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Mills, Arthur James (1883–1964)

by Elyne Mitchell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Arthur James Mills (1883-1964), soldier and dentist, was born on 10 July 1883 at Glebe, Sydney, son of Arthur William Mills, importer from Birmingham, England, later a jeweller, and his wife Margaret Elizabeth, née Phelps, of Sydney. Educated at St Patrick's Catholic School, Parramatta, he became a dentist. He enlisted in the New South Wales Lancers in 1901, was commissioned second lieutenant in the 1st Light Horse Regiment (Parramatta Squadron) in December 1904 and was promoted lieutenant in June 1908.

Mills married Betsy Florence Raphael at St John's Anglican Church, Parramatta, on 10 September 1910. They had two sons, one of whom, George Millard Mills, was killed in action in World War II. At the outbreak of World War I Mills was adjutant of the New South Wales Lancers (7th Light Horse) and spent two weeks guarding Sydney's water-supply. He joined the Australian Imperial Force at Liverpool on 9 February 1915 as a captain, was promoted major on 1 March and embarked for Egypt in May with the 5th Reinforcements to the 1st Light Horse Regiment. He joined his unit on 1 January 1916 and served for six months in the Western Frontier Force. He was appointed to command 1 Double Squadron and a squadron of the 1st L.H.R. on 1 July.

In November Mills joined the Australian Training Camel Regiment and in February 1917 became second-in-command of the 1st Camel Battalion, Imperial Camel Brigade, which fought in the long and successful battle for Rafa. In the 2nd battle of Gaza the Cameliers suffered heavy casualties. On 29 December Mills was promoted lieutenant-colonel and given command of the 4th (Anzac) Battalion, Imperial Camel Corps. Brigadier G. F. Langley wrote: 'The 4th hailed him with delight and had implicit confidence in his leadership. He too reciprocated his men's feelings'.

The Australian War Memorial has two diaries kept by him in 1918; it is obvious that he took close care of his men and had great pride in them. He was deeply impressed by the stamina of the camels, the distance they could travel, and the length of time they could go without water. 'To my mind the most interesting period for me was while I was with the Camel Corps … (I once did 75 hours without a rest)'. He and his 4th Brigade were in the raid to Amman, when they had to push, pull and coax the camels up steep, rocky hillsides during torrential rain. He describes the return from Amman when light horsemen and cameliers helped the Armenian Christians who were fleeing from the Turks. He carried a 4-year-old girl, sleeping in his arms, on his camel. In April 1918 Mills led the 4th Battalion in operations at Es Salt.

The fighting ended, then, for the Imperial Camel Corps. Mills wrote to his mother: 'We have been turned into Light Horse. I have command of the 15th Light Horse Regiment … I have two nice horses, nothing very “flash” about them, but there, I was never very “flash” was I, Mum'. He was transferred to the 15th L.H.R. on 1 July and he was in command during the great race for Damascus, at the time of the Armistice. His A.I.F. appointment ended on 19 January 1920. For his war service he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and was twice mentioned in dispatches.

After the war Mills resumed dental practice in Sydney and continued in the Light Horse, Australian Military Forces, commanding 4th Cavalry Brigade in 1927 and again in 1931, with the temporary rank of brigadier. In 1936 he was made honorary colonel of the 7th Light Horse. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1935.

During World War II Mills was temporary brigadier commanding permanent ship's staff (military) in the troopship, Queen Mary. He was placed on the retired list, A.M.F., in 1943. He had a lifelong interest in sailing: in 1946 he took part as a deckhand in the Sydney-Hobart yacht race. He died at Mosman, Sydney, on 5 August 1964 and was cremated. His wife and son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Gullett, Sinai and Palestine (Syd, 1941)
  • G. F. and E. M. Langley, Sand, Sweat and Camels (Kilmore, Vic, 1976)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Aug 1964
  • A. J. Mills file and diaries, 1918 (Australian War Memorial).

Citation details

Elyne Mitchell, 'Mills, Arthur James (1883–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mills-arthur-james-7591/text13257, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 29 August 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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