Friday, November 26, 2010

Found: W. E. Mocatta and the English Preparatory School in Glion

As we wait for the resolution of Robert Horace Walpole's appeal of the third Valerie Wiedemann v. Walpole trial, let's divert ourselves and briefly examine an unrelated event that occurred during the duration of those three trials: The birth of William E. Mocatta, a man who would seemingly have had at least some influence on the actual subject of this blog, George Mills.

Mocatta was born in December of 1890 in Lancashire of parents Henry and Katherine Mocatta, and his name appears as an infant on the rolls of the 1891 U.K. census. Little is known of Mocatta, an Oxford graduate holding an M.A., until the London Gazette in 10 June 1916 reports his promotion to captain in the West Yorkshire Regiment [pictured, upper left] back on 8 November 1915.

After the First World War, Mocatta married his wife, Joan Winnifrede Spain, in Westminster on 31 July 1920. One might have expected Mocatta, still calling himself "Captain," to have become upwardly mobile in his chosen profession, the military. That, however, is not how he became associated with George Mills. At the time of his marriage, Mocatta lists his profession as "Captain, General Reserve of Officers." At some point after his service in the First World War, Mocatta took control of a boys' school in Switzerland.

By 1934, just a year after the publication of George Mills's first book, Meredith and Co., that educational institution for boys aged 7 to 14 began to advertise in the London Times. The English Preparatory School of Glion boasted having "Captain W. E. Mocatta" as its headmaster, and openly trolled for students in the United Kingdom in both advertisements of its own [pictured left, from 17 April 1934], as well as piggy-backing onto the adverts of recreational facilities in the area above Montreux [seen below, right, from 26 May 1934]. In fact, Mocatta's presence seems to have been the institution's real "selling-point."

In the dedication of Meredith and Co., Mills wrote: "To MR. J. GOODLAND, sometime Head Master of Warren Hill, Eastbourne; to the STAFF AND BOYS OF THE SAME SCHOOL, and to those of WINDLESHAM HOUSE, BRIGHTON, THE CRAIG, WINDERMERE, and the ENGLISH PREPARATORY SCHOOL, GLION, among whom I spent many happy years, this book is affectionately dedicated."

Mills's book was published in 1933, before these advertisements that appeared in the pages of the Times, but that obviously does not mean that the school had just sprung into life in 1934.
As previously ascertained, Wells Lewis, the son of American novelist Sinclair Lewis, had attended school there back in 1924, according to the collected letters of the elder Lewis.

Mocatta may not yet have been headmaster at the time of Wells Lewis's attendance in the previous decade, but he likely was by the time George Mills, possibly still claiming to be an Oxford grauate, was added to the teaching roster. Mills listed the institution last, and seemningly then most proximate in time to his 1933 publication of Meredith and Co.

Mills, as we know,
spent 1925-1926 at Windlesham House, and subsequently taught at Warren Hill School, The Craig, and the English Preparatory School in Glion, Switzerland, presumably in that order. Can we assume that Mills taught on the continent somewhere between 1930 and 1932? His father, Barton, passed away in 1932, and that would seem to have been a time when George would have returned to London. Possibly endowed with an inheritance and with an inclination to begin putting his experiences in teaching down on paper, Mills probably put down roots in London again after his Alpine teaching days.

Mocatta later passed away "in hospital" on 25 February 1944 of what the Times describes as "illness resulting from service abroad." Mocatta had become a major in the meantime, and presumably wasn't serving in Glion when he became ill, what with the Second World War grinding into its fifth year and his death attributable to his "service."

It seems likely that Mills had departed Glion upon the death of his father in 1932 and was probably on good terms with then-Captain Mocatta, a fellow Oxonian. The latter's death in 1944 might have been simply another straw that was breaking the proverbial camel's back for an already ill Mills. After all, Mills had
lost his wife, Vera, during the war in Exmoor on 5 January 1942, and suffered the passing of young friend and muse Terence Hadow on 18 March 1943 in combat in Burma.

Remember that Mills, aged 44, had
returned to active duty in the military himself at the onset of aggressions in WWII, but had soon relinquished his commission as a second lieutenant on 3 November 1943 "on account of ill-health." Mills would not have been the only Britisher to suffer continual tragedy during the war years, but something in it all caused him not only to withdraw from the armed forces, but from having been an author. The books he published in 1939, the year he returned to the army, were the last he'd ever pen.

The war seems to have been too much for George Mills.

We know Mills died in 1972 while living in Devonshire with his aging, spinster sisters. How much the death of Major Wm. E. Mocatta [Times obituary, seen below, right] played upon his psyche near the end of the war is open to conjecture. Perhaps he never even knew of the Major's passing, and the
passing of his mother, Edith Mills, in the waning months of 1945 had a far greater negative impact on his future.

Still something, or some series of events, turned Mills from a gregarious and convivial young schoolmaster into a relatively reclusive ex-"Writer of Tales for Boys," as he is described in the British Library. My hunch is that it was all a cumulative effect of successive tragedies during the war years.

However, it could also very well be, as
suggested by Heather at Peakirk Books, Norfolk, that it's as simple as: "It is possible he just got fed up with writing!"

We may never know. But if you have any information on the now-forgotten English Preparatory School in Glion, Switzerland, William E. Mocatta, or any other part of the life and times of George Ramsay Acland Mills, please contact me. I would greatly appreciate it!

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