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15 October 2014
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Once In a Lifetime; A Little Boy Lost

by cambsaction

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Archive List > Family Life

Contributed by 
cambsaction
People in story: 
Heather Mills Nee Webb. Douglas Mills and Ron Murrell.
Location of story: 
Cambridge, Java Sea, Japan and Australia
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A5628846
Contributed on: 
08 September 2005

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from Radio Cambridgeshire Action Desk at Bircham House on behalf of Heather Mills and has been added to the site with his permission. Mrs Mills fully understands the sites terms and conditions.

I met the love of my life — Douglas Mills from a very young age and he used to come and play at my house at Burwell House where I lived in Cambridgeshire. He came and played with my brothers and we became friends. He lied about his age and signed up when he was 15 to be in the Royal Navy and he was trained at Shotley. He went off for 2 and a half years travelling all round the world. He was an Ajax boy for the Battle of the River Plate and he was the youngest on board — 16 years old. He was on the guns for 16 hours without leaving and he watched his best friend being burnt on the Ajax and he couldn’t leave him to save him as he had to stay on the guns. That’s when his suffering really happened.

He later survived many attacks. He was 26 hours in the Java Sea where he had both his arms shot at. I heard from the admiralty that he had gone down with his ship, but he was actually captured by the Japanese in the sea and given half a cup of rice and sent to camp. He was brutally treated for 3 and half years. Every day he wrote my name in the sand and that’s what he said saved him. He was tortured every day and one day he was put in a bunny hatch for over 24 hours without any water or anything. He had to bury his friends 1 by 1. He would eat anything he could like rats. For 3 and half years he only wore a loin cloth and no shoes, so his feet were ruined. His toe nails and finger nails never grew properly.

Then when they were released by the Australian’s he was 5 stone and he had every disease — 17 in all. The Australian’s said you’re not fit to go home, so he went to Australia to get better. In all he was 9 months getting better and he came back to England to Chatham hospital with jaundice.

During all this I thought Douglas was dead. I had married Ron Murrell after meeting him at the Dorothy Ballroom in Cambridge on New Years Eve. I thought I had lost my best friend, but as I was coming up to 21 and I thought live for the day and Ron was so handsome and a good dancer. He worked for Marshalls where I did. I used to have to sew up the airplanes as they came in — it was 20 stitches to an inch and they would measure it. After 3 weeks in 1941 I married Ron and later we had 2 children together. After about 4 years with Ron the marriage ended and I was alone one night sitting by the fire drying nappies when the telephone rang and it was Chatham Hospital trying to trace Heather Webb saying we have a very sick boy trying to trace me and his only desire as he’d been home for 6 weeks was to speak to me again and to know I was alive. So I arranged to meet him and I met Douglas at Cambridge train station and when I picked him up the tears were running down his face saying I’ve lived for you, you see out of 2,000 of the men on his ship only 20 survived. So he said he would take my 2 children and I married him when my divorce came through and we later had a daughter. And then it was 53 years of nothing but happiness and he died when he was 78. In all that time we never had an argument.

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