My Family Matters

Charles Henry and

Edith Annie Mills

 

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Edith’s

autograph book

Grace Wray

(nee Mills)

 

My grandfather, Charles Henry Mills (Charlie), was born on 19 July 1880 He was the second son of a skilled and qualified shipwright who was employed at Portsmouth Dockyard. The Mills family were living at 7 Great Southsea Street, Southsea which was part of a development of Georgian and Victorian streets built to house dockyard craftsmen and workers.

 

Fifteen months later, Charlie was baptised along with his older brother, James, at the Bible Christians church (later, a United Methodist church), Broughham Road, Southsea (shown right) on 20 October 1881 (Possibly this choice of church does not reflect his parent’s religious convictions but was simply a convenient religious building as it was situated just over a quarter of a mile from their home. Charlie’s younger brother, Archie, was baptised at the Garrison Church - “The British Military Cathedral” - which is near the seafront and about the same distance from Great Southsea Street and which is notable because much of the bomb damage inflicted during WW2 has not been repaired - it is now a roofless ruin):

 

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By the turn of the nineteenth century, the Mills family (probably driven by Charlie’s mother, Rose) had climbed a rung or two of the social ladder and had had moved to 51 Lawrence Road, Southsea.

 

Charlie was educated at St Lukes School, Landport, Portsmouth which was near the City’s Guildhall. He was to be a student or teacher at this school for about fifty years. In December, 1891 Charlie gained a certificate for proficiency in shorthand at St Lukes. Then, during successive years between 1892 and 1894, Charlie was one of the principal characters in the school festivals which were performed to capacity audiences in the Guildhall’s Great Hall. In 1892 he was the Beadle’s attendant in the cantana, Idle Ben. The following year he played Sancho Panza in Don Quixote - sprinkling the play with witty comments and ironic proverbs. In 1894, he was the policeman in Dan, the Newsboy.

 

Charlie had taken the first steps along his career path - he was a monitor on probation at Albert Road, Southsea  School in 1894 and an assistant schoolmaster from 1898 until 1903 at Portsmouth’s Beneficial School. His brother,Archie, was also a pupil teacher in 1901.

 

There had been some signs that part of the Mills persona was the ability to instruct: Charlie’s grandfather, James Mills, had given ‘tuition for young gentlemen’ on HMS Asia in Portsmouth Harbour and Charlie’s maternal great grandmother was a school mistress in London in 1851.

 

To improve his teaching qualifications from 1903 until 1905, Charlie attended Hartley University College, Southampton from which he emerged with a first-class degree and a new fascination - he was enthralled by a fellow student, Edith Annie Dee, who was affectionately known as ‘Eadie’ (a name derived from her initials).

Eadie, however, was of a different social standing. Her father, George Dee, was a business man at Stoke Newington, London who owned a chain of small shops selling hardware products - what we would call DIY goods.

 

George was also a local councillor who had been offered the mayorship of Stoke Newington on more than one occasion.

 

Eadie was born on 17 June 1884 at Clapton, north London, the eldest of four sisters. One of her sibling’s husbands was later knighted and another received the CBE – which is a taste of the circle in which the Dees moved. Like many young, middle-class ladies, Eadie also entered the teaching profession, being a pupil teacher in 1901.

 

She enrolled at Hartley College in 1903. Why Eadie went to Southampton to continue her training when there were several similar colleges in London is, perhaps, hard to understand.

 

Hartley University College

The Hartley Institution was founded at High Street, Southampton (left) by Henry Robinson Hartley in 1862. Today, it has evolved into Southampton University but in the 1890s there was a serious need for re-organisation of the institution. When Eadie and Charlie attended the college, it had become a ‘technical college of the first rate’ and had been renamed 'Hartley University College’ on 23 November 1902. The college’s motto was ‘Strenuis ardua cedunt’ or, ‘The heights yield to endeavour’.

