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Published: Tuesday, 05th December 2017

Oldham Council is to commemorate the third hero from the borough to receive the Victoria Cross, Private Walter Mills VC – exactly 100 years since his outstanding act of bravery.

On Monday 11 December, 11am, a Service of Dedication and Unveiling of a Commemorative Stone will take place in the grounds of Oldham Parish Church to honour Private Mills VC.

The service will be followed by an exhibition in the Egyptian Room, at the Old Town Hall, Parliament Square, from 12noon.

Residents and visitors will get the chance to read more about Private Mills, his journey during World War One and the Manchester Regiment in the display. 

The commemoration is part of a national campaign to lay lasting reminders in the birth place of Victoria Cross recipients from the First World War.

Family members, long-lost relatives and visitors will join dignitaries and representatives of local community groups and schools.

Walter Mills was born at 13 Bond Street, Oldham, July 21, 1894. He was the third of 6 sons and worked as a Piecer – a person who joined broken threads – at Hope Mill, Greenacres.

On 19 May 1913 he married Ellen Britt at Christ Church, Chadderton. The following year on 13 July 1914 their daughter, Ellen, was born.

Private Walter Mills was in the 1st/10th Battalion (Oldham) of the Manchester Territorials and in his time he toured Egypt, Gallipoli and France.

On 6 September 1914, not long after his daughter was born, he enlisted at The Drill Hall, Rifle Street, Oldham, and was given the personal number 2154.

After intense training he was posted to Egypt mid-April 1915, but his battalion didn’t see action until a month later at the Gallipoli landings.

Following the Gallipoli campaign Private Mills was shipped back to Egypt with his battalion.

For the next 18 months the battalion re-trained and re-equipped. Private Mills also used this time to return home to Oldham for two weeks to spend time with his family.

His battalion finally arrived in France, March 1917.

In December 1917 at Red Dragon Crater, near Givenchy, Private Mills, aged just 23, earned his Victoria Cross.

After a gas attack the trenches were under pressure and overwhelmed and in spite of being badly gassed, he remained at his post and met the attackers single-handedly throwing grenades at the enemy until reinforcements arrived.

Whilst being carried away from the conflict Private Mills died from gas poisoning on 11 December 1917.

Private Walter Mills VC was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously. On the 31 May 1918 at Beckett Hall, Leeds, Walter’s wife Ellen received the Medal from King George V.

It was solely due to Private Walter Mills efforts and sheer self-sacrifice that the enemy was defeated and the line remained intact.

The Oldham solider is buried in Plot V.C.2 in the Gorre British and Indian cemetery, France.

It’s said that his Victoria Cross was buried with his Daughter Ellen, who died 5 October 1934, aged 20.

Councillor Cath Ball, Deputy Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Co-operatives, with a special responsibility for Oldham Remembers, said: “This is the third and final recipient from the borough who received the Victoria Cross and it’s an honour that a man with such passion and fearlessness was born and bred in Oldham.”

“We’re laying The Commemorative Stone so that Private Mills is remembered here in Oldham for years to come.”

“The service will give everyone a chance to honour Private Mills, find out more about his role in World War One and pay their respects.”

If you wish to be involved in Oldham’s commemorations – Oldham Remembers – to mark 100 years since the start of World War One, read stories about local people and their experience in the war, research stories or to upload your own visit www.oldhamremembers.org.uk

For more information email oldhamremembers@oldham.gov.uk or call 0161 770 3297.

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