Royal Reels: Gambling


This cover was sent from Private George Milne from Kimberley as the postmark on the rose 1d Cape of Good Hope stamp portraying ‘Hope Standing’ and was addressed to the Postmaster-General, General Post Office, Sydney, N.S. Wales (Figure 1).

The Boer War file on George Henry Milne at the Australian War Museum gives a ‘bare bones’ description that his Regimental Number was 559, his rank was a Private, he enlisted from Victoria and his Unit Name was the 3rd Victorian Bushmen. “The Australians in the Boer War OZ-Boer Database Project” gave a little more information, but the links that looked so helpful did not live up to expectations. There were two statements that he was a horsebreaker, one in Myrtleford, the other in Corinella Westernport, both in Victoria, and he was born in 1874 or 1875, depending on the source.

The breakthrough came when I contacted by email a relative of his, for he was her great-grandfather’s brother. In her own words George Henry Milne “was born in Myrtleford Victoria in 1874 to parents Abraham and Elizabeth. He was one of a family of 11 children and his father was the local undertaker. He served in the Boer War (his enlistment number, rank and unit confirmed). He must have returned to his home town upon his return from South Africa and in 1901 he married Anne Simmons. The following year they had a daughter, Marjorie Elizabeth, however her mother Anne died in 1903. Marjorie was subsequently raised by her grandparents (Abraham and Elizabeth) as their ‘adopted daughter’. George was married for the second time in 1907 to Janet Blair and they had a daughter called Doris Jean the same year….. he (George) died in Parkville (Victoria) in 1958.”

The 3rd and 4th Victorian Bushmen Contingents did not necessarily have any militia experience, but they were men who could ride well, shoot reasonably well and live off the land. They were definitely different from the recruits for the 1st and 2nd Contingents and many believed at the time that the new recruits could not be welded into a fighting unit, but the sceptics were proven wrong. The 3rd Contingent paraded in readiness at Cheltenham Victoria on their way to Port Melbourne, to sail for South Africa (Figure 2).

At the Port the horses and men were loaded on the Euryalis and set sail on 10 March 1900 together with Victorian nurses and 24 Cameron’s Scouts (Figure 3).

The 3rd Contingent arrived in Capetown on 3 April 1900, but were not allowed to disembark, remaining on board for several days before sailing on to Beira in Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique), whence they travelled on a single railway tract to Rhodesia, which became the launching pad for their invasion of the Boer state of the Transvaal. Later they operated in the Cape Colony and in the Orange Free State, returning home after one year of service on 6 June 1901. There were 276 men in the 3rd Contingent and 17 men died, but many suffered for years after the war from the effects of fever and poor rations. Their principal engagements were the Siege of Elands River Post, Rhenoster Kop, De Aar Campaign and Pietersburg. The area of the Boer War with Kimberley, the site from which Milne posted the letter, is shown with a red arrow (Figure 4).

I acknowledge the helpful research given by Wendy (née Milne) Fenson concerning her great grand uncle.

Categories: Armed Forces