 

As well as day and evening classes, from 1896 the College ran courses to help pupil teachers to attain the certificate of teaching. There were 130 pupil teachers in 1896-97 at the college and 200-300 uncertified teachers in part-time attendance. Several of Eadie’s friends were pupil teachers in 1901. There was no corresponding college at Portsmouth which was the reason that Charlie went twenty-six miles along the coast to Southampton. Hartley attracted students from Southampton, Portsmouth, London and Wales. On St David’s Day, Common Room reeked with the smell of roasted leeks

In the autumn of 1903, Eadie was caught up in a controversy which centred on her digs at Carlton Crescent. The matter was debated over two whole columns on a page of the Hampshire Advertiser.The establishment was evidently a hostel for Catholics, although Eadie’s family were Anglicans. The Rev Mother of the hostel wrote to Hartley College saying that if any of the students who were living in the hostel were dissatisfied with the treatment they had received, or wished to leave for any reason, though sorry, she would not object to their doing so - provided this was sanctioned by the Board of Education and arrangements were made to re-imburse the hostel for the ensuing financial loss. She added that all students had come to the hostel with the consent of their parents and the full knowledge that it was under her control.

 

On 20 October 1903 an open letter was written which avowed that, ‘We all wish to tell you we are exceedingly happy and comfortable at this hostel and have not the slightest desire to reside elsewhere whilst pursuing our course of training at the Hartley University College’. It was signed by all the residents including Edith A Dee and several students who appear in her autograph book.

Eadie was living at 6 Carlton Crescent – in a ‘dignified residential district’ of Georgian houses - together with nineteen other students under the oversight of a supervisor who viewed them as ‘cherished chicks’. Her closest friends were “Bella’ Jeffries and Jeannie Forrest.

 

There were strict limitations placed on the social interaction between male and female students. Each term saw ‘half-a-dozen functions (called soirees) that included music, games and dancing’. Girls could only attend these if they were chaperoned. They were not allowed out without permission after 6.00 pm in wintertime and 8.30 pm in the summer and had to be in bed by 10.00 pm. They were also forbidden to converse with male students outside of the college precincts except when at recognised events.

Eadie’s Autograph Book

From 1901 until 1910, Eadie kept an autograph book in which her fellow-students and friends contributed drawings, poems and other pieces. It provides a fascinating insight into student life in the early twentieth century. (Link to Autograph Book)

 

The book also shows Charlie’s evident interest: as well as a pencil drawing of the bar-gate at Southampton, he also penned a portrait of an anonymous young vamp with the caption: ‘All the girls are lov-er-ly’ (shown right).

 

This overt sentiment was quite different from the contributions of other young men, although there may be an entry from Charlie’s brother, Archie Mills, in the book – the author signs him (or-herself) A M s – which maybe indicates that Charlie had a rival for Eadie’s affections.

Charlie was an active man: he swam regularly and coached the school football team and cycled. It was quite possible to cycle to London and back spurred on by the fuel of ardour. However, on his arrival, probably dusty/muddy, flushed and unkempt, Charlie was turned away on more than one occasion by Eadie’s parents. This action may be somewhat hard to understand as Eadie’s father was a keen cyclist and the captain of a local cycling club. He would have known the effort that lay behind Charlie’s journey.

 

One senses therefore the hand of Eadie’s mother in the rejection of the weary suitor. According to his son, Charlie’s social skills were lacking and his manner of speech might include the occasional expl**tive. On the back of one photograph of himself, Charlie has plaintively written, ‘Dear Edie (sic), I’ve just come to wish you a Very Happy Xmas and for the New Year, every good wish for health and happiness. Yours always, Charlie.’ Was this card presented on an occasion when Charlie was not allowed across the portals of the Dee home?

 

 

 

The Courtship

Right: Part of a group photograph of Hartley students. Charlie is at the rear and Eadie is the girl on the left. ‘Bella’ Jeffries is next to her.

Charlie began teaching at St Lukes School, Portsmouth on 28 August 1905 and also taught at the school’s Evening Institute. Eadie returned to London where she probably taught at Daniel Street School, Stoke Newington (there is an entry in the autograph book which reads Daniel Street School 1909).

 

Would Charlie’s feelings for Eadie wither because of the distance between them socially and geographically – Stoke Newington being about seventy-five miles from Portsmouth?

 

The wedding

Charlie’s love and persistence won through. Four years after leaving college the couple were married at St Mary’s Parish Church, Stoke Newington on Saturday afternoon, 29 May 1909. The local interest in the marriage of the daughter of a local councillor was reflected in the assigning of three column inches to the wedding by the Hackney Recorder!

