Charles Nimrod Mills
My name is Charles Nimrod Mills. I was named Nimrod not after any bible thing but because my father was in the army with a friend called Nimrod Mills and he always said his first son would be called Nimrod. My mother fought him off, but he got the Charles in front of it. I was born in Redbourn in Hertfordshire at the Cricketers Inn which is still in existence or it was a few years back, opposite the common in Redbourn. I was born on the fourth of June 1924, the day Sansovino won the Derby and my father got drunk and fed his dinner to the dog, whether it was because Id arrived or he'd bet on the wrong horse we never found out.. In my childhood we moved to Suffolk, a place called Rattlesden in Suffolk. We lived in a big house called St Margaret's, a farmhouse. My father did an awful lot of work converting it, and planting trees. I've been back since and his ideas really worked.
After I left school I worked as a back house boy, a garden boy for a big house, and then I worked for a local builder. Then I went where they were building the aerodrome, at Rattlesden, working for Wimpey's, and being a tight fisted East Anglian, I worked on the concrete gang and if you handled the cement you got a penny an hour more, and I was in this gang with these Irishmen and the Area Foreman came along one day, and he pulled them up for letting the boy do all the hard work so I lost my extra penny an hour.. A few days later our mixer driver got his hand caught in the cables, and he was off work. You got a penny an hour more for working the mixer so I was working the mixer and this big tall Irishman called Murray came along and said, "I've got to do something about you", and he came back half an hour later and he said, "I've just the job for you". He took me to the petrol dept, where all the diesel was. There was an old man who had come out of retirement because of the war, called Mr. Lamb, and the first thing he said to me was, "Are you honest?". Being a 17 year old, I said, "Yes I think so". He said, "I want you to go round with the driver of the lorry and take petrol and oil round to all the concrete mixers, bulldozers, and all the plant here. You'll have a driver, a lorry, and you'll be responsible for all the fuel". He said the last man that had the job has just gone to prison for stealing petrol. So I had that job at Rattlesden and then when the aerodrome was winding down I went to Ludford Magna, near Louth in Lincolnshire, to do the same job there. I used to work from seven in the morning until 10 at night five days a week, and until six on Saturdays, and four on Sundays. I had more money than I'd ever seen in my life, but I never got the chance to spend it. I got thoroughly fed up so when I went for my medical coming up to my 18th birthday I never told the Personnel Officer, and eventually I got my calling papers. Then there was a rather stormy interview, and he said that I was in a reserved occupation. He said, "We can send you to prison for not informing us that you had sent for your medical for being called into the army". I said, "Well if you do that I shan't be helping you here and I shan't be in the army", so he said, "You'd better do what you want to do".
Second World War
So that is how it came about and I went to Derby for my initial training and then Royal Artillery driver training, at Marske by the sea in Yorkshire, and then eventually went to Airborne Division on Salisbury Plain. Then shortly before the regiment was due to go overseas we were pulled out because we were under 19. There were 7 or 8 of us, quite a disappointment for us. But strangely enough that probably saved our lives because it was a disaster for the regiment we were in. After that I went to the 72nd medium regiment stationed at Sevenoaks in Kent, and we had two years messing about on manoeuvres and so on. Actually we went on one manoeuvre with the Canadian army when we did a million pounds worth of damage to lands and property. Among our other escapades was putting a shell in the middle of Lewes High Street, and when practising with anti tank guns we sank a fishing boat that had no business being in the area anyway. We became known as the 72nd comedian regiment. When D-Day came up we went over but I was in hospital in Peebles in Scotland. I'd got an impetigo rash down the side of my face. I went up to Edinburgh and I always boast I spent a night in the cells in Edinburgh Castle and walked out in the morning.
The regiment went over to France and I went to Peebles. A few days afterwards I went over, about three weeks after actual D-day. From then on we slogged our way all through Europe. Being a medium regiment we were in an Army Group Royal Artillery, an AGRA, which meant that whatever regiment pulled out you were constantly followed from one to another which meant you were in action most of the time - with very little rest. And of course at Normandy the real crux came with the Falaise Gap where they trapped a lot of German troops. Then there was a break and we started what they called swanning on into France. We had our real first rest on the banks of the Seine, and the memories I've got of that are that we went to Amiens and we saw Ivor Novello, in a play called 'Love from a Stranger'. When he'd finished he said, "I've got a song I want to try out on you boys". And he sang, 'We'll Gather Lilacs'. And I always think about that, because we were the first ones to hear it.
After that we were involved in the drive up through Belgium and the drive up in September when the airborne landing came, and we tried to reach the boys at Arnhem, and we did. We were one of the first heavy regiments to get over Nijmegen Bridge, and we fired shells to try and help the boys at Arnhem which unfortunately wasn't very successful. I ought to say that at that time I had friends on both sides of the river but we were on the best side. After that we pulled back to the outskirts of s.Hertogenbosch and we spent the coldest winter there for 80 years. While there we visited the concentration camp at Vught. It was empty then, and we were allowed a look round at the gas chambers etc., a horrible experience. In early spring we moved on and joined in the drive between the Rhine and the Siegfried Line moving down towards Xanten where we were going to cross the river at a place called Wesel. We were the first heavy guns across that river.
But before we crossed the Rhine, while we were in the Reichwald Forest, I had one of the most miserable days of my life - February 8 1945. I was in 'C' sub section, which was made up of the gun crew, drivers, gun position assistants, signalers etc. Whether it was an 88 shell that landed among the shells ready for firing, or whether it was a mine, we never found out, but we lost all of the gun crew. Eight of them were my special mates. - My father was a soldier, my grandfather was a soldier, my great grandfather was a sailor, but at that point I decided I would not encourage any children of mine to go into the services.
Once we crossed the Rhine we went onto the outskirts of Hamburg. We were getting ready to shell that city when we heard on the radio that the war had finished. We had two hundred shells per gun laid on the ground ready to use when the armistice came. After the war I was on checkpoint duty in Hamburg with German policemen.
It was a very strange sensation when you hear all the celebrations going on and it's all over, it's finished. The guns have finished, and believe you me when you are with a 55 howitzer the crash is horrible but then the sensation when the whole thing stops is incredible. You just think of all the friends you have lost, and all you've been through. That was the only time in my life I ever got drunk. I got drunk on port wine. They say if you get drunk on port wine you are drunk for days and that is true. Never again have I been drunk.
Life is very strange; there are turning points you come to. When I first came out of the army I was a very bitter man. And while we were in there we always picked up souvenirs. I had a Luger I used to carry inside my jacket. There was a wise man in the regiment, a bloke called Bill Spedding from Penrith in Cumberland, and he was older than we were, and he was a sort of father to us.
He said to me, "You want to get rid of that thing or you'll go down the wrong path. You have a hot temper and if you carry it you'll use it one day".
After that I've met three people in my life who have been a terrific influence on me. My wife, obviously, who is a pacifist, very much so, and two people in the village where we eventually lived, Wangford. One was Methodist, and the other was Anglican. They were a terrific influence on me. It's rather amusing because you hear people talking about their background, how they were brought up in the chapel and so on. My father forbade us to go to church, he wouldn't have us christened. When I was 12 confirmation classes come up. My brother got christened, I was confirmed, and eventually me and my brother were in the church choir to my father's absolute disgust.
After the War
It was very difficult when I first came back from war. I went on a bricklaying course in Ipswich. My wife and I shared a house with her friend who was in the Land Army with her. Halfway through my course, they closed it down. I went on what they called WARAG, gangs of agricultural workers going from farm to farm. Then it turned out we were expecting a baby.
We went back to Wangford with my wife's parents. We were lucky enough to get a council house in Wangford. We lived in that house for 40 years. We could have bought it. But we were against it in principle so didn't. My brother thought we were mad. We could have bought it for £17000. We saw it as a disastrous policy and still do. It's why there are no young people in villages. We were 40 years in the village, what a change, over that time and I am sorry to say not for the better. There were plenty of newcomers, and two of them were marvellous. One came from Epping and he said to me one day, "why don't we have an allotment association", and I said "fine, give it a try". We made it an allotment and gardens association. He said to me we haven't got any money but I said, "You've got the lads on your side and the money will come as a result". We find that in chapel affairs. If people believe in what you are trying to do then the money will come. Stan said one day, "lets have a flower show". It's still running, and judges say its one of the best in the county, going 26 years now. When I first came to Bolton I went back to present the cups. My wife was born in the village - Wangford, you can go in the graveyard there and see all her ancestors. She was a Wythe. It's a very unusual name.
