In May 1945, a small plane carrying two passengers on a secret mission flew into the Arctic Circle town of Tromso in Norway. Sitting on an island surrounded by crisp blue water, and a jagged mountainous landscape, Tromso had been a Nazi base until the end of the war in Europe. A native of the area, the pilot was so excited at the prospect of returning home that he looped the loop before they landed. Sitting behind him was P.K.C. Millins, a member of the British Army’s Intelligence Corps, fluent in French and German, who had been dispatched to northern Norway to collect evidence of Nazi war crimes.
Faced with German forces who were still armed, Millins’ mission was challenging and at times surreal— in the cupboard of one senior German officer Millins found a stash of money, and in another, a naked woman. We don’t know the details of the crimes that Millins uncovered in the six months that he spent in Norway—his service records are still classified; but we do know that this portrait of him was painted in Tromso to honour his service, and in 1946 the King of Norway awarded him the Liberty Medal.
After the war, Millins began a career in education. Involved in the ‘de-Nazification’ of West Germany, he taught English in Düsseldorf, and later advised the Control Commission on how to deal with Nazism in German teacher-training. In 1964, following several years in the British Ministry of Education, Millins was appointed Director of Edge Hill College, which he led until 1979.
His tenure at the helm of Edge Hill coincided with an explosion of anti-immigrant violence in the UK, and the rise of the fascist National Front. In response, Millins was at the forefront of national discussions about how education could be enlisted in the antiracist struggle. Edge Hill itself was a hub of activity to improve ‘race relations’, including the establishment of a department for Afro-Asian Studies, and role-play simulations among staff. When Millins left Edge Hill, he took up a new post as Director of Access Studies at the Department of Education, which opened up universities to those who, historically, had been excluded, especially ethnic minorities.
Each year, the International Centre on Racism at Edge Hill honours the path-breaking career of PKC Millins with an annual Lecture in his memory. We do not know for certain whether his time investigating Nazi war crimes contributed to his later fight against racism at home in Britain. But it seems likely. In any case, this portrait serves as fitting testimony to his heroism, both in war and peace, in the face of tyranny. It is our great privilege to remember him at Edge Hill, and to have been given this painting by the Millins family.
Professor James Renton