Friday, February 4, 2011

Worthy Adversaries of the Mills

Last time we attempted to look at the achievements of George Mills and his spinster sisters Violet and Agnes Mills in croquet tournaments ranging from Cheltenham and Roehampton to Budleigh Salterton and Eastbourne.

The Mills siblings weren't on the field of play alone, however. Many names flicker past one's eyes as the small print of The Times sports page is winnowed, searching for "Mills." Some friends and foes are even gathered in the 1974 photograph [left] taken at Budleigh Salterton during the 1974 series played among Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand for the MacRobertson Shield.

Here's a look at the players who most commonly matched up either alongside or against George, Agnes, and Violet. I've transcribed their name as they appear in The Times, as well as adding Christian names as they are provided in the extremely useful Bowdon Croquet photo archives:

Player Appear-
As PartnerAs OpponentTogether vs. MillsRecord vs. Mills
Mrs. V. C. Gasson (Vera)181082 – 6
Lt. Col. G. E. Cave (Gerald)14777 – 2
   Mrs. G. E. Cave
5053 – 2
   CAVE TOTALS195143 times10 – 4
Mrs. H. F. Chittenden (Barbara)123103 – 7
Dr. H. J. Penny (Harold)7071 – 6
   C. H. R. Penny2021 – 1
   PENNY TOTALS9091 time2 – 7
Miss J. Warwick (Joan)7075 – 0
J. G. Warwick (Guy)6244 – 0
Miss I. M. Roe
5057 – 2
A. J. Cooper (John)6064 – 2

The column of the table headed "Paired vs. Mills" indicates how many times a pairing played as partners against one or more of the Mills. This is important because as the Caves (Lt.-Col., and his mother, Mrs.) beat the Mills twice [Lt.-Col. Cave is pictured, right], they each put a win on their record versus the siblings even though only one game was played. This happened in the loss the Caves suffered at the hands of the Mills. Dr. H. J. Penny and C. H. R. Penny also fell to the Mills as a pairing, losing one game.

Also, I do not know if the Warwicks (Miss J. and J. G.) were related [Update: They were brother and sister]. They never played in a pair against the Mills, and I'm leery of assuming they are relatives, although they both seem to have beaten the Mills sibs like the proverbial drum! On one day, 6 May 1966, J. G. Warwick [pictured below, left] defeated the Mills twice as George and Violet each were scratched.

An oddity in the line of Mrs. H. F. Chittenden, of Seaford, East Sussex, is that she is recorded as both a partner and a foe for playing a single game: On 10 May 1968, she defeated Miss Violet Mills and Sir Leonard Daldry [pictured far below, right] by 12, playing alongside George Mills.

One last item: Although Miss I. M. Roe matched up against the Mills clan on only 5 occasions, she played 9 games during those tilts. Roe played Agnes for the Women's Championship at Roehampton in both 1961 and 1962, winning both times by tallies of (+4, –2, +17) and (–5, +19, +12).

Here's a table of notable nemeses/allies of the Mills siblings:

Most Individual Appearances

Mrs. V. C. Gasson—18
Most Frequent Partner (w/Mills)Mrs. V. C. Gasson—10
Most Frequent Opponent (vs. Mills)Mrs. H. F. Chittenden—10
Most Frequent Pairing (vs. Mills)Lt.-Col. & Mrs. G. E. Cave—19
Most Victories (vs. Mills)Lt.-Col. G. E. Cave & Miss I. M. Roe—7
Most Losses (vs. Mills)Mrs. H. F. Chittenden—7

A last bit of information before closing today would be an examination of the singles handicaps of the Mills trio across time. One last table for quick viewing:

First Year of SinglesInitial Handicap Lowest Handicap Final handicap (1971)
Miss A. E. Mills 1950+3 +1½+3½
Miss V. E. Mills 1956+2 +2+2
George R. A. Mills 1958+10 +4+4

[Update: You can find more accurate information on handicaps by clicking HERE.]

As we can clearly see, Violet indeed must have been the best athlete of the three, taking a handicap of 2 onto the lawn for her first tournament game. George, however, made the greatest improvement in his croquet, beginning as a 10 handicap and, in a decade and a half, shaving that down to 4.

It appears that these handicaps improved over time, but were never diminished until Agnes rose from a 1½ to a 3½. During the 1971 season, for example, when Agnes was 76 years of age, The Times archive tells me she lost her four tournament games played by double-digit scores of –20, –23, –10, and –16. In the very last game she was scheduled to play, she retired. Clearly, the aging warrior of the lawns from the Mills family, Agnes, was losing some of her game. The final loss by retirement, at home in Budleigh Salterton on 6 July 1971 to M. B. Reckitt, might have been particularly hard for such a competitor to swallow.

George had played two games the day before at the age of 74 and had lost both by scores of (-15) and (-13). In fact, the Mills family is recorded as having played just one game after Agnes could not take the field on the 6th of July in 1971. On that same day, Violet Mills defeated C. Edwards (+5) in the first round of Level Singles at Budleigh. I've scoured The Times, page by page, over the next several days and there is no record of Violet, aged 70, having played a subsequent tournament game at Budleigh that year despite her 1st round victory. In fact, I cannot discover any of the siblings having played another tournament game. Ever. Anywhere.

[Update: This correct information came from Chris Williams of the Croquet Association:

Looking in the 1970 Gazettes I can see that George played in the July
week tournament at Cheltenham (13-18 July)

He lost to Isobel Roe and Christine Bagnall in the first rounds of the B
Class event. It was played as a draw and process which everyone gets two
chances to progress in the event. He lost his first game in the handicap
knockout to FW Meredith (0), playing off a handicap of 4 and lost in the
first game in the handicap doubles playing with RN Bateson, who I think
it still playing croquet nowadays.

I cannot find any evidence of any of the three of the Millses playing
after 1970.

Thanks, as always, very much, Chris!]

Over the next few posts, we'll take a look at some notable opponents of the Mills clan at tournaments from 1951 through 1971, including a surprising connection to the teaching career of George Mills!

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