Researched and written by Anne Wright
Pte H T Mills
2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
Killed in action, 22 October 1914
Henry Thomas Mills, the eldest son of the licensee of the Newcastle Arms Hotel of Church Street, Weybridge was born in the town on 16 July 1883 and baptised at St James’ Church on 23 August 1884. His parents were Henry and Eliza who both hailed from Twickenham. Henry Thomas was their third child, he had six siblings: Maud, Edith, Charles, Florence, Albert and Dora. Henry Snr had previously been a builder employing 6 men but by 1884 he was running the Newcastle Arms Hotel. The family was still at the Hotel in 1901 but Eliza Mills had died and Henry, at 17 years old, was a carpenter. There is no sign of Henry Snr in 1911 and the adult children are scattered and in employment. Henry appears to have joined the army by this stage. A Henry Thomas Mills of Weybridge is a Private in the 1st Battalion, Ox & Bucks Light Infantry and his regimental number suggests that he joined between 1905 and 1908. In 1911 he was stationed in India.
When war broke out on 4 August 1914 Henry was with the 2nd Battalion of his regiment and was based at Aldershot; they were part of the 5th Brigade in the 2nd Division. The next day they received their mobilisation orders and on 14 August disembarked at Boulogne as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). They entrained on 16 August and headed towards the Belgian border; Henry and his comrades must have been encouraged by the cheering and generous crowds who showered them with gifts all along their route. The intention was that they would support the French in repelling the German invasion of Belgium. Before crossing the border on 23 August and reaching Mons they spent time in training and route marching. The BEF was massively outnumbered at Mons – they had 70,000 men to the Germans 160,000- although they inflicted substantial casualties on the enemy with rapid and accurate rifle fire. Henry’s battalion was kept in reserve at the small town of Paturages. The French were unable to sustain their attack which left the BEF even more exposed; a retreat was ordered. So began the long march to the River Marne.
Henry crossed this river on 3 September; he and his unit had covered 178 miles in 12 marches. It had been a gruelling experience; the roads were clogged with troops and civilians, the weather was often very hot and access to water intermittent; on 2 September several men fell victim to sunstroke and the battalion had from time to time to act as the rear-guard. By 6 September the retreat was over; the furthest south the 2nd Ox & Bucks reached was Lumigny, an opportunity then presented itself to attack the Germans when they swung north instead of west of Paris and for the next six days the Battle of the Marne ensued. On 7 September Henry’s unit advanced through recently vacated German positions where the smell of dead horses almost overwhelmed them. They re-crossed the Marne two days later and continued to move forward with little trouble even taking 107 Germans prisoner on 12 September. The enemy retreated to positions across the River Aisne which Henry and his comrades crossed on 13 September. They had successfully advanced between 50-60 miles. The enemy retreated a further 2 miles to firmly entrenched positions; open warfare was over and trench warfare began.
The 2nd Ox & Bucks Battalion was located at Soupir and a nearby farm. They had a relatively quiet time but suffered their first heavy casualties – 35 men – from shell fire on 19 September. They had a brief period of rest in the last week of the month but were then back in position for the first two weeks of October. It was then decided that British troops should move north-west to Belgium; both sides had been trying to trying to outflank each other to reach the Channel coast for some time and being in Belgium had the advantage of shortening the BEF’s lines of communication and supply, so the French took over their positions along the Aisne.
Henry’s unit arrived at Pilkem, north of Ypres on 20 October. The next day they were embroiled in the Battle of Langemarck, the opening salvo of the First Battle of Ypres; the city was to be defended at all costs. The 2nd Division was deployed in the front line along the Langemarck to Zonnebeke road. They began to advance under fire between 8 to 9am, moving steadily and quickly but were delayed by thick fences. They got to about 300 yards from the German trenches and had to hold their ground until the 1st Division came on. The fight remained stationary for the rest of the day. This was Henry’s first ‘big fight’; his battalion suffered 220 killed or wounded.
The Battle of Langemarck was also Henry’s last ‘big fight’; he was killed the next day. His unit was east of Langemarck with the companies all mixed up in the trenches. There was not a great deal of infantry or shell fire during the day but 6 men were killed – Henry may have been one of them. Alternatively, he may have been the 1 fatality sustained when the Germans attacked at dusk and got within 25 yards of the British line; in addition 70 Germans were killed. Much of the night was taken up with burying the dead.
Henry has no known grave. He is commemorated on the Menin Gate (Panel 37 & 39) in Ypres (Ieper) with more than 54,000 others. Hopefully, he is the H Mills also commemorated on the Weybridge War Memorial and the one recorded on the War Memorial Board for St James’ School (Baker Street), now in the possession of St James’ Church.
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – Ox & Bucks Light Infantry, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Mockler-Ferryman, Lt-Col A F, compiled and edited Extracts from the Regimental Chronicles of the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry, vol. 24, 1914-1915
C N Trueman, “The Battle of Mons”, www.historylearningsite.co.uk