Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lt. and Paymr. G. R. A. Mills (150796)

Last evening before I went to bed, I decided to run a search on someone I haven't found much about, but who would have known George Mills: His uncle, Dudley Acland Mills, an officer in the Royal Engineers. Dudley was a career military man, and I find mention of him here and there, but not enough to have fleshed him out yet. His career seemed to have taken him around the world, but last night via Google I found a record of his death in 1938 in a link at the London Gazette.

On the off chance that I might find something interesting, I decided to search within the London Gazette's own website as long as I was there. I wasn't holding out any hope.

Of course, by now you've realized I found something more than just good old Uncle Dudley!

I found only three brief mentions of George Mills, but those entries speak volumes about his life between 1939, when he published two children's books [Minor and Major and St. Thomas of Canterbury] and 1956, where we've found him teaching at Ladycross School in Seaford.

In chronological order, here they are:

From a Supplement to the London Gazette dated 12 November 1940, came this subheading and listing, amid a plethora of others:

The undermentioned to be Lts.:—

11th October, 1940:—
George Ramsay Acland Mills (150796)

I'll admit, when I found that Mills had been born in 1896 and had served in the First World War, I knew he'd have been in his forties during World War II, and suspected that he wouldn't have participated in it, at least not as a military man. Despite the fact that he'd turned 44 just 10 days before 11 October, he had, indeed, returned to the military—and had jumped from Lance Corporal upon his discharge in 1919 to Lieutenant some 21 years later.

The next entry is from an issue of the London Gazette dated 10 April, 1942:

The undermentioned to be Lts.:—

11th April 1942:—

2nd Lts.:—
T. L. Kelly (150969), G. R. A. Mills (150796), A. F. Relleen (150979)

I suppose that would be good news—except that on 5 January 1942, Mills had lost his wife, Vera Louise Beauclerk Mills, to a cause that is unknown to me at this point.

The final reference to Mills, from the 2 November 1943 edition of the Gazette:

War Subs. Lt. C. G. Larkin (141829) to be Lt. and Paymr. 13 Aug. 1943.

Lt. and Paymr. G. R. A. Mills (150796) relinquishes his commn. on account of ill health, 3 Nov. 1943, and is granted the hon. rank of Lt.

As you may recall, before George was born, his father's first wife passed away in 1889. Rev. Barton R. V. Mills resigned as vicar of Poughill at the time and didn't return to his livelihood until he became vicar of Bude Haven in 1891. Right now, it's open to speculation whether it was mental anguish, physical sickness, or both that kept the senior Mills away from the pulpit for some two years after the death of his spouse.

We see that George was officially replaced by 13 August in 1943, even though his commission is not relinquished until 3 November, just after he had turned 47 years old.

[This does make me wonder what, exactly, it measn to have "relinquished" his commission? And is it possible that Mills had simply been some sort of inactive reserve for 21 years and was called back to active duty at 44 years of? And I'm assuming "Paymr." means paymaster. Does it? Pardon my density, but I can't say I'm 100% sure.]

Perhaps Mills leaving the service in the middle of a global conflict had nothing to do with the loss of his wife of 16 years, and maybe its similarity to what seemed to have happened a half-century before with his father was purely coincidental.

Nevertheless, after a decade or more of moving from one teaching position to another, from Cumbria to Switzerland, George settled in for a few years as a paymaster in the Royal Army Pay Corps. My sense is that the loss of Vera, combined with some sort of "ill health" had him on the move, career-wise, yet again.

There's much to be known about Mills and his return the military during the Second World War, and I do hope we learn more. I think it's interesting to note that, during the First World War, his father Barton had become an "Acting Chaplain to the Forces" in his sixties. We also saw that the senior Mills was quite concerned, even if merely academically, with the state of war and conflict in the modern world.

Just as in most families of the time, the "War to End All Wars" had a significant impact on the Mills family as a whole, and must have had a more direct impact on young George, who'd served in the Royal Rifles and Royal Army Service Corps from 1916 through 1919.

Since 1919, however, George had a wife, a great deal of talent, a winning personality… and a complete lack of security in his life. Between walking onto the campus at Windlesham House in 1925 and walking away from the Army in 1943, George Mills had had no less than six employers in those 18 years—and that would not include his self-employment as an author of four books during a 6 to 7 year stretch from 1933 to 1939.

Besides doing his part for King and country, the Army must have looked quite secure to a then middle-aged George, perhaps a place where he could stay for awhile, a place that had sports—apparently the Pay Corps played rugby, football, and golf among other sports—and a place where he could at last settle down with Vera by his side after over a decade of scuffling to find prolonged employment.

His loss of Vera must have dashed that plan as well, although I don't know the circumstances of her death. I understand the "Blitz" would have been over by January 1942, but I also have read that there were still random attacks that killed hundreds, if not thousands, between May 1941 and the onset of the V-1 and V-2 attacks in 1944. If an attack had been the cause, Mills might also have been looking for a new home as well as possibly having the loss of all of his belongings, memorabilia, heirlooms, etc.

How much Vera's death had an effect on George's 1943 "ill health" open to conjecture is at this point. What we have been able to do, though, is narrow the window on another segment of the 'missing years' of George Mills.

Instead of leaving George in 1939—a published author with two books hitting the booksellers' shelves within a calendar year—we now have him, as of 3 November 1943, in poor health and a widower on an island under constant attack during the largest global conflict in history. It's hard for me to imagine what London [pictured, left] or Sussex must have been like at the time, still seven full months short of the Normandy invasion, and how all of that must have been perceived by Mills—ailing, jobless, possibly homeless, and quite likely missing Vera terribly.

What are the chances that Mills had been a paymaster in a distant battle locale? Would a man returning to the service in his forties have been assigned outside of the British Isles as a paymaster? Or had he been working in the city or at the centre in Brighton? Where would a 2nd Lieutenant Paymaster have been assigned at the time?

If anyone has any thoughts on Mills and his new, brief, and certainly unexpected mid-life career, please do let me know. I'll admit: This unanticipated turn of events has thrown me for a loop!

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