Thursday, March 18, 2010

Until the peacock led him in...

Just a couple of hours after I'd sent off an e-mail to the Oxford University Archives requesting information on George R. A. Mills, I was impressed that I'd already received an reply. Despite the fact that in the United States we like to think of ourselves as an "instant gratification" society, I have to admit that if I'd sent an e-mail at 10:33 AM requesting information into my own school district here in Florida, I'd be quite pleased if I finally had a response by the end of the day. And I sent an information request to Keele University on February 21 and I wonder when I might receive a reply—if I ever do at all.

In this case, however, I had a detailed reply from an archivist at arguably the most prestigious institution of higher learning in the world waiting for me in my in-box by 1:07 PM.
Quite impressive!

As you may recall from yesterday's post, George Mills had found his missing middle initials, his wife, his university, his brief but inspirational tenure at Windlesham House, and the colleagues [and pets] who had inspired many characters from the books he'd go on to write several years later.

This is what the Archives at Oxford added to the mix [my emphasis]:

Dear Mr Williams

Thank you for your email enquiry. I have searched our card index of those who matriculated (ie were admitted to the University) between 1891 and 1932 and have found an entry for George Ramsay Acland Mills. This records that he matriculated from Christ Church on 16 October 1919. According to the form that he completed at his matriculation Mills was born on 1 October 1896 in Bude, Cornwall. He was the second son of Barton Reginald Vaughan Mills, a cleric in holy orders and a scholar [see illustration, right], of 7 Mawson Place, Queens Gate. Before attending Oxford Mills had been educated at Harrow School.

I have also found Mills' entry in the undergraduate register. This records that he was exempted from taking Responsions (preliminary examinations for entry) and the examinations of the First Public Examination,under a decree of 9 March 1920. This decree stipulated that until the end of Trinity Term 1923 any member of the University who had been engaged in military service for twelve months or more before his matriculation, was permitted to offer himself for examination in any Final Honours School, despite not having met the statutory conditions for admission to that School. This was on condition that he had obtained permission from the Vice Chancellor and the proctors; that he had entered upon the third term and had not exceeded the twelfth term following his matriculation; and that he had paid the fee for admission to the examinations the decree excused him from. Mills' entry in the undergraduate register records that he paid the fee of £5 2s on 21 May 1921. However, I have been unable to find any record that Mills went onto pass any examinations in the Final Honours School or that he obtained a degree.

I have also checked the 'Oxford University Roll of Service', a printed register of members of the University who served in the First World War. This records that Mills commenced military service on 16 June 1916. He was a Private in the Royal Army Service Corps. His highest acting rank was that of Lance Corporal.

I have been able to find evidence that Mills' father, Barton Reginald Vaughan, was also an Oxford graduate. He appears in Joseph Foster's 'Alumni Oxonienses', a printed register of those who matriculated between 1715 and 1886. This records that he matriculated from Christ Church on 13 October 1876, aged 18. He was the first son of Arthur, armiger (ie esquire), of London. He was awarded second class honours in History in 1880. The degree of BA was conferred in 1880, and that of MA (which at this time required no further study or residence) in 1883. He was rector of Poughill in 1887. I regret that without names and dates I am unable to search our records for any other relatives of Mills who may have attended the University.

I hope you find this information helpful.

Yours sincerely
Annabel Peacock
Archives Assistant

Oxford University Archives
Bodleian Library
Oxford OX1 3BG

Ms. Peacock, you are amazing! I simply can't thank you enough, not only for your prompt assistance, but for leaving me simply awash in total "Millsness"!

So, let me see if I have this time line correct thus far [and, British readers, please check my educational suppositions for accuracy]:

George Ramsay Acland Mills was born in Bude, Cornwall in 1896, the second son of a holy cleric and Oxford grad, Barton R. V. Mills who had been a rector in Cornwall. It's believed that George attended Parkfield, a school in Haywards Heath as a boy. After then attending Harrow School [pictured, left] in London and apparently living with the family in Queen's Gate, he joined the army in 1916 and fought in the First World War, reaching the rank of Lance Corporal.

After the war, Mills apparently attended Christ Church and from there matriculated to Oxford in 1919, where as a veteran he was exempted from Responsions, and finally paid his required fee for them 1921 without receiving a degree.

In 1925, he and his
"B.A. Oxon" are engaged as a junior appointment at Windlesham House, the same year he married Vera Beauclerc and purchased a home near the school in Portslade. His name seems to disappear suddenly from the staff list by the end of the summer term in 1926 after having spent the year teaching the boys English or "English subjects" and having been involved in extracurricular music and drama.

Meredith and Co. is published by Oxford University Press in 1933, and is dedicated to boys and staff at Windlesham House, Warren Hill School in Eastbourne, The Craig in Windersmere, and the English Preparatory School in Glion, presumably in Switzerland, among whom he
"spent many happy years."

In 1935, Mills visited the wife of his old headmaster at Windlesham, telling here he'd written a book "largely about Windlesham" and that he'd
"been at 2 or 3 schools since."

He then published a sequel to Meredith and Co. in 1938 [King Willow], and two more in 1939, Minor and Major [also about prep schools] and St. Thomas of Canterbury, the latter being a text in which Mills is listed in the British Library as author along with St. Thomas himself [pictured, right].

That's where the trail goes absolutely cold: 1939. After the most prolofic 1-2 year span of his life as an author.

It's actually been far easier to work backward into his family's past than it's been to turn up any clues about them after the onset of the Second World War.

Next time, though, let's take a peek at the fact that Mills supposedly earned a "B.A. Oxon"—something the facts don't seem to corroborate.

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