That village built its own community centre. We were in a good position because when the estate broke up the parish council had sense to buy all the allotment area which was quite a considerable area. They bought it at a reasonable price and eventually the council asked us to sell some land. We said yes but only if they build an estate with houses and bungalows. They said OK and built eight houses and ten bungalows. People thought they were private not council houses. We got £6000, and a bit later someone said we could do with a community centre. By the time we finished it was going to cost £20000, and we were £5000 short. All of us on the committee loaned what we could afford, interest free for two years, and we got a building up. It was agreed that any organisation in the village or a neighbouring bona fide organisation could have it free of charge. People thought we were stark raving mad. Individuals had to pay. Then every organisation. started to use it. The British Legion, chapel, etc. They used it free but made donations. It works and still works.
Another piece of luck we had. Our rural district representative was Mark Fiennes, and his son was Ralph Fiennes, who was born in Wangford and I used to do part time work for Mark. I really liked that bloke; he was the exact opposite of me. I came from a very tough background. He was an Eton man and all the rest. We clicked. I remember loading corn with him one day. He used to laugh at me because I had very short arms. He was well built, always used to say he was the perfect man you know. And one day we stopped for a break. "I'm in trouble", he said. "I reckon I'll have to get out of this farming lark, I'm broke." I said, "what do you mean you are broke". I said, "When you stand there with your knees hanging out your trousers and you haven't got enough money to buy a cup of tea", "then you are broke". I said, "Your bank manager has said you are down to your last £5000". He said, "All things are relative Charles". He was on the Parish Council and Rural District Council so that was lucky for us. He came to us and said, "There are sand quarries in the village and the Rural District Council is in trouble. They want to dump rubbish in empty pits. It will be unpopular but they are so desperate they will compulsory purchase if they have to and they would like your support." He suggested we agree but lay down the rules. We were moaned at by everyone but over the years it put a lot of money into the village. We used to have steam engine rallies, and gala days. We used to chop up onions for hot dogs. Someone said, "This village stinks of onions". That was a money spinner. It's all commercial now. It was a great village to live in then. But then there was bad feeling due to parking. On rights of way, signs started going up stopping people walking them if they were on someone's land. I used to make a point of walking on them each day. Gradually the community spirit went. Unfortunately Mark died in December 2004 at his home in Clare in Suffolk.
The Mobile Library
I worked as a sewage tanker driver, for Suffolk County Council, and then the best job of my life as a mobile library van driver. I've always loved books, love driving, and I like people so I couldn't have found a better job. I started out with a fully qualified librarian with me then gradually down to just me apart from village stops where I couldn't manage on my own. I was 49, and worked until I was 64. It was a marvellous job but at the end not as good. I used to give Suffolk at least two hours a week but the great thing about mobile libraries is you get nearer to your people. The sort of thing that used to happen is some kid would have a project for the holidays and leave it until the last week. One kid I remember comes on with his mother absolutely distraught, and in tears. Mother says she has got this list and he has only got about seven days. I went back and the library staff sorted out a batch of books and I went to his house on my way home and delivered them. We had another lad come on and he was studying world religions. We got him at least 70 books on different world religions. You dovetail to your customer. Even the Chief Librarian when I first started said to me, "I've no objection if you put a few books under the counter for Mr. Jones or whoever. Give them that personal service because that's the only library contact they will have". I always say that 98% of the customers were marvellous. The other 2% I wish I had never met. And sadly it was always the educated people who should have known better. We had more trouble with doctors, clergymen, and schoolteachers than we ever did with the old gent who wanted his westerns, or the lady who wanted Mills and Boon. The kids were marvellous. They used to say "have you got any scary books mister". We used to steer them away from them. I don't believe in censorship. I had an American woman come on, she was furious because American swearing is different and she said, "this book should not be on this van". I said, "do you believe in censorship?" And she said, "Yes". I said, "then if somebody stopped me reading my westerns would you agree with that" and she said, "not really". I said there is only one kind of censorship and that is self censorship. And that was a policy we ran but with children we used to cleverly guide them away from some books.
One of the problems with mobiles is toilets. Staff used to say,"We'll have to lock up all the toilets at the library and they would know how we feel" We always had our friends and they would give us a tea as well.
We had some big stops on the outskirts of Lowestoft. There was one stop where we used to issue more than a thousand books in a day. We were there most of the day with a couple of odd stops. We used to call it the slave day. The first van we had was a big Bedford. I went to fetch a new van once from Ipswich. They had built a new library in Beccles. When I got there and looked at the garage at the back I realised the van wouldn't go in. They had built the garage with the roof too low. As far as I know no one got the sack. After that another purpose built van was built.
We moved up to Bolton, and lived next door to my son. It's been great, the only thing I ever envied people was their grandchildren, and now we have a grandson Peter. Our other son Patrick works in Kew Gardens and has worked there for 33 years.