Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Sergeant of the Buffs: Anglo-Zulu War 1879

Quite often when making a film, due to various restrictions various events and personalities are left out, such is the case of the man of this article. There is no doubt that he was at Rorke's Drift and what his duties were: his story would make a cracking film all by itself. However in 'ZULU' he does not even get a mention. Recall the scene where Cpl Allan upon orders of Chard launches two soldiers into the river, one being David Kernan who portrayed Pte Hitch later to win a VC on that fateful afternoon of 22 Jan 1879. Cpl Allan never threw Pte Hitch into the Buffalo River nor indeed was he there himself. No: what would have been factually correct was that two men, one a civilian and the other a Sgt in the regiment known as The Buffs (3rd Regt of Foot), who were employed in the repair and maintenance of the Ponts (ferries), should have been included, in this author's opinion in the film.

The two men in question were Mr Daniels, a ferryman, and one Sgt Frederick Augustus MILLNE of the Buffs. Millne, whose very name has caused much argument over the years, was under orders from Lt McDowell of the Royal Engineers, later killed at Isandlwana. Just why a single Sgt of the Buffs was there at all is not known even to this day. I can confirm that MILLNE and not MILNE is the correct spelling of this man's name. Millne's birth certificate was the very first one I purchased at the Family Record Centre in Islington, London. As it turned out it was the wrong certificate as later I obtained the correct one. In 1853 in Lincolnshire a Frederick Augustus MILNE was born: in my ignorance I thought I had the right certificate but in fact there was a birth on 18 February 1854 in London of Frederick Augustus MILLNE confirmed later by his service papers and subsequent wedding in 1889.

Frederick, son of David George Millne and Mary Ann Slate, joined the army on 4 June 1872. He was allocated to the 2nd Battalion 3rd Regt of Foot known as the Buffs. In civilian life he was a clerk. Pte Millne was given the number 2260, his age indicated as 18 years and 2 months. In 1857 Frederick lost his mother and his father later married the sister of Mary Ann Slate (Louisa Maria SLATE)* which later gave a twist to the life and circumstances regarding Frederick. By 24 February 1873 he was promoted to Cpl, by 1 April 1876 he was a Lance Sgt followed shortly by promotion to full Sgt on 6 July 1876.

Frederick was involved in a shipwreck - he read later of his own reported demise in this. He was aboard the troopship 'St Lawrence' when it went aground on route to Durban in 1876; the ship foundered off Paternosters Reef at Cape Town. ** There was no loss of life but it was a facet of the sort of life Frederick led.

By January 1879 Millne found himself at the mission station assisting Mr Daniels with the ponts used to ferry supplies across the river. When the news of the disaster at Isandlwana filtered through to Lt Chard RE, now in charge, Millne offered to tie the ponts off in mid-stream and defend them against the now advancing impi, they being the reserve of the Zulu army, of course. Chard refused this foolish but brave offer due to the lack of men available for the imminent battle in the afternoon of 22 January 1879. Millne did get a mention in dispatches for his part in the defence. The Senior Sgt (24th) under the command of C/Sgt Frank Bourne, one Sgt Windridge, had been ordered to put a guard on the cask of rum at the station. Being a tad fond of the amber liquid, Windridge re-allocated this task to Millne who to his credit took this duty seriously, not allowing the rum to be issued till the next day.

A promotion to C/Sgt followed, then a reduction to Sgt at his own request with another promotion to C/Sgt on 11 January 1883. He was sent to Singapore then to Hong Kong where two significant events occurred: he won a lottery to the tune of $40,000 and on 15 December he decided to purchase his discharge from the army for the princely sum of £3; he was but 29 years of age. His intended place of residence was Shanghai where he gained employment as an instructor to the local police.

You will recall that Millne's father had now married Frederick's aunt (Louisa Slate *) and a child was a result of this union - Catherine. In 1888 Millne lost his father and was back in the UK. The money in his pocket was burning a hole, no doubt. On 2 April 1889 Frederick married Catherine Millne in London whom he knew was not only his cousin but also his half sister, making his aunt also his mother-in-law. It was most likely this set of circumstances that led him to leave London and set up a grocery business in Derbyshire, which failed, prompting a further move to Manchester. A number of children were born and some died at an early age, one daughter called Ada Rorke Millne was born on 22 January 1902.

At the outbreak of World War I, Millne once again served his country as a training NCO rising to the rank of RSM (Regimental Sgt Major). Ill health forced him to retire in 1919. Millne eventually died on 5 June 1924 in Manchester and is buried in Southern Cemetery, Manchester, where his grave lay unmarked till July 2001 when a cross was erected at his grave in a ceremony led by the 1879 re-enactment group whose archivist and record-keeper I was at that time. This marked the first non-24th soldier to get a dedication by the group mentioned. Thus ends the story of the Sgt of the Buffs.

Buffs memorial

Graham Mason
Anglo-Zulu War Researcher

* Kris Wheatley ('Legacy' vol 1)
** Troopship 'St Lawrence' information from Rosemary Dixon-Smith Papers: The National Archives, Kew

Regimental Museum (Canterbury) The Buffs.

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