Cousins at War

The many connections, by blood and by marriage, between the crowned heads of Europe are well known. Here are three grandsons of Queen Victoria: Tsar Nicholas II, King George V and Kaiser Wilhelm II.


But at all levels of society the countries of Northern Europe were linked by migration and naturalisation. When these countries went to war, cousins were likely to find themselves fighting on opposite sides.

A British Tommy remembered

Albert FS Mills was mobilised in October 1916 as a member of the York and Lancaster Regiment. He was promoted to Lance Corporal before he left England and passed through the 3rd and 2nd Battalions before arriving at the front in France in the 10th (service) Battalion. Within a month, on April 21st 1917, he was posted as missing in action, presumed killed.

Albert is commemorated on the Arras memorial and on a family gravestone in Wardsend Cemetery…

Arras and wardsend


Wardsend grave NP700 – monumental inscription

In loving memory
who died Jan 2nd 1932 aged 62 years
Also FREDERICK son of the above
who died Aug 31st 1921 aged 16 years
Also L/Cpl 37480 ALBERT F S MILLS 10th Y&L
who fell in action April 21st 1917
aged 19 years

The pages of Albert’s service record (in images at are charred and sooty and clearly fragile. The building where these records were stored was damaged by bombing in London during WW2 and many were destroyed. Painstaking work has saved a proportion of them, teasing apart the charred and fragile remnants, which are now known as “the burnt documents”.

30972_176503-00046 edit

We can see that Albert was only 18 when mobilised in October 1916.

His full name can be read on this document: Albert Frederick Schwabe Mills. Another page gives his weight as 120 lbs and lists two vaccination marks on each arm. His occupation was ‘pawnbroker’s assistant’.

His mother, Emma Mills on the gravestone, had an even longer name: Emma Ernestine Marie Augusta Mills, and her maiden name was Schwabe. (Albert’s father George Frederick had been married before and is buried with his first wife in Norton).


Came to cook, stayed to marry

Emma was born in the city of Schwerin in the northeastern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. She had at least seven siblings. This part of Germany is traditionally a poorer area, partly because of its inferior agricultural land. Her large family, and life in a poor region might have been a factor in Emma’s move to England before 1891. There is no sign of other family members in England. In the census Emma was working as a cook in the household of another German emigré family, in Lewisham in London.

George Mills, a joiner and later a builder, was born in Spalding in Lincolnshire but was in Sheffield by 1881. It is not clear how he and Emma might have met, but they married in Sheffield in 1896.

Height, weight, chest expansion in deutsch

Here is another military document. It is from a bound volume which has not been charred or soaked. The measurements in the right hand columns are in metres and kilograms:

German military list short

In Germany, in peace time, all young men between the ages of 20 and 22 were liable to be called to give two years military service. This might only mean being away from home for a small part of those years. After that they were reservists up to the age of 45. The document above is from a ledger which consists  entirely of a list of men born in 1894 who were coming up to military age in 1914. It comes from the city of Bremen.

Converting the figures, here is a comparison of these two young men:


                                  Otto          Albert
born                         1894         1898
height                      5’4½”        5’8½”
weight                     125½ lbs   120lbs
chest expansion   32”-35”      30”-35”

Not so different.

But this is not an idle comparison. These young men were cousins*.

Otto’s father Franz was Emma’s sister.

Both Otto and Franz were tilers. The notes at the bottom of the entry say that Otto, who had completed an apprenticeship (perhaps with his father) had moved for work and was transferred to a different military district in April 1914. This Bremen ledger, therefore, does not show that he was called up to fight in the war, but he will have registered in his new home and quite possibly was in uniform during the war.

He could have been involved as early as August 1914 when mobilisation swelled the German army from 800,000 to 3.5 million men in just 12 days.

(*not by blood since the German document notes that Franz was Otto’s “adoptive father”. It doesn’t say that Adelheid was his adoptive mother so I assume he is her son from a previous relationship.)

“No Germans wanted here”

It is not clear from census records whether Emma was a naturalised British subject, but no record of naturalisation can be found in the National Archives. In any case anti-German feeling, particularly after the sinking of the Lusitania on May 7th 1915, led to calls from some to deport all those with German links, whether naturalised or not. This did not happen, but public anger spilled over into riots throughout the country.

On May 14th thousands of rioters wrecked and ransacked German-owned businesses in Attercliffe. The stock of pork butchers were looted. Some Germans were said to have asked the police to intern them for their own safety.

It is not possible to say how Albert’s family was affected, but the uncertainty and climate of violence must have been of concern to them. Workers with German names or known German family  could be driven from their posts by the hostility of other workers. If Emma was still a German citizen she would have been required to register and report regularly to the police or other lawful authority. A son in the British army would have been seen by many as proof of allegiance to their adopted country.

Other Germans anglicised or changed their names – not necessary when you have the common England name of Mills but it is noteworthy that Albert’s brother Herman kept his first name throughout his life, and Albert himself is listed with his full name in the British military records.

