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George Mills

(1894 -1915) - Shot at dawn

Volunteering to serve in the DCLI early in 1915, Mills was singularly ill-suited to his role as officer's batman. He stole money and other items and lived it up at Boulogne until the military police caught up with him. Shot by firing squad on 29th September, his case remains controversial.

Credit: Cornwall’s Regimental Museum, Bodmin and image provided by the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire

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George Mills, the son of Mrs Pilling of 142 Mortlake Road, London volunteered for enlistment into the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry on 24th February 1915. 

Little is known of his background except that he was born in the East End of London in 1894, and is alleged (but not officially recorded) to have had a police record at the time of his enlistment.

He crossed to France in a troopship on the night of 15th March 1915, and reported to the 2nd Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry later that day.  This date indicates that he cannot have completed more than a fortnight’s training.  At that time the recruit training programme was designed to last six months, although this period was occasionally shortened when the manpower demand on the Western Front was critical.  It would, however, seem to have been unprecedented for a soldier to be drafted to an operational battalion while still virtually untrained.

George was initially employed as a company orderly with the 2nd Battalion near Armentieres and later as the soldier-servant of Lieutenant Evelyn Mulock.  When the Battalion went up to the line again, Mills was, for some reason, left behind in billets with the rear details. On 31st July 1915, Mills stole money, documents and property belonging to Lieutenant Mulock, 2nd Lieutenant Martin and Private Lucas.  Dressing himself in officer’s uniform, he then took himself off to Boulogne to enjoy his ill-gotten gains.  He was quickly arrested by the military police. 

A Field General Court Martial was held at Boulogne on 10th September 1915.  Mills conducted his own defence.  Whether he was accorded his legal right to be represented by a defending officer, or whether he refused to exercise that right, is not recorded.  In his defence he stated: ‘The other officers’ servants were always drinking and wanting to fight one another … The other servants were down on me because I did not drink.  I dressed as an officer so as not to be stopped by the sentry of my Regiment… I intended to go home for a few days and come back again’.

He was shot by firing squad at 3 minutes past 5 am on 29th September 1915.

The execution of soldiers during the First World War was controversial at the time and, a hundred years later, still resonates in our national conscience. No British soldier was executed in the Second World War and a bill to pardon deserters executed in the First World War was passed in 1993.

Key words: casualty

Credit: Cornwall's Regimental Museum and photographs of the shot at dawn memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum near Alrewas, Staffordshire (licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike)