Second World War - Lynsted Memorial Project

Robert Henry ('Bertram') MILLS (of Lynsted)

b. 2nd July 1916
d. 23rd May 1941. Aged 24

Canteen Assistant
HMS Fiji
Navy, Army and Air Force Institute (NAFFI)
Remembered with Honour
Portsmouth Naval Memorial
Panel 61, Column 2
Lost at sea as a result of the sinking of HMS Fiji

Portsmout Naval Memorial Portsmouth Naval Memorial Plaque showing Robert Mills

Robert was born on 2 July 1916 to Mabel Mills, originally from Faversham. On 29 May 1924 his brother, Richard Henry Mills was born in Ospringe. At the time of the 1939 Register census, Robert was living with his Uncle and Aunt in Hythe, where he was working as a barman.

HMS Fiji aboard which Robert Mills diedThe story of HMS Fiji: HMS Fiji (pennant number 58) was a Crown Colony-class light cruiser of the Royal Navy, named after the then Crown colony of Fiji. She was the only ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name.
Fiji was launched on 31 May 1939 and was the first of the Crown Colony class to enter service She was commissioned on 5 May 1940, and initially joined the Home Fleet.

On 31 August 1940 she sailed for the African Atlantic coast to take part in Operation Menace, the attack on Dakar. Before she could join the taskforce, Fiji was damaged by a torpedo from U-32 on 1 September and had to return to Britain for repairs, which lasted for the next six months. She was fitted with radar and her Anti-Aircraft armament was also marginally increased.

She returned to service in March 1941 and was assigned to patrol the Denmark Strait for German raiders. She missed the homeward bound German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer, and in April she was reassigned to 'Force H' to blockade the German heavy ships then stationed at Brest. With 'Force H', she sailed into the Mediterranean to support operations to relieve the island of Malta.

On completion of these duties she participated in the Battle of Crete. On 22 May 1941 she was acting in company with the destroyers HMS Kandahar and HMS Kingston shortly after the loss of HMS Gloucester. These ships fought on and shot down one attacker and damaged two others. She finally expended all of her anti-aircraft ammunition fighting off numerous air attacks that persisted for two hours.

HMS Fiji, having survived some 20 bombing attacks in just four hours, was initially hit by a bomb from a single Messerschmitt Me109 aircraft which flew out of the clouds in a shallow dive. It scored a hit very close to the ships port side amidships. At this time she was approximately 45 nautical miles to the south-west of Crete. Although badly damaged, HMS Fiji was still able to steam at a reduced speed until half an hour later, when another single enemy aircraft dropped three bombs which scored direct hits on Fiji.

Painting by John Hamilton of the sinking of HMS FijiCaptain Peveril William-Powlett gave the order to abandon ship and at 20.15hrs, Fiji rolled over and sank. Two Royal Navy destroyers; HMS Kandahar commanded by Commander W.G.A. Robson, DSO, and HMS Kingston commanded by Commander P. Sommerville, DSO, DSC picked up 533 survivors from Fiji, of which some later died of their injuries.

The 32 year old Padre, the Reverend Christopher Champain, who was awarded the Albert Medal, gave his life by repeatedly diving into the sea to rescue a not insignificant number of sailors from certain death.

Sadly Robert was lost at sea.

On 30 May 1941, in a letter to the First Sea Lord, Sir Dudley Pound, Admiral Cunningham wrote, "The sending back of Gloucester and Fiji to HMS Greyhound was another grave error and cost us those two ships. They were practically out of ammunition but even had they been full up I think they would have gone. The Commanding Officer of Fiji told me that the air over Gloucester was black with planes."

Robert is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, panel 61, column 2.

Robert and all of those lost on HMS Fiji are also commemorated on a memorial plaque which is located inside Portsmouth Cathedral, Hampshire.

At the time of Robert's death, his mother Mabel, now Fobbister, was widowed and living at 216 London Road, Lynsted. She died in 1976.

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