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22/02/2021

MY EARLY LIFE AND LEARNING TO PLAY CHESS by David G. Mills

 

I was born on Christmas Eve 1952 at Hedon Road Maternity Hospital, Hull. My parents, Donald Joseph Mills and Dorothy Mills, resided in a two bedroom, privately rented house at 4, Cranbourne Avenue, Fenchurch Street, Hull – off Stepney Lane, behind Beverley Road Baths. During World War II my dad was initially stationed near Colchester, his place of birth, before serving for several years in India and Burma. (He originally moved to Hull with his parents.) He learned to drive just about any type of vehicle. Mum worked in a variety of factories in Yorkshire and Lancashire, frequently producing armaments. They married on his return from abroad in 1945. Employment opportunities were limited in the post war years, so he took up a post with British Railways, initially as a guard and later as a parcel delivery driver. Mum worked part time as a shop assistant and later as a cashier at Jackson the Tailor, Whitefriargate, Hull.

 

In 1962 dad obtained work as a messenger for the Midland Bank at premises on the corner of Jameson Street, Hull, behind the Cenotaph – following in the footsteps of his father, William Percy Mills, who held a similar position at Barclays Bank, 1-3, Trinity House Lane, Hull during the first decade of the 20th century. A year or so later, I recall visiting a dingy flat in Doncaster owned by the Midland Bank with a view to us moving there. It was in such a dilapidated state that the transfer was rejected. That was the nearest I ever came to leaving the Hull area.

 

During World War II several terraces in Fenchurch Street were severely damaged by bombing and a number of houses were completely destroyed. Children used parts of the bomb sites for various games and the scorched area where bonfires were situated annually on 5th November provided a run up for bowlers in street cricket. They targeted the telegraph pole stumps on the other side of the street. I went back a few years ago and I knew that a new pole was in situ as there were no longer any nails driven into it to designate the level of the bails!

 

The Stepney Lane area of the 1950s and 1960s enjoyed a better reputation than that generally held today. I attended the nearby Stepney infant and junior schools from around 1957 until 1964 and recall the names of certain teachers – Mrs. Stonell, Miss Dosser, Mrs. Radford and Mr. Engelbrecht. Class sizes numbered around 40 – 45. My class included Carol Howlett, Linda Lockwood, Andrew Phillips and Michael Gollins and the five of us were usually towards the top when taking end of year examinations – until the 11+. They and many others passed while I did not. It was my first experience of educational failure. In one paper we were asked to describe how to make a call from a public telephone box or explain how to repair a bicycle tyre puncture. I had done neither and remember being completely at a loss as to how to proceed. In hindsight another factor was relevant. I have always had a tendency to write slowly, so that paper work is clear, tidy and pleasing to the eye. The 11+ papers seemed longer than previous examinations and I remember leaving questions unanswered.

 

 

The outcome of failing the 11+ examinations was a year at Wilberforce High – in what was was then described as a Secondary Modern School – located in Leicester Street, Hull. It is now called Pearson Primary School and has a grass playing field which covers an area that was a concrete playground and the location for a house used for additional school rooms when I was there in 1964/65. I did not know it at the time but fluffing the 11+ had a huge beneficial affect on my future. Staff at Wilberforce High knew how to raise the self-esteem of pupils who had effectively been told that they were not good enough for a ‘better’ grammar school education. I only realised how this was achieved many years later.

 

 

The staff at Wilberforce High may well have been in a similar situation to their pupils – consigned to ‘non-grammar school’ posts as ‘not good enough’. If that was the case someone, somewhere had underestimated them. Show any degree of ability and be willing to work hard and there was plenty of encouragement. My form teacher, Mr. Bennett, had an old sandshoe, which was described as a ‘persuader’. In an age when use of the cane was common, he held it up in a theatrical gesture to deter bad behaviour – and did so with such a funny expression on his face that we were reduced to fits of laughter! The ‘persuader’ was never used, no one acted the goat and amusing anecdotes soon returned us to the matter in hand.

 

From a personal viewpoint, one of the most important teachers during that year was Mr. Dawson. I think he taught woodwork, but more important, he organised the football team for what were then described as ‘first year pupils’. At junior school I was always the big kid who turned up Saturday after Saturday as the 12th man reserve – in case one of the eleven selected to play failed to arrive. No substitutes in those days, so I hardly ever featured. Even during games periods at Oak Road Playing Fields, the teacher had me in goal or at full back. I was not very good. At Wilberforce High Mr. Dawson selected me in mid field at left half. This may have been because of a lack of pace but it actually worked well! I did not have to cover large areas of the pitch but could pass the ball. Our team of misfits failed to win any of our first eight games but did not lose in any of the next twenty plus! The increase in our self-confidence was remarkable.

 

My parents were still keen for me to earn a place at a grammar school – especially my mum who had not been able so to do because her parents could not afford to pay for a uniform. Staff at Wilberforce High were keen for me to stay there but I was persuaded by mum and dad to take the 12+ (‘second chance’) examination. No one else from Wilberforce entered that year. My memory of it is being seated alone in a small room with a teacher whilst completing the relevant paper. Some weeks later notification arrived that I had passed. In the subsequent September I started at Riley Technical High School, situated at the end of Parkfield Drive. (The buildings no longer exist and the site and former playing fields comprise housing.)

