Lt. Col. Mills

Lieutenant Colonel J.E. Mills, D.S.O.
1st Canadian Tank Battalion

It was while on this reorganization work that our O.C. conceived the idea of the Canadian Tank Corps. He is the father of the First Canadian Tank Battalion, and had it not been for the sudden cessation of hostilities, his claim that Canada could distinguish itself in the tank-field would have been justified.

(The Tank Tatler, Vol. 1, No. 4, 1919, 4)

By the end of the Great War, John Edgar Mills had been an artilleryman, staff officer, air force observer, gunnery school commandant, and tank battalion commander. He was born in Brantford, Ontario on 3 November 1878. Commissioned with the Permanent Force since 1903, he was an expert in artillery and chief gunnery instructor with the First Contingent. He served on the staff of the 1st Division and was attached to the Royal Flying Corps before transferring to the Royal Field Artillery as part of the Gallipoli campaign.

He earned the Distinguished Service Order and was mentioned in dispatches for his artillery work at Gallipoli. He was recalled to England in early 1916 to reorganize the Canadian reserve artillery depots and was appointed commandant of the School of Gunnery. Intrigued by the potential of new forms of warfare, in 1918, he proposed a Canadian contribution in a conversation with Major General Elles of the Tank Corps. The short-lived unit’s newspaper, The Tank Tatler, credited him as “the father of the First Canadian Tank Battalion.”

In March 1918, Ottawa authorized Lieutenant Colonel R.L. Denison, a returned machine gun officer, to raise the 1st Battalion. Largely recruited from university students, the unit arrived to England for training in June. As Denison was medically unfit, Mills assumed command just as it prepared to leave for the field on 7 November. The 1st Tank Battalion landed in France but the armistice meant it never served in action.

Mill retired from the Permanent Force in 1920 and died on 21 January 1937.


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