(From l to r): seated at the front, Marjorie Dee and Elsie Dear. Next row, bridesmaids - Violet Jamieson and Dora Dee; Rose Mills; Annie Dear,  Ann Dear, George Dee and William Dear.  To Charlie’s left is Bella Jeffrey

and behind the bride is Archie Mills.  Above him is Matilda Mayston.  To the bride’s right are

Gertie, Ethel and Eliza Dee with her husband.

The ceremony was conducted by the Rector, Rev. E. B. Salmon. Eadie was dressed in white silk with a pretty lace veil and orange blossom wreath. She was attended by six bridesmaids: her three sisters, Dora, Gertrude and Marjorie Dee, and three cousins, Ethel Maude Dee, Violet Jamieson and Elsie Dear. The bridesmaids wore white muslin and silk dresses with rose trimmed, leghorn hats. Archie Mills was the best man. Charlie’s presents to the maids were white satin, hand-painted bags and scent bottles.

 

The wedding breakfast was served to more than fifty guests at George Dee’s home, Fairholt Road, Stoke Newington. Ironically (in view of Charlie’s travels and travails), the presents included a case of silver salt cellars from the Clapton Wanderers Cycling Club, of which George had been captain.

 

Charlie and Eadie left for their honeymoon at Bournemouth – the bride wearing a mole costume with Tuscan hat trimmed with scarf.

Their children - Grace Edith

and Patrick Charles Mills

 

The couple’s first home was at 3 Tredegar Road, Southsea but the couple soon moved to nearby 26 Rochester Road, which is close to the seafront. Before 1919, this home was sold to a teacher at St Lukes School.

 

In 1911, Charlie and Eadie were visiting newly-weds Bella (nee Jeffries) and her teacher husband, Harry Trodd, at Itchen, Southampton.

 

A daughter, Grace Edith, (my mother) was born on 24 June 1912 and Patrick Mills was born on 15 March 1914.

(Right) Eadie and children in 1915 and 1916

Charlie’s War

 

The badge was of the 9th Hants (Cyclists) Battalion. With the invention of the bicycle, horses suddenly became redundant for many operations of war. Cycles could now be used for reconnaissance and communications. They were lighter, quieter and logistically easier to support than horses which needed to be fed, stabled and shoed. It was decided to form the Hampshire Cyclists Battalion in 1911 and recruiting began in earnest in early 1912. Portsmouth was expected to provide two divisions. Two sets of uniforms were provided free of charge and while recruits brought their own cycles, they were paid a cycle allowance of 30s 6d, together with a boot allowance. They were to be aged between 18 and 35, ‘well educated men who are good cyclists’ and who would ‘do their best to make themselves good and efficient soldiers’. Later recruitment posters decreed that they should be a minimum of 5’ 3’’ tall.

 

Their assignment was to patrol the South Coast from Dorset to East Sussex, including Hampshire. It was ‘a special line of coast to defend’ and the thinking was that such a Battalion would free the Navy and the Army to do their duty elsewhere without fear of what was happening at home. The cyclists were capable of quick mobilisation so as to throw a net around any possible invader. Their training included rides of more than 100 miles and skirmishes with armed corps.

 

Some cyclists carried machine guns. By 1915, three Battalions, each of 700 to 800 men were established. Charlie was in the 2/9th Battalion. This was formed at Louth, Lincolnshire in September 1914. It was moved to Chichester and thence Bognor (where Charlie found a home for his family). Then, in October 1917, the Battalion was moved to Sandown on the Isle of Wight (Charlie was still attached to the unit as I remember my mother saying he served at Sandown). In April 1918, they were transferred to Herringfleet, Suffolk and then to billets at Lowestoft in October 1918. Shortly after this, Charles received  another posting.

 

The 9th Hants Cyclists began as a Territorial Force - this was created as a volunteer component of the British Army to augment the force without resorting to conscription. They were part-time soldiers who were liable to serve anywhere on the home front, but could not be compelled to go overseas (although the 1/9th quickly agreed to serve in India and Russia early in WW1). However, the Territorials had an identity which was separate to the regular army, to the extent that they didn’t receive the basic service medals during WW1.

