Here at Who is George Mills? it's not often that we stumble upon something special, and by special I mean a bit of writing by George himself that isn't bound up in one of his four books! So, despite the less than riveting subject matter of the missives below, it's a gala day for me.
And, as Groucho Marx once intoned, "A gal a day is enough for me. I don't think I could handle any more."
The letter by Mills would be completely out of context without first reading a previous letter, published in the London Times on 25 April 1944. Apparently there had been a thread running about pay in the military and its most effective means of disbursement.
Our first letter, seen at the left [click to enlarge], was written by Major General Alan Buchanan (Retired) and basically seems to come down in favor of getting the disbursement of funds off of the back of commanding officers, putting the entire onus on the grunts in the Royal Army Pay Corps.
To me, it seems that Buchanan says that C.O.s have more important things to worry about every week than figuring out pay rates and having troops sign for their wages, especially with a war going on.
It's amusing to me, sitting here today, to see Buchanan using the words "struggles" and "radical." It's unclear if the struggles come from the difficulty of the task or not, but I'll assume he means it's simply a time-consuming and relatively menial burden for which it is difficult to whip up any enthusiasm. And I assume a Major General knows that any change from military routines or protocols, no matter how small, would be considered radical.
The letter from George Mills [right], however, doesn't seem so radical when we find out the R.A.F. had already been disbursing their payroll in exactly the method being discussed. What makes George's letter so interesting is that he states: "[T]he scheme, if adopted, would have meant the saving of pay and allowances of a large number of regimental paymasters, many of whom hold the rank of colonel; the running of huge pay offices, with their enormous staffs, would have been unnecessary."
So, if I'm understanding this correctly, the Royal Army Pay Corps calculated the amount of money going to any regiment and presumably delivered that amount in a timely manner. Then, the money went to a paymasters' office unrelated to the R.A.P.C. where staff members would help a colonel figure out who gets how much.
Perhaps the "struggle," then, is more than just the burden of having to carry out the task itself. As opposed to Buchanan's proposed scenario of one C.O., sitting alone in frustration, trying to disburse payroll while other undone and seemingly more important tasks weigh heavily upon him, Mills sees a plethora of leech-like "middle men" sucking their living from the taxpayers by taking payroll from the R.A.P.C., turning around, and bureaucratically doling it out to the men.
Mills adds: "And, not least of importance, time would not be wasted—as it frequently is now—by officers over-paying the men, thereby putting them into debt. This frequently happens in the artillery, where trade rates of pay are very complicated."
I really had no idea that the Army Pay Corps didn't actually pay the Army at the time. Mills seems adamant about the idea of streamlining payroll disbursement in the regular army, and my hunch is that he made his feelings clear in many a base and barracks before relinquishing his commission in November 1943, just a few short months before this exchange. It's also likely that, as he does here, he made it known that he was not impressed with the capabilities and accuracy of the officers who were currently doling out the payroll.
It may have been George's penchant to try to 'help improve' his employment situations as seen above that had him moving from job to job so frequently when he was a schoolmaster in the 1920s and '30s. If there is any place still more rigid, paradigmatic, and loath to change, it's the field of education, even today. It's easy for me to see that fresh, new ideas about the education of prep school boys might have seemed "radical" to employers steeped in tradition, stability, and rote such as Windlesham House School where George worked for just a year.
Of course, having some 'issues' with the Army seems to have run in George's family. In the Times obituary of his uncle, Colonel Dudley Mills, R.E., on 26 February 1938, it noted of Dudley: "An inclination to debate the rules and regulations and to argue the value of military customs in the true Gladstone manner made him an unconventional soldier."
And we know that George's brother, Capt. Arthur F. H. Mills, apparently resigned his commission in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry just before the opening of worldwide hostilities in 1914, apparently in a dispute over promotion and/or pay. Arthur, by the way, did receive his promotion and back-dated seniority that same day.
One other thing we learn here about George Mills is that he isn't hurting for money in 1944. It's doubtful he had a full-time residence at the Naval and Military Club [pictured below, right] at 94 Piccadilly, W.1, and was simply using it as his address as his father, Rev. Barton R. V. Mills, used the Athenæum Club at Pall Mall as his address in public correspondence years before. It does add a certain gravitas to a letter!
Membership in the 21st century incarnation of the Naval and Military Club, which a humorist like Mills likely referred to as the "In and Out," stood at £895 per annum in 2009, with an additional fee payable when joining.
Let’s assume that George indeed had been assigned to a place like Ilfracombe soon after he returned to the service as a second lieutenant in 1940. Let's also assume he had not been a member under the auspices of his prior military service as a lance corporal in 1919, and that it was still restricted to officers at the time. If Mills was at a Royal Army Pay Corps base or center through his departure from the military due to ill-health on 3 November 1943, he probably hadn't the time or inclination to drop by the In-and-Out and become a member much before December 1943, his rank of Honorary Lieutenant clutched firmly in hand.
£895, exchanged today [23 July 2010], would be exactly $1,375.81. That would be quite a tidy lump-sum for me to pay for annual dues in a club right now. We also have to assume that George paid some sort of additional membership fee that first year, although I haven't been able to find out what that 1944 initial membership and the yearly dues would have been. Yes, George Mills, freshly-minted civilian in wartime London, circa 1944, certainly doesn't seem to have been too worried at all about making ends meet. It's safe to say that, financially, he must have been 'comfortable.'
And that shoots down my theory of Mills struggling to make ends meet during the Great Depression and cheerfully returning to the military as a way of at last regularly paying the bills. Had he been struggling, along with his wife Vera, to make ends meet just a handful of years before, it seems unlikely that George—in poor health—ran out and almost immediately joined an expensive and exclusive gentleman's club in London. No, George must not have had too many economic woes at the time at all!
Now, I know the club had been hit by a NAZI bomb in 1941 and much of its grandeur went into storage while repair work was done. There's even a poignant photo from LIFE magazine [left] in which a tuxedo-ed sommelier struggles to select just ther right bottle of port for a member [who may have to do without his preferred vintage] from the remaining stock in the club's diminishing wine cellar. Everyone at the time seemed to be suffering!
Still, while I head out, mower in hand, to do battle once again with continuing onslaught of the relentless force that is my lawn, when I need a break I'll think of George coolly sitting with his pipe, reading the Times at Cambridge House, taking umbrage with a letter to the editor, and writing a missive bent on to improving the state of payroll disbursement in the barracks, all within a city rife with shortages, rationing, blackouts, and rumors.
Meanwhile, if you have any thoughts or additional information, please let me know!