Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Thinking aloud once again about George Mills

Thinking aloud: I've made quite a bit of George Mills securing a teaching position [likely a junior appointment] at Windlesham House School, then in Portslade, just after having left Oxford, quickly marrying, and buying a house on Benfield Way in Portslade, all within the course of just over a calendar year. I've wondered in print quite often about why he didn't end up staying right there for some time thereafter.

Let's review some things: Mills did not possess the Oxon Bachelor of Arts degree that, through this very year, Windlesham believed he had earned.

Despite being heavily involved in extra-curricular activities around campus, by the end of the summer of 1926, Mills apparently was simply no longer there—and there is no record as to why. In fact, it is apparently only speculation that Mills had been hired to teach "English or 'English subjects'" at the school. The only thing that seemed to be eminently clear is that he "made people laugh, a lot."

By the time he published Meredith and Co. in 1933, Mills listed his subsequent teaching assignments as Warren Hill in Eastbourne, The Craig in Windermere, and the English Preparatory School in Glion, Switzerland. This is somewhat corroborated by a "Mrs. Charles" [possibly Mrs. Charles Scott Malden, principal at Windlesham] in 1935 when George drops by her house in Springwells, Steyning, West Sussex, for a visit, telling her he'd written a book "largely about Windlesham" and had been at "2 or 3 schools since, but is very faithful to Windlesham."

In 1938, however, Mills published his second novel, King Willow, then revealing he was at the time, or had been recently, associated with the Eaton Gate Preparatory School in London, S.W.1.

In 1939, Mills published two more books, Minor and Major and Saint Thomas of Canterbury. My original hunch was that his career as an author was really taking off, and I couldn't help but wonder what seemed to have nipped it in the proverbial bud.

I now have to admit, the dedication to Minor and Major that we peeked at last time suddenly has me rethinking some things.

George Mills married Vera Louise Beauclerk in 1925 and they settle into a nice house near his work. Over the next 13 years or so, Mills teaches in at least four more schools, even one in Europe. We have no way of knowing how many of those 13 years he actually spent working at the schools he'd mentioned. I've been assuming all along that he was employed at one place or another during the entire span.

His 1939 "shout out" to Parkfield makes me wonder about that now, though. There are no acknowledgements in it, no thanks to any individual or two or a current employer, just a hearkening back to the early years of his boyhood, circa 1905-1910, in Haywards Heath. Were times that hard? And was Mills yearning for a simpler, happier time?

Were things truly going badly for Mr. and Mrs. Mills? Had Meredith and Co. been written, not as an amusing diversion in 1933, but as a way to bring some money into the household. George's brother, Arthur, and Arthur's wife, Lady Dorothy, had written articles, stories, and novels as a means of support from 1916 well into the 1920s when, at last, their careers seemed to take off. With the world paralyzed by a dire economic depression by 1933, did an unemployed George decide to do the same?

Despite a respite—likely some sort of employment at 'Eaton Gate'—was George soon out of work again, and for an extended time in 1939? Was his relatively prodigious output of books that year not a creative outpouring, but simply a way to put bread on the table for Vera and himself? Was he grateful for the chance to publish, but even more eager to secure a steady job that would make him less susceptible to the vagaries of the publishing houses, the economy, and the fickle reading tastes of the general public?

We know that by the onset of the war in late 1939, Mills had returned to the military, becoming a 44-year-old lieutenant in the Royal Army Pay Corps. After settling back into a uniform for the first time since the close of World War I when he left for the university, he would never write and publish a brand-new book again.

Vera died in London in 1942. Mills subsequently relinquished that commission in 1943 due to ill health. Almost thirty years later, he died in Devonshire, childless and apparently having never remarried.

During the intervening time, we know Mills worked for a summer in Seaford at Ladycross School in 1956, just before new impressions of his three prep school novels were printed in Czechoslovakia and re-released in the U. K.

Thirty years before those reprints, Mills had written a prologue and songs for a staff concert at Windlesham during the Michaelmas term in 1925. He had written articles for the school magazine. He was involved in productions by Windlesham's Amateur Acting Association. He later became a novelist of at least some renown, dedicating much of his success to Windlesham—as well as the mysterious and unkown trio of J. Goodland, A. Bishop, and H. E. Howell.

This seemingly-creative, humorous, talented, outgoing, and decidedly people-oriented fellow disappears in to the military in 1939, and then into the woodwork for the rest of his life.


I have to think back to an e-mail I received from Heather at Peakirk Books, Wednesday, 10 March 2010, at 8:26 AM. Here's what she had written, but that I'd never recorded here:


Keep hunting - and I would be interested to know anything you discover [about George Mills]. Likewise I will let you know any information I discover. I will try contacting the author of the boys school stories book I consulted to see if he knows any more.

[In answer to a question about why Mills might not have continued to publish,] It is possible he just got fed up with writing!

Kind regards

Heather & Jeff Lawrence
Peakirk Books
Cherry Tree Lodge
Guist Bottom Road
Nr. Fakenham
NR21 0AQ

"It's possible he just got fed up with writing." Heather is probably correct. I just couldn't see that then. Since March, however, I'm beginning to see how the chips may have fallen in such a way that George Mills may have, indeed, simply become "fed up with writing."

I'd love to have a look at Vera's obituary, if one exists. Perhaps there might be a clue or two in there…

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