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Lieutenant W R G Mills not forgotten

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Dear Forum


I love the fact that this hobby of ours can reawaken the memory of a forgotten soul. Indeed the bottom of the World War 1 Casualty scroll states:


Sadly with the passage of time the death of next of kin or the kind of apathy from descendants that I will never really understand, they are often forgotten. We however as collectors, do get the opportunity to be temporary custodians of history and in that time remember, record and pay our own tribute to the fallen and the survivors those who served and returned. My hope is that my efforts in research and the respect I show will carry forward to the next custodian of my collection, hopefully in many years time!

So please forgive the long post and indulge me this is a story worth telling.

I was delighted last week to receive a WW1 British War Medal, Victory Medal pair and Casualty plaque. Described in the auction catalogue thus:

"Pair WWI service medals to 2nd Lieutenant W R G Mills together with Death plaque to the same"

Nothing more no notes, no history, no basic research nothing at all, so to put the record straight here is William Robert Granville Mills story.

WILLIAM ROBERT GRANVILLE MILLS (BILLY), the eldest child of Granville Mills, of the Public Works Department India, and Cordelia his wife, was born at Secunderabad, Deccan, on December 31st, 1897. He was educated at l'Ecole de l'Ile de France, Liancourt, France, at Hartford House, Winchfield (Mr. Lloyd's), and at Eagle House, Sandhurst (Mr. Lockhart's), where he obtained a Foundation Scholarship at Winchester College in June, 1911.

Both at his preparatory schools and at Winchester he won many prizes. At Winchester, in 1913, he won the Headmaster’s Prize for French; in 1914, the Warden and Fellows' Prize for English Verse; and in 1915 the Warden and Fellows' Prize for English Essay. He was a College Prefect and played in College fifteens and ran well in Junior and Senior Steeplechase. At Christmas, 1915, he was elected to the Senior Classical Scholarship at Christ Church, Oxford.

On leaving Winchester he was given a commission in the Royal Field Artillery, Special Reserve, and was gazetted in February, 1916. On June 30th, 1916, he went to the front and was there all through the battle of the Somme and at Contalmaison, Martinpuich, Mametz Wood, and Le Sars. The Battery moved to the Ypres Salient and he was home on leave from January 5th to January 15th, 1917. Returning to Ypres, he was killed by a shell in the front line trench on the afternoon of February 16th, 1917. He was buried next day at Transport Farm, Zillebecke.

Billy was just 19 years old his grief stricken father gathered his poetry and his letters home to his beloved mother and the letters of condolence and sympathy received from the front. He had them private published in a small volume “The poems and letters of W R G Mills”. I have managed to find a digital copy on line but of course would love to find a copy of the original work to place side by side with his medals and plaque. If anybody should find a copy of this small volume anywhere for sale please let me know immediately.

Letters sent to his parents from the front


No doubt by this time you will have heard from the War Office of your sad loss. I am dreadfully sorry to have to confirm it. Your son was killed this afternoon whilst doing his duty. He is a great loss to me. He was a most promising and trustworthy young officer and I cannot tell you how much it grieves me to have to write of his death to you. I can only convey to you my most sincere sympathy and regret.


I was very sorry indeed to hear the sad news, and I am sure you have my deepest sympathy. All this happened while I was away from the battery, and it was a bitter blow to me when I heard that I had lost two of my best officers. During the time your son served under my command he proved himself a very capable officer. On several occasions he accompanied me on very difficult and dangerous operations. I really cannot speak too highly of his gallantry and untiring work.

He died a noble death while performing a very difficult task. He was very popular with the men and I am sure they will miss him very much. He learnt his work as acting officer very quickly, and I could always rely on him to carry out any task that was given him, I can candidly say he was a most brilliant officer. We all miss him very much. I am sure you must have been very proud of your son, for he was a real good boy.


It is with very deep regret that I write to you concerning the death of your son, who was killed in action yesterday. He was in the front line observing with the captain when an enemy shell burst in the trench near them. He was buried this morning in the Military Cemetery by our Chaplain, who knew him at Winchester, the Colonel and as many officers and men of the Brigade as could possibly be spared attended, the officers and men and myself deeply sympathise with you in your bereavement. We feel keenly the loss of our comrade, who was a most efficient and trustworthy officer, and a great favourite with us all.


