Stanley Mills (Service No. 195)
In this audio recording taken from an interview with Ross McMullin (in 1978), 83 year-old Stanley Mills, a Lance Corporal, who served as a signaller in World War 1 (involved as a telephone linesman) responds to questions about news of the casualties on Gallipoli and how that affected him; about the censoring of mail; about the type of newspapers he got access to while in Cairo; whether he had an opinion of the reporting of the war in Australian newspapers; how informed people back in Australia regarding Gallipoli in 1915.
Stanley also responds to questions about how aware the Australian people were in terms of the fighting and conditions on the Western Front in late 1916, in terms of the gas, lice, barrage, mud and trenches; as well as questions about how well his family were informed of the conditions of the war; and about his mate who was a sergeant, who was killed when they were working on a telephone line together on the Hindenburg line. Stanley also responds to a question about whether Australians in the 1920s felt that all the sacrifices and sufferings of the First World War had been worthwhile? The full interview recording is available on the Australian War Memorial website.
Stanley Mills – Introduced by Edan Baxter
“Well we saw the casualties coming back. There was a hospital at Heliopolis, just outside of Cairo. It was crammed full of them, wounded. They had no delusions about what we were going into.
Made me think very hard. As a matter of fact, everybody else was the same. We …weren’t so carefree as we previously were. We got very serious when we saw the casualties.
…our mail was heavily censored and all we got to send back were harmless, what they called ‘field postcards’ and just printed the matters that you struck out different items: I am well, I am in hospital – whatever applied.
I don’t think the Australian people realised what was going on. I think a lot of the information that they should have been told wasn’t told. The same thing happens today. You’re not told the truth in the newspapers. Anything of great importance that might stir up strife in anyway is relegated to the back pages of the paper in an inconspicuous place. That’s the nature of the press today. It was the same then.
I remember one particular paper, the Sydney … ah, pictorial it was [inaudible]. And I was amused at the front page of it, of an Australian soldier climbing up the side of a hill with a fixed bayonet and a Turk on it. And he was throwing him over his shoulder. That sort of stuff. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t true.
I saw enough to have the opinion that it was a lot of – it was incorrect, a lot of the stuff that was reported. That’s the opinion I got myself.
I remember the first night we landed, the questions were flying to me left, right and centre and I never got to – got to bed at 3am!
Something that I told my family revealed to me that the they didn’t really realise what we went through –
I did write home occasionally and told them about a mate that I lost. He was a sergeant and he and I went out of the line to mend …At what they called the Hindenburg line
…he and I were out in the line, tracing it, looking for the break and we found a break and we got back to brigade headquarters but the break was further on where we were going to battalion headquarters. And I said to – Nick Grabbit his name was – I said “Nick”, I said, “it must be further on”. I said, “It’s between here and brigades alright so we’ll go – go along further”. And he says – well, I started to do up the telephone case and buckled it, bloody bending down low, to buckle it up. And he says “I’ll do that”, and I said, “No, you go on ahead. I’ll fix this”. No sooner I said that than bang! he got the full contents of a shell, of a German shell. Killed outright. I was very upset. He was one of my best mates.
Now, that’s something that I told my family when I came home. I wasn’t able to tell them that while I was at the war. But it was something I could tell them after the war.
I didn’t – I didn’t get – I got a few clods of earth over me. I didn’t get – wasn’t wounded in any way from it, although I was close enough to be. It’s just providence.
The Australian people…I think they were disgusted with everything, especially when the Depression hit us, is when people changed. They thought that what they went through was apparently to have a war to end all wars and all this sort of talk. And they were disgusted with the way things were going and it was leading up to the Second World War.”
Stanley Mills was born in Camberwell, Victoria in 1896. Stanley was 18 years old and single and living in Surrey Hills (Victoria), working as an invoice clerk at a wholesale grocery business when he enlisted for the war in August 1914. It appears that Stanley’s father had passed away prior to his enlistment – with Stanley’s mother Lydia named as his next of kin. Stanley had three brothers – none of whom enlisted in the war.
