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…
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 Ancestry.co.uk) 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”.
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:
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:
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:
(17 July 1917)
monarchs: Getty Images
Arras memorial: CWGC
British Military Record: Crown Copyright (National Archives) via Ancestry.co.uk
German military list: Bremen Archives via Ancestry.co.uk
Proclamation: British Library via FMP