I feel that I would like to be allowed to write to you a few lines, as being the Chaplain to the artillery in this Division, in which your son was serving, partly to tell you how very sorry we all are, and also to tell you one or two things which I feel sure that you would like to know. My own acquaintance with your boy went back to the days before he came out here, when he was at Winchester. I was working at the Winchester College Mission in Portsmouth, and being a Wykehamist myself and also in College, used very often to see him when I was over at the School. I can't remember now, whether he ever actually came to spend a week-end at the Mission with us; my impression is that he did. Then he came out here and joined this Division, and it was so very delightful to find him carrying out the same habits and principles which no doubt he had learnt at home and at school. As perhaps you know, it is not easy for those who work with the guns to get many opportunities of Church Services: they are always working, and it is often unsafe to gather the men together for services. But when we did have them, he was always present; and I remember so well, at Christmas, the Holy Communion Service which we held in the 10ft of a big barn (we were resting for a week before coming into the line here), and he was one of the little group who came for their Christmas Communion. I think that was probably the last chance that he had out here, as ever since then his battery has been continually engaged. He was always quiet and a little reserved; but I have heard so many comments during the last few days with regard to the excellence of his work; and I am sure that his ·example and influence with the men must have been for good. I hope you will not mind my writing to you. I would just like to add this, if I may, that there must surely be a great future of usefulness for his gifts and powers in God's service in the new sphere to which he has gone.


Excuse me these few lines, but I thought that I could not let this pass without sending my personal sympathy in your great sorrow, for as I was packing up his personal belongings I could not help but think of you and the one we both have lost, and I hope and trust you get all his things quite safe. As he was a dutiful son to you, he was a great friend and master to me, and I shall never forget him as long as life lasts.


I have been in the Mess just about as long as Mr. Mills would have been with us, remembering quite well when he joined us. Yes, he was liked immensely, and we often recall many little -episodes of his cheery ways and his undisturbed demeanor. We miss him very much indeed. These times we could well have done with the work of Mr. Mills, I assure you. All the drivers say how he has been missed by them and also the gunners. He used to break into a song every morning as soon as he awoke, and then the saying used to go: 'Hello, here comes Billy!' (Excuse the familiar word ' Billy'). It was always the same song: 'If you we’re the only girl in this world and I were the only boy.


Your boy was such a very gentle, peace-loving fellow that his sacrifice comes with an additional shock. His photo, which you sent me, has kept him continually before me and I feel as if I had lost a very near friend. One could not but love the boy -he was so genuine and pure and honourable. I suppose what struck me most was the way in which he went forward and went out without a murmur of doubt or hesitation. He had lots of grit behind his gentle manner and a really fine-cut character. Assuredly it is well with the child. How wonderful and devoted is the service of these boys and how it wins the hearts of all kinds of men. I do praise God for your boy's good service: such things help us all.


May I take this opportunity of saying how deeply sorry I am that he has not lived to take up his Scholarship here. I did not know him, but I remember that our examiners were well pleased at the election they had made, and would have looked forward to his coming here with great hopefulness.


I was very fond of Billy and had the greatest opinion of his ability and of his determined character. I always think he was the best boy I ever taught in all my more than thirty years’ experience. I always like to think of his big strong calm head and face as he took up the points of difficulty and his excellent clear English in which he rendered the Latin authors, I don't know which is the greater grief, to think that I shall never have the pleasure of welcoming him here again, or to think of the cutting off of that brilliant career which I am sure lay before him-a grievous loss to his country, both in public and in private life

Now a final word from a talented scholar a bright young talent extinguished like so many others in the war to end all wars.

A poem by W. R. G. Mills

Over the marsh where the wild pigs wallow
Over the fiats where the curlews cry
Over the green-black bog 
Will I follow under a purple sky

Into the land of the last, awaking
Into the land of the last long rest
Into the land where the waves are breaking
Over the shores of the west

There may I seek for the end of sorrow
There may I find the long, day done
There may I rest in the shade' of tomorrow
Under the setting sun






Edited by kingsman64
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  • 2 months later...

William Robert Granville Mills was my father's cousin and I came across his story when I was researching the family tree. I was astonished that young men aged just 18 or 19 were Second Lieutenants and leading battalions of regular soldiers and conscripts. I was on holiday in Belgium a few years ago and we stayed for a day in Ypres and I visited the Railway Dugouts Graveyard and took a picture of his gravestone. You have provided me with even more information about William. His grandfather was William Yarnton Mills who was the Rector of Miserden in Gloucestershire which is the ancestral home of the Mills family and Miserden Church is full of plaques to members of the family.


Mike Mills



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