William Mills

Rank Able Seaman
Service No. 186948 / RFR Ch B 2796
Date of Death 22nd September 1914
Age 36
Regiment/Service Royal Navy - HMS Cressy

William Mills was born 19th August 1878 in School Lane, Welling.  He was registered at birth as John, William. His parents were George, a General Labourer, and Susan (nee Taylor).  They had 12 children in all, 11 of which survived infancy, William was their second son.  His surviving siblings were Elizabeth (born abt 1868), Frances (1872), Matilda (1874), George (1876), Alice (1880), James (1883), Arthur (1884), Albert (1887), Harry (1889), Alfred (1892).

1881 – The family is still living in School Lane and his father has changed employment to that of an Agricultural Labourer.

1891 – The family have now moved to 6 Danson Lane, Welling where we find that George Senior has become a Gardener so has his son George aged 15.  It would appear that Elizabeth, Frances and Matilda could by now have left home as they are not shown on the census.

1901  – The family have moved a short distance to 7 Danson Lane where we find that George Snr has become a Market Gardener, his wife Susan is a Laundress. Brother George, an Excavator in the Navy, has married Alice and their home is in School Lane, Welling.  Brothers James and Albert are Gardeners Assistants and Arthur is an Engine Stoker.  The two youngest boys are still at school.  Unfortunately, of William, aged 23yrs, there is no trace.

In 1911 we find that William’s father (aged abt 68) is now a Nurseryman and he has set up a Florist shop in Danson Lane where the family still live.  His brothers Albert, Harry and Alfred are also recorded as being Nurserymen so they were probably working in what had become the family business.  James is working as a flower street vendor, most likely a market stall.

William is to be found at 4, Kings Road, Camden Town, London NW. This address was St Pancras Workhouse and Infirmary where he was employed as a Fireman.  He was 32 years old and single.

When the census of 1911 was taken, it was recorded that the workhouse had 56 staff and 1,162 inmates on site at that particular time. Some of these inmates would have been mental patients as part of it was also a lunatic asylum.  The former workhouse site is now St Pancras Hospital with many of the old buildings still surviving.

On the 9th September 1911 he marries Alice, Clara Pollard; she was born abt 1884 in Northumberland Heath, Erith. Towards the latter end of the 1880’s the family moved to Isleworth, Middx.  Alice worked as an Assistant Laundress at the St Pancras Workhouse (which is where she and William would have met), although on the marriage certificate she does not give a profession. They were married at the Greenwich Register Office and gave their address as being 1, Morden Grove, Greenwich.

Sometime between 1911 and 1914 the couple moved to 32 Adrian Road, Abbotts Langley, Herts.  From information received, this road was one of four that was owned by The Leavesden Assylum and where its workers lived. Many were two up, and two down cottages and terraced houses.  As The Leavesden Assylum came under the auspices of the St Pancras Workhouse it is highly likely that either William was transferred or he applied for a transfer to receive accommodation with the job.

As mentioned previously, William’s father George had a Florist shop in Danson Lane, according to Kelly’s Directory (1911 – 1924).  It is recorded that he ran this business for some years with it eventually being passed to his son’s Albert and Alfred by 1924.  There could well have been some sibling rivalry as brother James set up his own Florist shop at 41 High Street, Welling (just across the road from the Danson Road shop).  We know that he had this shop during the period 1918/1924.

In June 1917, William’s brother Albert made the newspapers.  He was charged with being an absentee under the Military Service Act.  He apparently had been called up but had failed to respond.  However, Albert claimed that he went to Woolwich and was told to go home as he would not be wanted for sometime.  As he had previously been in the Merchant Service, he went to the docks and got a ship, as he thought that he would be “doing his bit”.  Unfortunately, the vessel was torpedoed and he had suffered as a result of it.  He asked for time to get another ship.  He was handed over to the Military Authority without a fine.

Family Connections.  William was the uncle of George William, Mills.  George was the eldest son of George, Robert, an older brother of William.  George, William who served with the Kings Royal Rifle Corp was killed in action at the 2nd Battle for Mount Kemmal on 28th April 1918.  He is remembered on both the East Wickham and Welling Memorials.

As William was in the Royal Fleet Reserves (hence his 2 service numbers) he would have been called up as soon as war was imminent.

His ship was HMS Cressy, a Cressy Class Armoured Cruiser built to defend merchant shipping against raids by French cruisers and to operate within the battle fleet and was sheathed for tropical service.  She was built at Fairfield, Govan, laid down in October 1898, completed 1901.  Overall length was 472 ft, beam, 69ft 6ins, draught 26 ft, displacement 12,000 tons. Rough cost £800,000.  The introduction of Krupp armour enabled this class to re-introduce side armour in the British Cruisers, making them the first Armoured Cruisers in the British Navy. The class also were the first British ships to use wood that had been treated to be fire-proof.