Stanley described feeling shocked when war was declared in August 1914 but as he had been conditioned as a child at school to think of the British Empire as such a wonderful organisation, with a wonderful navy and army, he thought the war would not last long. He enlisted partly out of a sense of duty and sense of adventure. A lot of his mates had also enlisted and given the then level of unemployment, joining the war effort was seen as an avenue for employment.
Stanley embarked on the HMAT Itonus, Adelaide on 15 February 1915 and he described not having the slightest idea at the time of the nature of the war at all – such as trench warfare, and the conditions he would face. Stanley was training in Cairo when the Gallipoli landings were made, and he watched the Australian troops depart from Cairo to Gallipoli. He sailed across in May 1915 to join the troops in Gallipoli and recalled that there was a feeling of terror amongst the troops, worrying about what lay ahead – “so quiet you could cut the air with a knife” – and he thought the worst. Stanley served in the 2nd Reinforcement for the 1st Division. Stanley described that the telephone linesmen had to dig their own cubby holes for protection, and they had to contend with bad food, the death of so many people, horrible conditions living in the ground and being infested with lice and other things. When they finally departed Gallipoli, it was a huge relief to get away from it. Later in life he expressed his view that the Gallipoli campaign was a terrible mistake.
After Gallipoli, Stanley served extensively on the Western Front at Fromelles and Pozieres. He was involved as a telephone linesman in trying to restore communications at Pozieres but the task was impossible because the German barrage was so heavy that lines were being constantly cut. The conditions for the Australian troops were horrible and included lice, gas attacks, fierce barrages, mud, poor food. Heavy censorship of the press and of mail meant that the reality of what went on at the Western Front, as well as earlier at Gallipoli, did not reach Australian shores at the time.
Stanley served at Broodseinde Ridge and Passchendaele in 1918 and was seriously gassed at Passchendale in with mustard gas sent over from the Germans in the form of shells which had a distinctive popping sound and were a substance that was heavier than air. Despite a gas mask, the mustard gas would penetrate through whatever protection soldiers had. Stanley ended up with blisters on his legs and he was, well, I was blinded in as much as his eyelids were closed. He was repatriated to England for hospital treatment for about six months, and his sight gradually returned; however, he still had lasting effects from the gas in the form of bronchitis
In letters to his mother, Stanley expressed a longing for home. He had also urged two of his brothers who were old enough to enlist, not to enlist for the war. The death of a friend in 1917 at Bullecourt while they were working together on the Hindenburg Line really impacted Stanley. It was not until March 1919 that Stanley finally sailed from England, arriving back in Australia around June 2019. Stanley described that there was a lot of sadness back home because of so many men who didn’t return.
Serving in the war changed Stanley’s political allegiance: he described that prior to the war he was “more or less indifferent and accepted the things as they were”, but after the war, going through the depression and experiencing four years of unemployment and seeing how life really was, he changed his ideas and voted Labor, having previously been right wing. The war also changed him in regards to the class of people that he respected.
Once home, Stanley did re-training for civilian life and his technical drawing set, from his re-training, is on display at the Australian War Memorial. In 1922 he completed a Department of Repatriation Vocational Training course in carpentry. After the war, Stanley married Lillian and they had two children, Leone and John. Stanley lived in West Preston. Stanley died on the 4th of January 1979; his wife Lillian had pre-deceased him.
Frightening experiences in war for both soldiers and civilians
Stanley Mills described how the aircraft was very heavy in the First World War, especially with night bombings, German planes could be heard coming over with the heavy aircraft – the double hum of big aircraft carrying the weight of bombs could be heard, but there was indication of where they were going to land. Stanley described this as terrifying – and it was an experience that not just soldiers but the French civilian population also had to endure this, in addition to the barrages.
(Source: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C1115770 Copyright: AWM Licensed Copyright. Accession Number S00069)
Studio portrait of 195 Lance Corporal (LCpl) Stanley Roland Mills, 1st Division Signal Company c 1916
AWM: P04918.001; Copyright expired – public domain
Armistice Centenary – World War 1 Stories is a partnership between the Alice Springs Peace Action Think Tank and 8CCC Community Radio. This project was made possible through the support of the Alice Springs Town Council Community Assistance Grants, The Australian Government Armistice Centenary Grants Program and Produced with the assistance of the Community Broadcasting Foundation. Find out more at www.cbf.org.au