Thursday, January 13, 2011

Some "Well-known Budleigh Characters"

More news from Budleigh Salterton and friend Michael Downes!

Here's some of what Michael had to say in his latest message: "Here's a photo [left] of Dr Evans, (George's) GP, and some memories of the family which I've put on my blog… I contacted the funeral directors in Budleigh Salterton in the hope of finding out whether George was buried or cremated, but unfortunately they throw out any records over ten years old."

It's a pity about those records. It may seem a bit morbid, but it would be interesting to know how the story of George Mills ended. A family plot including many of the cast of characters we've learned about here would actually give the story some finality and provide my "relationship" with the Mills family—I do feel a great deal of warmth for them—some closure.

You can read Michael's blog entry "Searching for George Mills in a Parallel Universe" at:

Here is an excerpt from that blog entry:

'"[George Mills] was a very sociable welcoming person," recalls Dr David Evans of his former patient, "as indeed were his sisters. They used to have quite big parties, and were well-known Budleigh characters. He was devoted to his sisters Aggie and Vi. They got on well as a nice little family, but in no way was he dependent on them."

Dr Evans remembers that George Mills and his sisters were croquet fanatics, and were also keen on bridge. "They would go to Budleigh Salterton Croquet Club under all circumstances."

He remembered that Violet was a good golfer. "Just after World War Two she was on a ship to South Africa and was invited to represent the national England golf team."

Again, I delighted to be able to publish such little details like this which at the speed of light will reach my literary detective friend in Florida. Details which, like tiny brush strokes, will help him complete his portrait of the mysterious George Mills.'

Michael also weighs in on the possibility of Budleigh existing in a "parallel universe," a strange notion I recommend that you explore more deeply by clicking on the link above—it's well worth reading!

I know that, to many, these few sentences from Dr. Evans won't seem like much, but to me they're absolute treasures.

After so many months—now going on a year—of investigating the nearly forgotten lives of George Mills and his family, I've become familiar with them all in so many ways. Mostly, though, I know a myriad of recorded details, events, and dates. One of the ways in which I'm least familiar with them all, however, is in any sort of personal way.

We know George Mills to be a very likeable, social fellow. Dr. Tom Houston of the Windlesham House Association wrote of George's time at Windlesham: "In the Michaelmas term 1925 he wrote pieces (a prologue and songs) for a staff concert, and wrote that up in the magazine. He made people laugh, a lot." Houston also believed Mills had been involved in theatre productions as part of the school's Amateur Acting Association.

I worried aloud for some time now that the talented and affable Mills, who never published another book after 1939, may have become a sort of "broken" man after suffering a series of tragedies during and just after World War II. Had Mills become a fellow who tragically had to forfeit a career as an author, and spent his final years needing the care of his spinster sisters?

Not to worry, apparently! Dr. Evans describes Mills as "a very sociable welcoming person," and I must admit, little in his life story could have made me happier.

Hearing of the entertainments of George, Aggie, and Vi—his sisters Agnes and Violet Mills—warmed my heart. I look at the photograph of Grey Friars posted last time and think of it glowing with light in the evening, the end of Westfield Road lined with gas guzzling cars of the post-war era, party-goers hurrying to the house, and the sound of laughter drifting occasionally through the summer air.

Like George, his sisters apparently enjoyed sports and games, and even excelled at them. It also seems the Mills siblings were all healthy and physically, mentally, and socially active well into their seventies.

Some questions remain: As they passed away during the decade of the 1970s, who were the executors of their wills? Who now holds the copyrights to Mills's novels? And what became of their collected family photographs, documents, and memorabilia? One fears that what didn't sell in an estate sale after the deaths of the three childless housemates may have ended up in the dustbin. However, the answer to that last question would likely stem from an answer to either of the first two.

Hopefully others will recall knowing or hearing about these three "well-known Budleigh characters" and their exploits. There's still much to be known about George's life between his enlistment in the armed forces in 1940 and his passing in 1972.

Who knows from where the next bit of information will come? I feel confident that thanks to kind, curious, and generous people like Michael Downes, Dr. David Evans, Barry McAleenan, David Wingate, and others like them, we will, indeed, learn much more!

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