Soldiers of the 2/9th Hants (Cyclists) Battalion

The inference of the following news report is that Charlie had volunteered to the Cyclists in 1912:

As his wife presented the prizes and his brother, A J Mills (a Corporal) was also present, surely Charles himself must have been a Cyclist. It was fortuitous that Charlie could make the transition to the 2/9th in August 1914 because it meant he was on home soil - and close to his young family - although still being part of the war effort. We are indebted to St Lukes School for details of when Charlie began and ended his military career::

June 1915

June 1916 Sports Day

Began               Ended

Further news items give details of his rank:

Now we move to the months at the end of the War. As the St Lukes School entry above indicates, Charlie had joined the Regular Army - the 11th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, which he left shortly before 19 May 1919, about six months after the War ended. He was a Quartermaster-Lieutenant, a fairly senior rank.

 

The Battalion was formed in January 1918 and embarked to France in May of that year. Initially they were employed digging trenches, but later in the year they moved nearer the Front, south of Arras. In early October, the Battalion moved to the line at Bois Grenier - which was a strongly held enemy position. An attempt to advance was met with heavy resistance and casualties resulted. A day-to-day war diary of this regiment exists at Somerset Archives and it relates where Charlie was and what the regiment was doing.

 

Charlie had been in at a Relief Camp. He disembarked from England on 7 October 1918 and joined the regiment on 13 October. The War may have been about to end less than a month later, on 11 November, but he was thrown into the thick of things. The Battalion was in reserve at Flerubaix but on 16 October, they were moved up to Bois Grenier, which is about fifty miles south-east of Calais

Six days later the Armistice was declared - and all that was left was to gradually mop up, return home and be demobbed. On many of the days Charlie was with the regiment, it was reported that the ‘enemy artillery was very active’. Men were wounded and killed and at least one was killed by a sniper. Some change from cycling around the coast line to being thrust into the din of war!

 

My uncle said that on one occasion the Quartermaster Stores was hit by a shell, but fortunately Charlie was absent, reporting to his commanding officer. On the 29 October, the Battalion was inspected and those requiring new articles of clothing were re-fitted at the Quartermaster’s Stores. A little piece of action then for Charlie!

 

The War had a sweeping impact on many families and coloured Charlie’s relationship with his brother Archie. Although they had been close (Archie had been his best man) Archie was not conscripted because of varicose veins. While the war was raging and Charlie was abroad, Archie was appointed headmaster of the Beneficial School at Portsmouth on 26 August 1907. When Charlie returned from France, he found his younger brother working as ‘Head’: a position he was never to fill. Archie was also a freemason for whom Charlie had ‘no time’.

Charlie and Edith’s homes in Portsmouth

After the war, Charlie and Eadie lodged with Daisy Tuck (a relation of Charlie’s mother) at 5 Playfair Road, Portsmouth. They then bought ‘Verona’, 16 Ophir Road, North End, Portsmouth (left) which cost £640. A move to a newly-built home at 74 Chatsworth Avenue, Cosham followed. Charlie rode to school on a Royal Enfield motor-cycle .

 

As Cosham became more ‘built-up’ Eadie wanted to move again so another new house, 86 Northern Parade, Portsmouth (right) was bought for £1,000 in 1937. It was christened, ‘Fairholt’ (which was the name of the road where Eadie had been raised). This was to be their final move.

Charlie at St Luke’s School

Charlie continued to teach at St Luke’s school. The school log book gives a glimpse of his life there. It mentions a few illnesses and that on 20 June 1921 he was engaged in ‘work connected with the census’ which had been taken the previous day – most satisfying for a family historian.

 

Charlie was also absent for six days in June 1920 ‘due to an accident to his foot whilst training the boys in football’. This training was successful as a later entry reported that the School Football Cup had been returned after being won for two years running. ‘Mr C. H. Mills has had charge of the team’.

(Right) After Charlie retired, on 7 March 1953 (shortly before his death), he participated in a ceremony at St Lukes of planting grass seed at the new playing field at Hampton Street. Also shown is Mr AC Maddick who once took me to Southampton on a train.

