Monday, March 15, 2010

Word from Windlesham School!

Yesterday, on a balmy and breezy Sunday afternoon here in central Florida, I tried to do a little internet sleuthing. In my newly-arrived copy of Meredith and Co., the dedication reads as follows [And, yes, I know you can see it, left]:

To MR. J. GOODLAND, sometime Head Master of Warren Hill, Eastbourne; to the STAFF AND BOYS OF THE SAME SCHOOL, and to those of WINDLESHAM HOUSE, BRIGHTON, THE CRAIG, WINDERMERE, and the ENGLISH PREPARATORY SCHOOL, GLION, among whom I spent many happy years, this book is affectionately dedicated.

In trying to track down information on George Mills, I contacted the prestigious and impressive Windlesham School, Washington, Pulborough, RH20 4AY, via an e-mail form at their website, This morning, stamped Monday, March 15, 2010 7:36 AM, I received the cordial and extremely engaging reply below:

Dear Mr Williams,

Thank you for your message which is a most intriguing one. This is so not least as I suspect that I may well have read one of George Mills books in my youth, my father and I both being passionate cricketers. I have subsequently gone onto your 'Who is George Mills?' website, which made for fascinating further reading.

You are correct, I'm sure, in ascribing the dedication as being to this Windlesham House. The school was until 1913 located in the heart of Brighton and then moved out to the suburbs until 1934. Since that time it has been at its present home a short distance away in the heart of the West Sussex part of the South Downs.

A satisfactory answer to your question as to why the dedication should be as you describe it is less easy to establish. There were certainly two brothers and a cousin with the surname Mills at Windlesham in the late 1890s, though none had George anywhere in their names. Equally the school history 1837-1937 makes no mention of a teacher by the name of Mills, but interestingly we are still in contact with a Patrick Mills who left here in 1942, possibly a son?

However, the resources at my disposal are far short of the total archival material that may provide an answer. My role is that of Secretary to the Windlesham House Association, the alumni body. What I will do is to copy into this correspondence Dr Tom Houston, the school historian, a very near contemporary of Patrick Mills. He is currently engaged on an update of the school history and may well have something that can shed further light on the connection.

I very much look forward to his response. I do hope that we can help you resolve a little more about George Mills.

Every good wish.
Richard Martin

An article on the school’s 2010 centenary from Attain, the official magazine of the Independent Association of Prep Schools [IAPS], also describes the school’s history from the its origins: “Windlesham House School originates from a school set up for a dozen or so pupils by Reverend Worsley at Newport on the Isle of Wight in 1826. It was bought by the Malden family in 1837, initially for the children of naval officers, and was moved to Brighton in 1837. In 1913, the School moved to Portslade and in 1934 went to its present site at Washington.”

Right now, we really have no way of knowing how old Mills was when he wrote his books, all published between 1933 and 1939, but is there a clue in Meredith and Co.’s dedication?

When Mills refers to the staff and boys of “WINDLESHAM HOUSE, BRIGHTON”, could he be dedicating his novel to the staff and boys of a school he’d been familiar with as a boy?

A previous posting suggests that Mills attended a school called Parkfield in Haywards Heath. Checking Google Maps, it appears that Haywards Heath may be just 15 or 20 km due north of Brighton, up A273 or B2112, depending which side of Burgess Hill one would be skirting.

If Mills attended Parkfield at a time when he might’ve been acquainted with staff and boys from Windlesham House while it was still in Brighton, the very youngest he could’ve been in 1913 would be about 13 years old. That would have made him around 33 years old when his first book, Meredith and Co., was published, and near 39 when both Minor and Major and St. Thomas of Canterbury went to press. However, he could also have been much older.

Of course, when Windlesham House moved to Portslade in 1934, the school might still have been commonly referred to as being located at Brighton, while meaning the city’s suburbs. That could make Mills at least somewhat younger than a man nearing middle age in 1939.

This would also make sense if Mills served in the military during World War II. Here’s some insight into the climate regarding war with Germany in the late 1930s from
When war broke out in September 1939, some men volunteered to join the armed services, but Britain could still only raise 875,000 men. Other European countries had kept conscription between the wars and were able to raise much larger armies than Britain. In October 1939 the British government announced that all men aged between 18 and 41 who were not working in 'reserved occupations' could be called to join the armed services if required.

With a conscription possibly reaching to age 41, and with Nazi “hit and run” bombers working the southeastern coast of England from 1940 on, you don't have to be Hercule Poirot to know it seems likely that the war in some way might have uprooted Mills—or at the very least thrown him off of his usual writing/teaching routines—no matter what age he might have been at the time.

From 1942 to 1943, the heaviest bombing on the south coast was in Eastbourne, home of another locale in Mills’s dedication above. And that’s where we’ll go in our next post.

Meanwhile, as always, please let me know if you have any information about George Mills, his life, his career, or his relationship to 'WINDLESHAM HOUSE, BRIGHTON'!

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