So they didn’t have to follow the lead of the middle of the three cousins in the photo at the top of this page, who issued this proclamation three months after his loyal subject Albert Mills had laid down his life for his country  in France:

proclamation 17 Jul 1917
(17 July 1917)

monarchs:                         Getty Images
Arras memorial:              CWGC
British Military Record: Crown Copyright (National Archives) via
German military list:      Bremen Archives via
Proclamation:                   British Library via FMP


“You cannot beat the best” (but illness and misfortune can have a good go)

(Picture Sheffield link)

(Picture Sheffield claims this image is from 1910 but there are no overhead wires. So the rails are for horse trams and the date must be before 1900)

Advertisements are designed to catch the eye and these are still catching my eye more than a century later. They are like the pages of a trade directory pasted up on the facade of an urban landscape. And when they are in places like this – the gateway to a suburban commercial centre – the majority were put up by local people and businesses. They want to tell you what delights, what bargains you will find if you enter…


Harry Green owned the Don Bakery on Crookes Place (now Proctor Place). The bakery survived up to at least the 1960s.


Leigh Peat, butcher, had shops in both Middlewood Road and Langsett Road, and a later generation (1966) were in Wadsley Lane…

(Picture Sheffield link)

The natural question (for an obsessive like me) is, can I link any of these advertisers to Wardsend?

Consider T (Thomas) FRANKLIN, top right, (pausing for a moment to consider also the difficulties for the sign writer, who could have been Mr Franklin himself, teetering over the river to paint the words). It is difficult to read at this resolution but it includes…

88 Langsett Rd

Thomas Franklin’s bold words were matched by a thriving business judging by the frequent newspaper advertisements seeking skilled workmen. Here are some examples, almost all giving the address in Langsett Road…

[tradesmen required]
20 Oct 1894 good joiner SDT
11 May 1896 4 or 5 good brush hands and paperhangers, first-class grainer SDT
26 Aug 1896 6 good bricklayers SDT
21 Sep 1896 good bench hands and fixers SDT
21 Nov 1896 3 good joiners; first-class shop-front fixers SDT
30 Nov 1896 good joiners, bricklayer, slater SDT
9 Apr 1898 4 good wallers SDT
10 Jun 1898 joiner wanted SDT
28 Apr 1899 good joiners wanted SDT
12 May 1899 smart lad or improver to painting trade wanted SDT
15 Jun 1899 15 good brush hands SDT
31 Jul 1899 3 or 4 good decorators and 6 Plain Brush Hands SDT
[SDT=Sheffield Daily Telegraph, SRI=Sheffield and Rotherham Independent]

But misfortune can strike at any time:

FRANKLIN fire 1899-04-01 Ind
(1 Apr 1899 SRI)

Fate can be cruel. Away from this public loss there was private tragedy. Within weeks of the financial loss inflicted by this fire, two children were buried at Wardsend…

Burial register, 1899
FRANKLIN Thomas (jun) 1899 burial
FRANKLIN Lily May burial 1899

Thomas listed death, fire and sickness as factors in his bankruptcy two years later. In the meantime he had become landlord of  a pub called the Grapes in Lock Street.

FRANKLIN Bankruptcy 1900-08-16 SET
(16 Aug 1900, Sheffield Evening Telegraph and Star)

Another child was buried in the same grave in 1901.

A hint at a change in direction and perhaps fortune comes from the baptism of a child, in Dinnington. This is the only reference I can find to Thomas as a market gardener…

FRANKLIN baptism Dinnington 1906

By the time of the 1911 census the family were back at 102 Langsett Road. Thomas wasn’t at home on census night (I can’t find him elsewhere) but the 1911 directory lists him as a painter. The census shows that Julia had had six children, of whom only two were living – Gladys Julia and Charles Edward (who was born c1902).

In 1917 Julia and her daughter are mentioned in a court case after a burglar stole a pair of gloves and a bangle from their house (then in Ash Street),

FRANKLIN 1917-11-01 Star court case

Gladys was listed as a health visitor and midwife in London in the 1939 register. She never married and died in 1980, her death registered in Hastings. Charles E married Dorothy Langley in 1930. They were still in Sheffield in 1939 and had two children. If there are descendants of Thomas and Julia today they must descend from this couple. (but note that Thomas had been married before and a daughter of that earlier marriage was also married with children in 1939)

The kerbstones for grave CA7 in Wardsend list only Thomas and Julia. The CA graves are in a favoured and prominent position – two rows of eight graves lining one side of the path that directly connects the drive to the sexton’s house. You can see the taller  gravestones just peeping over the hedge on the right in this well-known picture of the chapel…

chapel from the east

Thomas was buried in 1927 and Julia in 1939. I don’t know the date of this photograph but it must be earlier so even if we could see over the hedge there would be no memorial.

I think this counts as looking over the hedge. The CA graves seen just above the chapel in 1947…
Chapel and CA Br from above 1947 image
(a murky image because it is much magnified from a much wider view)

In those two rows of graves of different shades of grey the very white kerbstones near the right end are not the Franklin grave, but the space behind them, as yet unfilled, is where the Franklin family are buried.

The Franklin grave kerbs, seen in the image at the head of this blog, are made of a fine but grainy granite which is very difficult to photograph. The words chosen for the foot of the grave, facing the path and therefore most easily read by passers-by, were chosen, perhaps, with those lost children in mind…

Her children shall rise up
and call her blessed