1925 - 1948

Meanwhile, Grace and Patrick were growing older. The postcard above was sent by Eadie to her mother in around 1925 from Sandown, Isle of Wight which was a popular holiday destination for the family. That Eadie hopes that her parents do not think the photograph to be too rude gives an intriguing insight into the family’s moral code. The holiday snaps which have been passed down show that Charlie and Eadie enjoyed the seaside. Indeed, many of the Dee family spent time together at various resorts which shows the close relationship between Eadie and her sisters.

Charlie’s retirement

Charlie’s time now was divided between his bowls club, gardening and his newly-acquired family. He had been a bowler for many years and had been secretary of the Ophir Bowling Club which was conveniently based across the road from his home. When Eadie was alive, this was a source of contention as she demanded that he spend more time with her rather than his bowls. I remember him writing in his club ledgers in the front bedroom.

 

In 1951, he organised the Southsea bowling tournament (see addendum for more information). He wrote about this achievement:

 

The mid-1940s were a stressful time for Charlie. His daughter, Grace, married a farm labourer in 1945. Charlie and Eadie did not smile on this match. Then, in the summer of 1945, Charlie retired from teaching. Early in 1946, Grace returned to Portsmouth for the birth of her son - and stayed with Charlie and Eadie for eighteen months. Eadie’s widowed mother, Annie was also in residence.

Charlie’s beloved Eadie had not enjoyed the best of health. She appears slight in photographs. She lost weight and her hands were deformed by arthritis. After a prolonged illness, she died (aged 65) at 3.00 pm on 26 October 1948 from a stroke and bronchitis brought on by “fibrosis of the lungs”. If that bereavement wasn’t sufficient burden, Eadie’s mother who was now living in a nursing home at Southsea died less than three months later.

Charlie spent a lot of time with Grace and his  two grandchildren. He drove a Morris Minor (GTP 914 - right) and in the summer we would sally forth to Slindon Down, the Meon valley and Petersfield. I have sharp memories of these jaunts, and so clearly enjoyed them.

 

In the summer, Charlie would hire a beach hut at Eastney and every day we would all troop down to the seaside. On one occasion while in hospital he wrote, ‘I wanted Saturday off to see Grace and the kiddies to their (beach) hut. You can guess the amount of bits and pieces that were wanted for the fortnight and I’m hoping to be out in time to carry it all back home again’

Charlie poses while the Mayor of Portsmouth bounces a bowl at the Southsea tournament.

Mum also took us to a hotel at Ventnor, Isle of Wight, for a summer holiday. I have no doubt that Charlie funded this. I also fondly recall him teaching me arithmetic using a small blackboard and chalk as I was perched on his knee. The sum of my recollections is that he spent a lot of happy and instructive time with us.

 

Charlie enjoyed gardening. He built a rockery at the end of the garden. There were espaliered plum and apple trees along a south-facing wall and the garden was dominated by a beautiful copper beech tree. A heavy garden roller was parked in the corner. He loved canterbury bells, sweet williams and fuschias

Although he loved his pipe – and the convoluted operation to set it alight – Charlie was fit and healthy. As a young man he would swim in the sea in all seasons. His interest in swimming is also shown by his attendance of a celebration of the winner of the 1947 cross-Solent swim who was an old boy of St Luke’s School as a former master of the school. He thought nothing of cycling to London and back. The school logbooks notes only two absences for illnesses when he had flebitis and lymphangitis.

 

In 1951, he was in hospital for tests: ‘this hall of beds and mixed smells’. He wrote, ‘the problem is I lose a quantity of blood through the back passage and until the doctors find out why, there will not be much progress’. He was diagnosed as having leukemia (like his mother) and was treated at St Mary’s hospital – where his father had died. My mother was disturbed because he cried out for a transfusion at the height of his discomfort. Near the end on around 14 August 1954, he was allowed out of hospital and typically took his family on a trip. We were introduced to Jonah, a huge (and stinking) whale carcass 66 feet long and weighing 69 tons which was displayed on a trailor at Southsea Common. Charlie died about a week later on 22 August 1954. I distinctly remember Mum sitting on the side of my bed to tell me the sad news. The effects of his estate amounted to £3797 5s 2d.

