July 5, 2003 by

Rachel Millet


Categories: Extraordinary People, Medicine, Writers/Editors

Rachel Millet was an independent young Englishwoman who earned a medal for bravery during World War II.

Millet, nee Howell-Evans, was a nurse at the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital for three years before becoming a matron at a prep school. When war broke out, she joined the Mechanised Transport Corps and learned first aid, map-reading and car maintenance.

After the Fall of France, Millet was recruited as a driver and nurse of the Hadfield-Spears mobile hospital. She was sent to North Africa to aid surgeons with the 1st Division of the Free French. Though she helped out on the wards when it was busy, Millet’s main job was driving and maintaining her Ford truck.

Her unit followed the Allies to Italy, where she was asked to join a small French Commando party landing in the South of France. They arrived at night on the wrong beach, and were attacked by American bombers the next morning who thought they were Germans. She was eventually awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery for that mission.

In 1946, she married Rene Millet, who worked in the French diplomatic service. The couple traveled to Ankara, Johannesburg and Bangkok, where she helped to start a center for the blind.

Her autobiography, “Spearette: a Memoir of the Hadfield-Spears Ambulance Unit 1940-1945,” was published in 1998.

Millet died on June 1. Cause of death was not released. She was 89.

11 Responses to Rachel Millet

  1. kate

    How these amazing women didn’t get more recognition whilst alive is beyond me. I’m a living historian hoping to recreate the Hadfield-Spears hospital in North Africa later this year.
    Rest in peace, brave lady.

  2. Sheila Gorman

    My late great aunt, Mrs Annie Norah Pellew, served as a driver in the Mechanised Transport Corps 1939-45 and subsequently worked with ENSA as a Welfare Officer in Germany 1945-50. She went to France in early 1940 with the Hadfield Spears Formation and was one of the drivers who sped across France just ahead of the Germans and escaped to England in June that year. A brave woman who lived to be 96. Her experiences in both world wars, seem to have been the most exciting parts of her life. She kept many of the documents, orders, photographs, etc. pertaining to her army career and I have them now. Well done Aunt Norah.

  3. Richard Mosley

    I met Rachel shortly before her death as my great Aunt, Edith Irving, had served alongside her in the Hadfield-Spears Unit and I was interested in her recollections. She was a truly wonderful woman, and poured me the largest, strongest glass of gin I’ve ever tasted!

  4. Carolann Smith-Dorrien

    I have just purchased Rachel Millet’s “Spearette” as my mother, Cynthia Toulmin as well as my Godmother Barbara Graham and their great friend Rosaleen Forbes and Kit Tatham Warner (known as KT)all served together in the Hadfield-Spears Ambulance Unit. I was thrilled to find them all mentioned in the book, as well as my late father, Peter Smith-Dorrien – and even me as their “small daughter”! I also met both May Spears and her husband General Louis Spears in their flat in Eaton Square, London SW1 probably around 1952.
    They were a brave,feisty, humorous, inventive, utterly wonderful group of women who deserve to be remembered for their extraordinary and selfless contribution to the war effort -we shall not see their like again. The BBC broadcast a programme called Tin Hats and Silk Stockings in 1989 (I think) about some of these amazing women, including those named above. If anyone is interested I have a DVD of this which could be copied. Lest we forget. Carolann

    • Geoffrey Gillon

      You mention your late father who was a victim of the King David Hotel bomb outrage.

      I have been trying to do some research on him because I believe he was a Brigadier at the time of his death, and may have been a serving soldier still? Either way, he should be officially recognized as a casualty of WWII, but he isn’t – yet! That is one of the things in history I work to put right.
      Can we discuss please. as I have been trying, today, to find something in The Times about his work at the King David.
      Looking forward to hearing from you.

      • Kyle Elizabeth Wood

        The biography I just published shows my subject (Tillie Lewis) frequently stayed at the Kind David while she was helping begin agriculture in Israel as a guest of the Israeli government.

        In addition, I’m researching Cornelia Baxter-Tevis-McKee which is a very strange coincidence with this thread.

  5. Diane Weeks

    Dear Carolann,
    I was very interested to read your comments about the Hadfield-Spears ambulance unit and the DVD of Tin Hats and Silk Stockings – I would very much like a copy.
    Barbara Graham was a friend of my grandmother’s – Elizabeth ‘Pru’ Ponsonby/Tevis/Davies. My great grandmother was Cornelia/Constance Baxter/Tevis.
    I am currently researching my family history and would be interested in any information you would be willing to share.
    Kind regards,

    • Kyle Elizabeth Wood

      I am a historian doing a bit of research of the Tevis family connection to Monterey. So far, Cornelia Baxter Tevis McKee is the most interest figure in the bunch. I’d love more information and happy to share what I have.

      To investigate my work, check Tillie Lewis: The Tomato Queen (first female Captain of Industry in the USA…tomato queen was a cute title Tillie Lewis spun herself)

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