George William Mills was born on the 10th October 1898 in Welling, Kent. His first known address is in 1901 when the family are living at 3, Reeves Cottages, School Lane, Welling. He was the eldest son of George, Robert, an Excavator in the Navy and Alice (nee Huit).
George entered Foster’s School on the 14th April 1902 and moved to the Upper School on 21st May 1906.
In 1911 we find the family living at 9 Danson Lane, Welling. His father is now employed as a Timberman at the Woolwich Arsenal. George had 10 siblings, these were Susan (born abt 1896), Gladys (1897), Albert (1900), Ernest (1902), Sidney (1903), Beatrice (1905), Frederick (1907), Winifred (1909), an unnamed infant (1month old at the time of the census) and 1 died in infancy (name not known).
The only information that we have of George’s working life before he joined the Army was that he worked at the Woolwich Arsenal – trade unknown. This information was in a newspaper clipping, dated 24th May 1918, that reported his death. Also further information from this article was that he had been a member of the Welling Iron Church, Sunday School. (In 1869 Mr A W Bean, the owner of the Danson Estate paid for the building of a church made of corrugated iron on Welling Corner, which was known locally as the Iron Church.)
A point of interest is an article which appeared in the Bexley Observer on the 8th June 1917 concerning George’s younger brother Sidney. According to the report he was charged with setting fire to the Pavilion of the Grove Lawn Tennis Club at Crook Log, Bexleyheath. As a result of his actions he was consequently sent to a Reformatory School.
Sometime between 1911 and 1917 the family moved to 48 Springfield Road, Welling.
Information gleaned from the Kelly’s Directory (1911 – 1923), is that George’s paternal grandfather, also called George, and at least two of his Uncles, Albert and James each had Florist shops in Welling. George and Albert’s shop was in Danson Lane and James had his in the High Street. Another uncle, William Mills, also lost his life early in the War, on the 22nd September 1914 whilst serving on HMS Cressy.
George was about 16 years old when he joined the Kings Royal Rifle Corp. He was in the 20th Battalion and was attached to the RE (Royal Engineers). He enlisted at Woolwich.
The KRRC raised 22 Battalions in total during the course of World War 1 and saw action on the Western Front, Macedonia and Italy, winning 60 battle honours including 7 Victoria Crosses. The regiment lost 12,840 men who were killed during the course of the war.
As a Pioneer Battalion the 20/KRRC rarely worked as a unit. Each of the 4 Companies would be assigned to a Brigade in the Division. Often Companies would be several miles apart working on assignments for their respective Brigades, sometimes even being left behind when their division was relieved. The nearest they got to seeing action as a unit was in the German Offensive of 1918 when they were rushed into the line to bolster battered defences and acted as infantry. Their work was varied, building dug-outs clearing damaged trenches, digging trenches and communication trenches, wiring, building trench mortar replacements, repairing and helping build roads, mining, building and repairing trench tramways etc.
The first theatre of war that George saw was in Ypres with the date of his entry being 16th April 1915. He was aged just 161/2. In May of this same year he was wounded in both legs. After coming out of hospital he was stationed for a short time on the Isle of Sheppy and from there was shipped back to France in November 1917, most probably to the Ypres salient.
In March 1918 the 2nd German Offensive commenced and the battalion was despatched to the front around Locon and Hinges. Here they spent the time digging, wiring and strengthening trenches and defence lines. April saw the unit back in the Ypres salient and was involved in the 2nd Battle of Mont (Mount) Kemmel. This battle was one of many that was fought in this area and was known as the Battle of Lys or Fourth Battle of Ypres. It was all part of the 1918 German Offensive in Flanders (also known as the Spring Offensive), the objective being to capture Ypres to force the British forces back to the Channel ports (and thereby out of the war). The battle began on the 7th April 1918 and lasted until the 29th April 1918. There were two battles fought during this time at MountKemmel.
The first commenced on the 16th April when the Germans came to the foot of Mount Kemmel. At dawn on the 17th they launched a thunderous assault against the Belgian front line. The Belgians however were fighting for the last few kilometres of their country and were not going to be easily dealt with. They tenaciously held the remainder of their front line and counter attacked with such vigour that they drove the Germans back and re-established their front line. The Belgians took 800 prisoners and 60 machine guns. Meanwhile south of Ieper, Mount Kemmel was held in a thin defensive line by the British 19th Division. At 8.30 hours following two and half hours of bombardment, the German infantry attacked the British lines but were bloodily beaten off. From the 19th to the 24th April the Germans appeared to have called a halt to their attack and new worries began in the Allied camp that a new strike was being planned elsewhere – perhaps once again on the Somme. In fact the Germans were preparing their 2nd assault on MountKemmel.
The Second Battle of Kemmel – At 02:30 hours on the 25th April 1918 over 250 batteries of German guns opened up on the Allied artillery positions with a mixture of gas and high explosives. After a short pause, at 05:00 hours the German barrage was switched to the French front line. Opposite a single French Division were amassed three and half German Divisions, even the German Air Force joined in. By 07:10 hours Kemmel Hill was in German hands and by 10:30 it was all over.
Allied troops consisting of British and French Brigades were brought forward to hold the line. That evening a further British Division arrived and were placed under French command to attempt, with the French, to seize back Kemmel. However MountKemmel would in fact remain in German hands until the end of August when the American 27th Division and British 34th Division would finally drive them back from the area.
George was killed in action on the 28th April 1918 at the Second Battle for MountKemmel. He is buried at Choques Military Cemetry, Pas De Calais, France.
Grave ref: IV.A.34.
He was posthumously awarded the Victory medal and British medal. His mother Mrs A C Mills made an application on the 1st April 1919 to collect them.
In his Will dated 26th March 1916, he leaves the whole of his property and effects to his mother.
He is remembered on both the East Wickham and Welling War Memorials at St Michael’s Church and St John’ Church respectively.
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Commonwealth War Graves Commission cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/166817/MILLS,%20G%20W