Epilogue

Eadie was ‘vivacious, a loving, faithful wife and a good cook’. She clearly had middle-class standards. Charlie appears stern and brusque – a man who didn’t leave his school master’s manner behind at the school gates. His son was a little in awe of him and I clearly recall Charlie threatening to ‘come down on me like a ton of bricks’ on several occasions. Few of the photographs show him smiling. However, I have been taken to task about this description by a cousin who has pleasant memories of a bright and breezy character

He was impatient. To have a deaf wife and daughter must have put a strain on the family. His daughter remembered that he drew attention to her left-handedness and unladylike feet. Archie was more outgoing and made friends easily unlike Charlie who was inclined to speak his mind and had few friends apart from his bowling cronies.

 

The family was comfortably-off and lived in homes of good quality. Even in 1932, Charlie was driving a Singer car (right).

 

Charlie inherited a natural talent for working with his hands from his father,. He made well crafted items of furniture such as a mahogany bureau in the living room. He was a competent artist (see the example below) and had a flowing style of handwriting.

 

My last memory of grandpa is of him waving goodbye to us all from an upper window of St Mary’s Hospital, Milton, Portsmouth

 

Postscript - a glimpse of the artistic talents of Charlie and Eadie

In 1910, Dora Dee invited contributions to her autograph book. Below are the creations of Charlie and Eadie:

Charlie and Ophir Road Bowling Club, Northern Parade, Portsmouth

Examining news reports, Charlie was Secretary of the Ophir Bowling Club from 1947 - he worked from a desk by his bedroom window from which he could see the bowling greens. However, as Eadie died in 1948, I rather think that start date should be 1948.

 

In addition to these duties, he was also Secretary of the Southsea Open Bowls Tournament. This was a prestigious event being opened by the Lord Mayor and reported each year by the local newspapers. Among the contestants were Alex (a winner one year) and Jimmy Scholar (Portsmouth FC and Scotland international footballer and later Cardiff City manager), together with Harry Ferrier and Duggie Reid who were also Pompey footballers.

 

Hundreds of bowlers from all over Britain competed at the Southsea tournament, so many that as well as the rinks at Southsea Common, those at Canoe Lake, Milton Park, Pembroke Gardens and Southsea Castle had to be pressed into service. Charlie would have been responsible for the setting up and smooth running of the event and was often publicly thanked for his efforts.

 

When his illness took its toll, he continued to work and in July 1954 his absence through illness was commented on as was his work which was performed despite his indisposition. The following month, these notices were carried by the Portsmouth Evening News

At the annual meeting of Ophir Bowling Club in November 1954 a ‘silent tribute’ was paid to Charlie. A further reminder in the form of the Chas Mills memorial Trophy was set up. The Portsmouth Evening News also ran this brief eulogy:

 

It is only now, after searching for more than a decade, that I have discovered where Charlie served in WWI - and this was because I identified his cap badge in a photograph. This opened the door for more information which was found in newspapers.

 

The photo was of Charlie rowing a boat with his father-in-law, George Dee:

The photograph right, shows Charlie in his Cyclists uniform with what appears to be a Sergeant-Major’s badge on his arm (inset). It was taken at Bognor - the Theatre Royal in the left background is unmistakable. He appears to be gazing out to sea, single-handedly ready to repel the Hun!

Note Charlie’s Service No: NW/7/9988. Link: His medal card can be seen below.

Charlie’s Medal Card

Note that Charlie applied for his medals about two years after he was demobbed - and sent one back about a month later. The two medals were the Victory Medal (awarded to all who received the 1914 Star Medal or the 1914-15 Star Medal and who served between 5 August 1914 and 11 November 1918) and the British War Medal (awarded to all who served between the two dates mentioned earlier). He didn’t qualify for the 1914-1915 Star medal because he was part of the Territorial Force then, not in the Regular Army. Evidently, he returned the Victory Medal because he didn’t qualify for this as he didn’t receive a Star Medal.

 

Charlie was back in uniform during WW2. The 1939 Register reveals that he was an Air Raid Warden and the photo below shows him as a Corporal in the Home Guard - complete with one medal ribbon.

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