical geography had identified the importance of terrain analysis and Reading sought to foster this. ‘TG’ was ideally qualified to lead a course and allied research into military geography.

Unfortunately, the new initiative soon stalled.  In 1967 the Ministry of Defense requested that ‘TG’ be nominated for the post of Principal of the University College of Rhodesia in Salisbury.  Intrigue abounds over the nature of the deal which was struck.  What is clear, however, is that ‘TG’ was transferred from the TA to the Regular Army Reserve of Officers.  He probably had prior knowledge of a possible move since he had set an examination question in his Military Geography paper ‘How would you plan an invasion of Rhodesia?’!  In this highly political context he again found himself the centre of some controversy. This was undoubtedly a period of great stress and confrontation during struggles between white and African for a new independent country, with the University College being the only multi-racial higher education institution remaining.  He received hate mail including ‘commie go home’ and ‘we don’t want pinko socialists here’. His resignation in 1969 was inevitable.

Upon returning to Reading the University created a ‘Visiting Professorship’. Within two years he entered the lion’s den again, since in 1971 he became Director of the Polytechnic of North London, where he became embroiled at the centre of much reported student protest.  Conflicts of ideas around governance and elitism, academic freedom and student challenges to traditional power structures were played out in public view. A letter he wrote to The Guardian newspaper in 1996 demonstrates his view of the time:

  ‘ ..none of the student campaigns, sit-ins, disruptions, and general commotion achieved their objectives, so for that decade any ‘added experience’ to their ‘formal education’ was one of repeated failure, and therefore a rather silly waste of time.’

Within his sense of humour, he would recall how he moved from ‘commie bastard’ to ‘fascist beast’, a double label which he rather cherished.  His policy was to refuse to deal with the mob and this proved successful.  Despite these distractions, the underlying fundamental work of Directorship in fashioning the academic health of his departments continued and all came to give successful CNNA degree courses and a sprinkling of HND’s.   Upon his early retirement in 1981, he made a military guardroom log book metaphor believing he had left the polytechnic, ‘in good order and properly dressed’.

‘TG’ then moved with Inga, to Falmouth, Cornwall. There he continued his keen interest in military history, writing highly informed correspondence whenever the occasion arose to The Times newspaper not only historical but also analysis of contemporary conflicts.  He enjoyed sailing, becoming a familiar figure to the local RNLI crews whose services he used with a little too much frequency for his own comfort.  Their final move was to north-west Norfolk to be closer to Cambridge libraries and his college.  He began creating sculptural pieces, often abstract representations of war and the consequences of war, the scientist competing with Inga, the qualified, experienced and expressive painter and sculptor. They continued to walk in wild coastal places and in the mountains (he was proud to have climbed Schiehallion), enjoying extraordinary good health until well into their late 80s.  Even as he declined, he was puzzling quantum mechanics and reciting by heart his favourite Yeats, ever the polymath and quizzical intellectual.

The University of Reading in the 2000s, renamed some buildings after its illustrious former staff.  Geography became ‘The Miller Building’ and this created great hilarity in ‘TG’s family.  It has to be admitted that the intention was to honour the first Professor of Geography - .Austin Miller (1943-1965) - rather than the second, Terence Miller, although curiously both were airmen, geologists and Fenmen!

He is survived by his four children, three daughters and a son, and seven grandchildren.

Dr Katrina Miller and Professor Peter Worsley, DSc.

(KM is the second daughter and PW a former student & colleague).