Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Houston, We Have Lift Off!

Imagine my excitement when I opened up my mailbox first thing yesterday morning and found this message from Dr. Tom Houston, Secretary to the Windlesham House Association, stamped just three hours before on Tuesday, March 16, 2010, at 4:32 AM:

G.R.A. Mills, BA Oxon, taught 4 terms at Windlesham House School from Lent 1925 until Easter 1926, and maybe part or all of the summer, but his name was taken off the staff list by end of summer term 1926. As acknowledged in the dedication to Meredith & Co he taught at three other schools probably after Windlesham; viz; at Warren Hall, Eastbourne (a 19th century school closed in 1930s or 1940s); at The Craig, Windermere (founded 1899); and at the English Preparatory, GLION.

In 1925 Windlesham was at “Southern Cross”, Portslade, near Brighton; principal Mr Charles Scott Malden; headmaster Mr H D L Paterson; and the dog, Tubby.

In April George Mills married Miss Vera Beauclerc; they bought a house on Benfield Way, Portslade.

During summer term he may have contributed to a pastoral play featuring Boadicea, Julius Caesar and a Brontosaurus done by the A.A.A. (Amateur Acting Association).

In the Michaelmas term 1925 he wrote pieces (a prologue and songs) for a staff concert, and wrote that up in the magazine. He made people laugh, a lot.

He might have had a hand in the AAA production in summer 26 called “Spanish Courtesy” or “A Knife between the Shoulder Blades”. We have no record relating to his sudden (?) departure. He could, like a handful of other prep school masters, have been excited by the General Strike (that term).

During summer 1935 he visited Mrs Charles, then in Springwells, Steyning, W. Sussex, and told her he had written a book “largely about Windlesham”, published by O.U.P. “He had been at 2 or 3 schools since, but is very faithful to Windlesham”, she said.

His novel drew upon both Windlesham and Warren Hill. The unfortunate maths master, Lloyd, was almost certainly drawn from J.G. Drummond (WH 1923-35), who took his own life shortly after leaving in disgrace. Uggles may have been related to Tubby, the Malden’s popular and heroic dog. The portrait of the headmaster Peter Stone has something of Christopher Malden, who had been in effect joint head for some years; he became principal in 1927. Mills evidently had a gift for befriending boys and learning their secrets; Meredith & Co. captures the idiom of pupils during the interwar period more accurately than any other novel.

My guess is that Mills came to the school soon after leaving university to teach English or “English subjects”; that was a junior appointment, seldom held for long.

That is about it. Sorry we have no more.

Tom H.

After receiving seemingly an avalanche of information, I was simply overwhelmed by it all. I had the middle initials I'd been so desperate for! I had a university and a degree! I had a date of employment! I had a wife, Vera, for cryin' out loud, and a house, and an extracurricular life: plays, songs, concerts, and typing up articles for the magazine. Somehow, I'd even ended up with an extremely unexpected brontosaurus!

And I found a real, apparently well-liked man who'd "made people laugh, a lot"

All morning long, this mysterious George Mills seemed to have some of his obscurity steadily ebb away for me.

Of the characters in his wonderful first book, Meredith and Co., we find thumbnail sketches of the living individuals that Mills crafted into the staunch headmaster Howell Stone, known to his charges as "Peter", Mrs. Stone [No first name given!], Uggles, and the now regrettably tragic figure of Mr. Lloyd, the brilliant but somewhat misanthropic master of maths.

Sorry not to have more? Thank you so much, Dr. Houston—What an absolute treasure trove this message was for me. I could hardly fall sleep last night, as strange as that may sound: George Mills had suddenly become very real!

I immediately contacted Oxford's [Oxon's] Archives, and my heart raced when, amazingly, I was deluged with even more information within an hour or two.

And some of it came as quite a surprise…

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