Monday, July 26, 2010

"Study the past if you would define the future" -- Confucius

In a world of dates, facts, and figures, it was nice to post something more personal yesterday. Take for example last week's probing of the military career of Arthur F. H. Mills: There are things to be learned from the dates, facts, and figures, but it only takes one so far.

The message I posted yesterday from Oriana, great-granddaughter of Col. Dudley Acland Mills, R.E., was a breath of fresh air, and I thank her profusely for it. We may not have learned anything that could really fit neatly into a time line of events, nothing packaged with indisputable numbers that could be shoe-horned into a sequence of events, but I do know I learned one thing quite clearly:

It was just a beautiful message about her family, written with love.

First of all, I was wrong about Dudley Mills having written a book. I actually ordered it from a bookseller in Australia and it turned out to be "British Diplomacy in Canada: The Ashburton Treaty" by Dudley A. Mills, an article from the journal United Empire, pp. 681-712, October 1911, that had been torn from the original periodical. That doesn't make it a bad thing. It's just not a book, as I had thought
when I found it on

Apparently, that article and its maps are the Gold Standard regarding the issue, and one can easily find numerous references to it across the internet. Dudley was apparently a truly amazing man, and you can read about him in his London Times obituary from 26 February 1938 at the upper left of this entry [click to enlarge].

As far as fleshing out their branch of the family tree went, I had done pretty well, but Oriana's remarks really flesh out the people. It's hard to say how close the members of Dudley's family were with the family of Dudley's brother, Rev. Barton R. V. Mills, but telephone records show that Dudley Mills first got a London telephone in 1929 [pictured, right]—actually two phone numbers—under his name: "Mills Colonel Dudley A," one being listed at "29 Pembroke rd W.9" with the number "WEStern 5941," and the other listed at "24 Washington ho Basil st S.W.3" with the corresponding number "SLOane 6624."

London was a big place in 1929 and out of all of it, that Pembroke Road address in Kensington is about a mile west of the Hans Road address of Barton and family at the time, and the Washington House address would be less than 750 feet away from Barton's front door. Yes, Dudley was "in the neighborhood," although the next year he would drop the Washington House line from the directory and keep the Pembroke Road until it disappeared from the book after his death in 1938.

I didn't know much about Mordaunt Mills except that he was a wood worker who exhibited under the name "Algar." A brief article from the Montreal Gazette of 15 December 1931 [pictured, left] reads: "Mr. Mordaunt Mills, grandson of the late Sir Henry Joly de Lotbiniere, is showing under the trade name of "Algar" an interesting exhibit of his work in the utilization of various fine-grained woods for boxes and other articles at the handicrafts exhibition at the Horticultural Hall this week."

It makes sense that he ended up being involved as a patron of the arts, although I'm unsure of the connection to Malta. I've speculated, but not in any really informed way, that it may have had something to do with his uncle, George Mills, but that may be way off base!

All I really knew of Verity Mills was this tantalizing and incomplete snippet from Hawkeseye: The Early Life of Christopher Hawke by Diana Bonakis Webster: "Verity Mills, whose father, Colonel Dudley Mills, had a house on the further side of the Beaulieu River, was invited to tea one afternoon while Christopher and his father were staying, and she danced for them on the lawn." Hawkes was an British archaeologist and a professor of European prehistory at Oxford University.

Verity's wedding was covered in the London Times on 20 July 1934 [right], and we know she was a bridesmaid at the wedding of her cousin George Mills on 23 April 1925, which she attended with her sister, Ottilie [misspelled 'Othlie' in the actual Times article]. Interestingly, George and Vera Mills apparently did not attend Verity's nuptials. Verity also sat for a charcoal and pastel portrait by Lady Chalmers that was quite favorably reviewed in the 14 December 1933 edition [below, left] of the Times.

Of Ottile, I really only knew that she'd married Michael Heathorn Huxley, who I found was a scholarly fellow once described as a "soldier-diplomat."

Knowing some more about these people, their families, and their closeness as siblings, was something I simply wasn't used to in doing this research. Visualing the large painted portraits hanging in the living room, the elegant, colourful, crocheted scarves, the beautiful house and garden in Malta, and the flowing, elegant scarf amongst the dunes near St. Augustine all breathe some life into the entire Mills family, and its something that was unexpected, but quite wonderful for me.

I smiled when I read that Agnes and Violet Mills were "charming and very keen on the girl guides," but had to wonder who Brigadier Hallam Mills was. I looked him up quite easily, but still have no idea how he fits into the family tree.

Thank you, Oriana, for talking the time to share some of your mother's insights, as well as your own. Is there a book in all of this, you asked? I definitely think so.

It can't be an ordinary book, a dry compendium of names and dates, or a time-line in paragraph form. Without much to go on regarding the personalities of actual characters we're studying here, I think the book will end up being more about my relationship with these people who, outside of and at times even within their families, have been largely forgotten.

I'm coming to an age myself where I wonder about how I may be remembered, or if I will have marched through the world destined to be anonymous after the passing of more time. I think it's what drives and has driven me here. In a sort of plea to the notion of 'paying it forward,' meaning that if, perhaps, I can save George Mills, et al, from being lost in the sands of time, perhaps someone will someday do the same for me.

Finally, part of the story here is how to research someone who's never been researched. There are no authorized or unauthorized biographies. There are no 'up close and personal' interviews, no sound bites, no film clips, and no one has ever sat down and attempted to put the lives we're examining here into the context of the times in which these people lived. There's an autobiography of Lady Dorothy Mills, but one must stretch the definition of autobiography to Twiggy-like thinness to consider it any kind of a personal recounting of her life.

There's quite a bit of "story" to be told here, and its scope surpasses simply the cataloging the identities, names, and dates of Monica Mills or E. M. Henshaw or Sir George Dalhousie Ramsay or Valerie Wiedemann.

Who knows? It's a book that may never end up being written, but it is a story that's being told just the same, bit by bit, right here. Thank you, Oriana, for helping me tell just a little bit more of it.

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