His ship was initially part of the 7th Cruiser Squadron (Cruiser Force C) in the area of the North Sea known as the Broad Fourteens. The Broad Fourteens is an area of the southern North Sea and is a shallow area.  It is located off the coast of the Netherlands and south of Dogger Bank. The other three cruisers were HMS Aboukir, Eurylus,  and Hogue.

There was opposition to this patrol from many senior officers including Admiral Jellico and Commodores Keyes and Tyrwhitt, on the grounds that the ships were very vulnerable to a raid by modern German surface ships and the patrol was nicknamed the ‘live bait squadron’. Many of the men serving on these ships were reservists. The Admiralty upheld their decision to maintain this patrol on the grounds that destroyers were unable to patrol the area owing to frequent bad weather and that there were insufficient modern light cruisers available.

William could well have seen his first action at the Battle of Heligoland Bight as his ship, HMS Cressy, was on 28th August 1914 part of the covering force at this battle.

His ship together with her sister ships, were assigned to patrol the North Sea. This was in support of a force of British destroyers, which blocked the eastern end of the English Channel from German warships attempting to attack the supply route between England and France. In the day’s fighting, which at the end the British forces were victorious, the Royal Navy sunk three German light cruisers and one destroyer while damaging three other light cruisers. The battle cost to the German’s was 712 killed, 149 wounded and 336 captured, whilst to the British 35 were killed and 55 wounded.

Although the battle did not involve either side’s battleships, it did have a great significant impact on the war.  Kaiser Wilheim ordered his Navy to ‘hold itself back and avoid actions which can lead to greater losses’. He also stipulated that his permission was required before the fleet could sortie, effectively confining it to port.

In the early hours of 20th September 1914 the Cruisers HMS Aboukir, Cressy, Euryalus and Hogue left port to go on patrol in the North Sea. HMS Euryalus had technical problems and returned to port.  At around 6a.m. on the 22nd September 1914 the three remaining Cruisers were steaming at 10 knots in a line ahead (not zigzagging) when they were spotted by the German submarine U9 which was under the command of Commander Otto Weddigen. Although patrols were supposed to maintain 12-13 knots and zigzag, the old cruisers were unable to sustain that speed and the zigzagging was widely ignored as there had been no recent sightings of submarines in the area.  Weddigen ordered his submarine to submerge and closed the range on the unsuspecting ships.  HMS Akoubir was the first to be hit, the torpedo broke the back of the ship and she sank within 20 minutes with the loss of 527 men.

The captains of the Cressy and the Hogue thought that the Aboukir had struck a floating mine and came forward to assist her and to pick up survivors.  At this point, Weddigen fired two torpedoes into the Hogue, mortally wounding that ship.  As the Hogue sank, the Captain of the Cressy realised that the squadron was being attacked by a submarine and tried to flee.  However, Weddigen fired two more torpedoes into the Cressy and sank her as well.  837 men were rescued but 1,459 men were killed in total.

The bulk of the blame at the subsequent Court of Enquiry was directed at the Admiralty “for persisting with a patrol that was dangerous and of limited value against the advice of senior sea-going officers”.

Kapitanleutnant Otto Weddigan Commander of the Submarine is reputed to have later said “It was one of the most notable submarine actions of all time”. 

(SM U-9 – was a German Type U9 U-boat.  She was one of 329 submarines serving in the Imperial German Navy, and engaged in the commerce war (Handelskrieg) during World War 1.  Her construction was ordered on 15th July 1908 and her keel was laid down in Danzig.  She was launched on 22nd February 1910 and commissioned on 18th April 1910).

William died on the 22nd September 1914, aged 36, as a direct result of enemy action, his body was not recovered.

He is remembered on the Memorial at St Michael’s Church, East Wickham, the Welling Memorial at St John’s Church, Danson Lane, Welling and the Chatham Naval Memorial.  He is also remembered on the Memorial in the grounds of St Lawrence Church, Abbotts Langley and also on the bronze plaque inside the church.

Following William’s death, his wife Alice would have had to leave 32 Adrian Road.  It would appear that she moved to 12, Gumley Gardens, St John’s, Isleworth, Middx either to be with her own family or close by them.  There is no trace of any children from this marriage.  It would also appear that she did not re-marry and died in 1963.


This story has been researched by volunteers.  We have taken every effort to ensure its accuracy. If you are related to this sailor, or if you have any further information, please do get in touch.


Commemorated at Home
East Wickham and Welling War Memorial
Welling War Memorial
Chatham War Memorial


Commonwealth War Graves Commission cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/3049637/MILLS,%20WILLIAM












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