Friday, July 16, 2010

1916: For the Duration of the War, with the Colours, and in the Army Reserve

Still sifting through "piles" of documents and messages on my computer, I think that I'll post this one today: The "Short Service" enlistment form of George Mills, dated 15 January 1916 [the duplicate copy is pictured, left; click to enlarge]. It notes that the service would be "For the Duration of the War, with the Colours, and in the Army Reserve."

Mills, a self-proclaimed student—although he hadn't attended a school at this point since 1912—entered the Rifle Depot as a private. Fast-forwarding three years, Mills would leave the service in 1919 as a lance corporal. After "The War to End All Wars," it must have seemed as if his days 'with the Colours' were behind him.

I wasn't exactly sure what this 1916 enlistment and the term "Army Reserve" might've entailed entirely, so I checked the British Army's website and found this: "When a member of the Regular Army leaves the service, he or she remains liable to be recalled in times of need, and this group of ex-Regular personnel is known as the Regular Reserve," and "All male (but not female) soldiers who enlisted before 1 Apr 97 have a statutory liability for service in the Long Term Reserve until their 45th birthday."

Perhaps Mills wasn't quite as patriotic as I might have thought when, on 13 October 1940, George was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Army Pay Corps. George had just turned 44 years of age and had less than one year to go until, at 45, the army would seem to have been unable to recall him as a "regular reserve." But diud they actually recall him to duty.

Now, in 1941, my father [pictured, right, circa 1942] joined the Navy at the age of 24 because he knew the government was drafting every young man in sight into the army. The whole idea of marching through mud and sleeping on the ground wasn't all that appealing to him. "How far can they march you on a boat?" he said. Certainly not the ten miles or more he'd been hearing about! And he never heard of any sailors sleeping outside on the deck, so he dashed to the enlistment office to sign up for the United States Navy before he could have been drafted.

Is it possible George Mills was simply recalled as a regular reserve and plopped into a position as a lieutenant in the RAPC? Or is it more likely that, after clearly seeing that the Second World War wasn't going to be just a skirmish, he volunteered to return to the military in a more self-selected position he might've been able to negotitate as a "volunteer," much like my Dad?

Perhaps it's simpy a coincidence, but I went into George's enlistment papers with Adobe Photoshop and pulled out something interesting. Amid all of the scrawling, cross-outs and number changes, and remnants of departmental stamps on this duplicate copy, the ghost of one bit of writing became easier to see as I tweaked the brightness and contrast of the document.

You can see it, reading "MY PAY CORPS" in block letters above the handwritten assignment to the "Rifle Depot Res" on the "Corps" [pictured, left]. Presumably, those typed block letters in their entirety would have spelled out "Army Pay Corps."

Maybe it's unrelated to the fact that Mills later became a paymaster in that very same corps. Harrow School's archivist, Luke Meadows, has already told us that according to the school's records, after leaving Harrow, "we know that he was in the Rifle Brigade and then transferred to the Royal Army Service Corps (R.A.S.C.) during the First World War between 1916-1919." Oxford's Anabel Peacock affirms George's rank in the RASC as having begun as a private and concluded as lance corporal.

That's the only documentation of George's WW I service that I can find short of spending the £30 or more to acquire his entire service record, and, as a schoolteacher, that would be a frill I simply can't afford. Since there's only a 40% chance George's military record wasn't at least partially destroyed by bombing, it simply doesn't seem a good financial risk for me right now.

Might George, during the First World War, have transferred into the R.A.P.C. instead of the R.A.S.C.? It certainly wouldn't have been the first typographical error we've run into in our study of George Mills and family—RAPC possibly having been misinterpreted as RASC!

The skimpy Wikipedia article [just 3 sentences] on the RAPC isn't much help, but includes one useful sentence, a sentence that would be even more useful if its reference wasn't unrelated to its content. It reads:
"Before the Second World War, the RAPC did not accept recruits directly from civilian life, but only transfers from serving soldiers who had been in the Army for at least six months."

What's difficult to determine is the meaning of "before the Second World War." Mills, still a regular reserve in 1940, indeed may have been able to transfer into the RAPC [the Reading barracks from 1942 is pictured, right] without having been serving currently. Rules, at the time, seemed to changing quickly as the conflict escalated.

More information about the situation at the time is be found in the following memory of a WW II paymaster archived by the BBC and dated 21 October 2004:

"I was born into the Army and, when young, lived in married quarters. Therefore when war was declared in 1939, I enlisted in the Army Territorial Service (A.T.S.). Before Christmas I received orders to join the Royal Army Pay Corps at Leicester.

"Factories, some two or three storeys high, had been taken over by the army to store all the pay records. Regular soldiers of the Royal Army Pay Corps were training both newly enlisted men and women and we were all housed in guesthouses or the homes of local people. We worked from 9 a.m. until 7p.m every day except Sunday, when we were allowed to finish at 4 p.m. It was a few months before we were able to have a half-day on Sunday, and, later, we did appreciate having the full day off. As more people enlisted, in addition to some local people being employed as civil servants, we were able to work normal office hours.

Gradually, the regular soldiers were transferred overseas. Then, when women were called up to register for war work, the enlisted men, except for a few on special work, were also sent abroad. When I joined up in 1939, there was one woman to about 30 men. By 1941-42, the position had gradually changed to the women outnumbering the men."

It's likely the gentleman who wrote this memoir was somewhat younger than George Mills, but he also had apparently returned to the service at the onset on World War II, much like Mills himself.

Perhaps George was trained by this fellow. Perhaps George had previous experience in the RAPC that I can't verify and quickly became a fellow trainer.

One thing is for sure: This part of the military experience of George Mills has been kept under wraps. Both Harrow and Oxford have records of Mills' WW I service, but I can't find any authorities boasting of George's WW II service.

Did George Mills spend time overseas during the Second World War? Or was he involved in some "special work" that kept him from being deployed abroad? How did the death of his wife, Vera, in Exmoor in January of 1942 affect George and his military career? Did the "ill-health" that forced Mills to relinquish his commission in 1943, retaining an honorary rank of lieutenant, occur in Great Britain, or had he been assigned overseas when his health declined at age 46?

I invite you to weigh in on these questions with any information, ideas, or informed speculation you may have—and many thanks!

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