 

During my time at Wilberforce High, I took up two hobbies – philately and chess. One day after school, I went to a friend’s home in Park Road (one of the houses shown above) where he showed me how the chess pieces move and explained strategy. Well, his idea of strategy! This cunning plan involved both players moving ‘a’ and ‘h’ pawns two squares and supporting them by moving ‘b’ and ‘g’ pawns one square, developing the bishops and knights and keeping the king and queen safely behind the central pawns. We were years ahead of Basman!

 

Riley Technical High School, 101, Parkfield Drive, Anlaby Road, Hull.

Opened 1957. Closed 1988. Demolished 2007.

 

My early years at Riley were blighted by bullying. Surprising that a tall kid like me had to contend with such practices but more of that in a later article. In educational terms, I was a year ahead of classmates by way of both age and knowledge. There was a significant overlap in terms of the curricula at Wilberforce and Riley. I started to borrow chess books from both the school and local libraries and took out a subscription with ‘Chess’, edited at that time by B. H. Wood. My playing ability between ages 13-16 did improve but was still not very strong. Nevertheless, friends urged me to challenge ‘stronger and older’ pupils during the lunch periods between 12.00 noon and 1.30 PM. I still have copies of some of these error littered contests from around 1968 onwards. Checking the results against M. West, D. Owst, T. Prince (all in more senior years) plus M. Cornish and R. C. Newman, I scored 11 wins and 1 defeat, which came as something of a surprise.

Autumn 1969 saw Bob Newman, Mike Cornish and me attending Hull Chess Club for the first time. This was on 5th November when the venue was the AEU Trade Union building, Carron House, 74, Beverley Road. I am unsure how this came about but suspect it was the idea of an older school mate called Hopper who captained the Riley Chess Team. By this time, we were playing in that team in the Hull Grammar Schools Chess League. We were introduced to a chap called R. P. Ross who took time to explain how the club operated and the competitions open to us. Bob Newman and I played out a 30-move draw in the Handicap Event. On 28th November 1969 I won in 25 moves against a ginger haired young postman called D. Jessop whose main claim to fame was commencing games with 1. b4.

 

Mills, D.G. - Jessop, D. [C55]

Hull Chess Club Handicap, 28.11.1969

1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 e5 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.0–0 Bc5 5.d3 0–0 6.Bg5 h6 7.Bh4 Nd4 8.Nxe5 Ne6 9.Bxe6 dxe6 10.Nd2 Bd6 11.f4 Bc5+ 12.Kh1 Bd6 13.Qf3 a5 14.Ng4 Be7 15.e5 Nxg4 16.Bxe7 Qxe7 17.Qxg4 b6 18.Rf3 Qb4 19.Rg3 g6 20.h4 Black has blundered a pawn and wasted time with several moves. He now grabs material. Is White's attack sound? I'm not sure, but in practice, Black's defence is difficult.  [In answer to David's question, I would suggest 20. Ne4 was more convincingly crushing.  After 20. h4 Qxd2 21. h5 Black could try 21. ... Kg7 - allowing a rook to go later  to h8 to defend h6 - and intending to meet 22. hxg6 with 22. ... f5.  White is then not breaking through easily, and Black is a bishop up. - Steve Mann]  20...Qxd2 21.h5 Qxc2

 

 

He is really pushing his luck with this grab. [See last note for 21. … Kg7.] 22.hxg6 Qxd3 Any other try must be better than this move. 23.Rxd3 Ba6 24.gxf7+ Kxf7 25.Rd7+ 1–0

(Click here to play through game on screen.)

 

Just over a week later a pleasing positional victory.

 

Hughes, P.R. - Mills, D.G. [C46]

Hull Chess Club Handicap, 7.12.1969.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Bc5 4.Bc4 Nf6 5.0–0 0–0 6.d3 d6 7.Bg5 Be6 8.Re1 Nd4 9.a3 Nxf3+ 10.gxf3 Capturing with the queen must be better. 10...h6 11.Bh4 g5 12.Bxe6 fxe6 13.Bg3 Nh5 14.Kg2 Qf6 15.Rf1 Rf7 16.Rb1 Raf8

 

 

Black's attack is not difficult to play. It is just a question of proceeding carefully. 17.f4 Nxf4+ 18.Bxf4 Qxf4 19.f3 Qh4 20.Qe1 Qxe1 21.Rbxe1 h5 22.Ne2 g4 23.f4 exf4 24.Kh1 f3 25.Ng3 Making Black's task even easier. 25...h4 26.Ne2 fxe2 27.Rxf7 Rxf7 28.Rxe2 g3 29.hxg3 hxg3 30.Kg2 Rf2+ 31.Rxf2 Bxf2 32.c3 Kf7 33.b4 a6 34.d4 Kf6 35.c4 c6 0–1

(Click here to play through game on screen.)

 

25th January 2021.

 

(Follow-up article expected around May.)