Eileen Mills 1915 – 2003

John Woodcock's address at her funeral on Nov.4 th

With the death of Eileen we have all, in one way or another, lost someone who is irreplaceable – whether as a mother, a grandmother, a neighbour, a friend, a help to those in need or a long-lived stalwart of Longparish.   Although we know that she is now at rest and out of pain, we grieve at her passing, because grief comes out of love and respect and gratitude and memories.

Eileen was born in Kent on July 21st 1915, the youngest of three sisters.   Her father, Albert Alderman, was a quartermaster-sergeant in the Rifle Brigade, who fought in the Great War.   That is a seriously senior rank – one you do not attain without great strength of character, something which Eileen must have inherited from him.   She came to Hampshire when her family took the Queen Charlotte in Andover, a pub owned then by Strong & Co. of Romsey.   It is still in fact there, no more than 300 or 400 hundred yards on the Andover side of the Twinings roundabout, although the road on which it stands is no longer the main road out of Andover to Whitchurch.   That road was blocked off when the Andover ring road was built.   Much more than is the case now, the local pub used to be the social centre of the community, though only for men.   Unless they lived or worked there, women were expected to keep away.

From the Queen Charlotte, Eileen went to the Andover Church of England Elementary School, known today as East Street School.   She left when she was 14, as most children did in those days, and from then until she married, she worked, usually as a member of the kitchen staff, in three substantial houses – learning, in the process, to become the great cook she was. She went first to Red Rice, which is now Farleigh School, near Abbotts Ann, then to Blenheim Palace at Woodstock near Oxford, the home of the Dukes of Marlborough and the house where Winston Churchill was born, and whose breakfast she may well have cooked when he came to stay.   Knowing her, she might even have put him right on his table manners.   Lastly, she went to Middleton House in Longparish, where she would have worked for the first Captain Wills to live there, the great-grandfather if Richard Wills who lives there now.  

Now that Eileen has gone, I wonder if there is anyone left alive who could give their address in the 1930s as Blenheim Palace?   Although there were days when she might have to be up at half-past five in the morning to light the kitchen range or to start to prepare shooting lunches, Eileen would have had a lot of fun at Blenheim.   The servants were a team – boys and girls, men and women – and there might have been thirty or forty of them.  

We can only surmise how Eileen Alderman met Bob Mills.   The Millses, like the Bendalls, Kingstons, Cooks, Brackstones, Hounsomes, Turtons, Woottens, Tonges, Hoares, Taylors, Cleverlys, Mitcheners, Balls, Mays, Snows and many others had their roots deep in the Longparish soil.   They made the village the intimate, hard-working, essentially rural community it then was.   Bob Mills's brother, Tom, was a gamekeeper at Longparish House.   Bob lived with his mother, Granny Mills at Meadow Farm Cottage.   He drove the bus – Red Venture buses they were, running every hour.   Perhaps he used to pick up Eileen when she was going back to her home in Andover, the Queen Charlotte, on her day off from Middleton.   There was no direct contact then between the driver and his passengers; but that would not have stopped the driver winking at someone at the bus stop – the wink that says “How about it?”  

So Eileen married Bob in 1936 when she was 21, and their four children – Fred, Ann, Sue and Richard – were all born at Meadow Farm Cottage.   I so well remember Bob at the wheel of his double-decker bus   - a big, dark-haired, imposing figure, as indispensable to our lives as the village postman and the village policeman.   Granny Mills having died, Eileen and Bob moved to North Acre in 1947, when there were many fewer houses there than now.   It was in North Acre that the children grew up and where Eileen spent the last 56 years of her life, 36 of them as a widow.  

For as long as she lived at Meadow Farm Cottage, which was owned by the Dawnays, she had worked for the Dawnays.   For 25 years after that, I used to see her and May Bowley bicycling past the Curacy to work for the Wellses at the Orchards in Forton.   Stately progress they made too.   On the assumption that they worked five days a week for the Wellses, which I think they did, for 25 years, and covered three miles a day that adds up to a little matter of 18,750 miles, three-quarters of the way round the world, in fact – and they did it in all weathers.   Eileen was into her 80s before she put her bicycle into the shed for the last time.

Then the Wellses moved to Bransbury, which was out of Eileen's range, and to my great good fortune she came to help me at the Curacy.   I had put up an SOS in the village shop, Kathleen Hewlett having fallen and broken her hip, and Eileen answered it.   “Am I too old for you, Mr Woodcock?” she asked.   “Of course not, Mrs Mills.” I replied – and that was how I came to know her so much better, and to become, like all of us here, so fond of her.   Once she was your friend, you couldn't wish for a better.   Nothing was too much trouble for her.   As a cook she left the Two Fat Ladies trailing.   It is such a pity she never had the chance to appear on television with them.   A fine trio they'd have made.   Good English country cooking: there's nothing to beat it.  

What determination she had, too.   And what stubbornness!   Without it she could not have lived as long as she did through that relentless illness – any more that she could have done without the presence and devotion of Sue and her family – or, for that matter, of the dogs that were her companions or the thimbles which were her delight or her sense of humour.   How we shall all miss her.   She was a grand old lady – and may she rest in peace.