St Mary’s Church, Friday 23 September 2022

His excellency Juan Carlos Gamarra being greeted by year 6 pupils of Wingham Primary School

Wingham was once again honoured by a visit from His Excellency Juan Carlos Gamarra, Ambassador of Peru, Embassy of Peru in London, to pay respects and lay a wreath before the plaque of General William Miller inside St Mary’s Church.

Accompanying the Ambassador was the Defence Attaché and Military Attaché and other Embassy Officers and the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Bishop of Dover, also attended to bless the plaque. Wingham Primary School year 6 children welcomed our visitors with an excellent ‘Welcome to Wingham’ banner and later learned more from the Ambassador on General Miller’s involvement with the fight for Peru’s independence.

The Ambassador tells us all about General Miller's involvement with the fight for Peru's independence

General William Miller was born in Wingham on 2 December 1795 and was baptised at St Mary’s Church.  He was among several thousand British and Irish volunteers who served in the armies to liberate South America from Spanish rule. After serving in the British army under the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsular War, he sailed for Buenos Aires and in 1817 was appointed captain of artillery in the Army of the Andes. Soon after, Miller became major of marines in the Chilean navy, which succeeded in destroying Spanish naval power in the pacific coast. In reward for his services, in which he suffered several wounds, Miller was named lieutenant colonel in both the Chilean and Argentine armies. But when San Martin landed in Peru and declared the country's independence from Spain, Miller followed him and was appointed colonel of infantry in the newly raised Legion of Peru. He is thus still recognized as one of the founders of the Peruvian army. By the time Bolivar arrived to complete the destruction of royalist forces, Miller had won distinction in two campaigns he led in the coastal region. In consequence, Bolivar gave him the command of the patriot cavalry and as brigadier general he figured in the decisive battles of Junin and Ayacucho as one of the four divisional commanders. In 1834, Miller was raised to the rank of Grand Marshal and was a leading military figure during the Peru-Bolivian Confederation, only to fall victim to the political vicissitudes of that convulsed era, losing both rank and salary. 

In the last two years of his life, 1859-1861, after years of service as British Consul and High Commissioner in Hawaii, then called the Sandwich Islands, Miller returned to Peru, where Congress restored his rank as Grand Marshal.

After his death, he was buried with full military honours in the British cemetery in the port of Callao in December 1861. At that time, the bells of the churches of Lima were rung, for the first time at the burial of a Protestant personality. He was later transferred to the Panteon de los Proceres, the chapel where the remains of the heroes of independence are preserved.

When Miller returned to England in 1826, after 8 years service in South America, he was warmly received since the British press had widely reported his exploits and he received the freedom of the city of Canterbury on 15 August 1826. His mother still lived in Wingham and he invited Jose de San Martin to visit her at home. In 1828 John Miller, William’s brother, published Memoirs of General Miller in the Service of the Republic of Peru, which was based on William’s letters and journals giving a first-hand account of the wars of independence in Peru. The first edition sold out in two months and was followed by a second and enlarged edition and by an edition in Spanish, the translation undertaken by Jose Maria Torrijos, a Spanish Liberal General then in exile in London.

However, the memory of General Miller’s life and career slowly faded from public view and was retained only by those expert in South American history.  It was for this reason that the Embassy of Peru in London welcomed the suggestion that a memorial plaque be installed in the parish church of Saint Mary the Virgin in Wingham.

The memorial plaque was first unveiled during a ceremony on 9 February 2007 and was attended by His Excellency Ricardo V Luna, the then Ambassador of Peru, Wingham Parish Councillors, Father Jeff Cridland, Reverend Mark Griffin and Wingham parishioners.

The affordable housing development of 25 properties for people with local connections in Miller Close was named in General William Miller’s memory.

His Excellency Juan Carlos Gamarra, Ambassador of Peru in London, also visited Wingham in 2021 and we hope this will become an annual event.

The Embassy have included some pictures of the visit on their facebook page, HERE

A few more pictures of the visit:-

All photos courtesy of Gareth Winters

Churchwarden Emeritus Gordon Bradley accepts a book of Peru & Great Britain from the Ambassador on behalf of the church
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