GEORGE HAMILTON MILSON (1894 -1975)
7TH LIGHT HORSE REGIMENT
It often surprises people just how many Light Horsemen were recruited not from the outback, or even from the farms and rural settlements closer to the coast, but from the big cities of Australia. Even so, every regiment contained its quota of real bushmen and few men fitted that description better than George Milson. He was the second son of Robert and Florence Milson, of Springvale Station, a 1600-square mile (1.02 million acre)
cattle property about 250 kms south west of Winton, in the Channel Country of western Queensland. Like his older brother Arthur he had been born on neighbouring Diamantina Lakes, an even bigger cattle place and at that time also a police post where one of the trooper’s wives was a midwife. Their early schooling was at home, in between time spent in the mustering camp and around the stockyards, clocking up hours in the saddle, or with their guns and dogs, stalking ducks and pigeons around the waters at the homestead. In 1905 the two brothers were sent to Sydney to board at The King’s School, in Parramatta, from where they came home once a year at Christmas, catching a steamer north to Rockhampton then the train to Longreach. From there they would ride for five or six days back to the station, across the hard red country to the Mayne, then down the Diamantina before leaving the River for the last 20 miles to Springvale. At the end of the holidays they did the trip in reverse.
At King’s George distinguished himself as an excellent sportsman – 1st XV in football, a champion sprinter (earning him the nickname of Jellylegs) and a crack shot, for two years a member of the school’s GPS_winning shooting team. He was also a Colour Sergeant in the cadet unit, of which every boy in the senior school was a member. On leaving in 1911 he went to Hawkesbury Agricultural College for a year before going on to Sydney Technical College to do wool classing.
Ill-health forced their father Robert Milson to retire to Sydney at the beginning of 1914, leaving the 21 year old Arthur to carry on running the place. George also returned to Springvale to help out as severe drought loomed. Indeed, when war broke out in August that year George was on the road with a large mob of Springvale cattle up on the Georgina River near Cloncurry. He did not return until the end of 1915, when he enlisted in the Light Horse. Because he actually signed his papers in Sydney he was posted to a NSW-based unit, the 7th ALH.
He trained at Menangle, just outside Sydney, and must have made a big impression on the fellow recruits in his 16-man training group. Just under 6 foot, he had clear blue eyes, a square jaw and an outgoing, sunny personality, with a love of practical jokes. Among Milson’s papers after he died was a long poem written by another recruit, one John Murray, called the Ballad of Squad No 10, in which there is a verse describing each member. George’s reads:
Here comes the Grand, Almighty One,
The Germans look, then madly run.
It’s Milson, men! The Light Horse king,
Without his horse, or anything.
His spurs clank upon the floor,
He’s marching proudly on to war.
He’s marching boys, that means of course,
He’s mounted, but without a horse.
Fear not at this, this noble Corps
Is mounted when they go to war
Upon their leg: They find a man
Runs faster than their horses can.
Milson left Australia in June 1916 and joined his regiment then engaged in action against the Turks in the Sinai Desert. Before long he was promoted to sergeant, taking part in the endless deep patrolling and sudden, sharp skirmishes that characterised this phase of the war in the Middle East. It was tiring and dangerous work, brutal on both men and horses.
By late March 1917 the Allied forces were attacking Gaza, the first big Turkish defence system in Palestine. “On the day of the scrap,” Milson wrote home to his father a week later, “another troop and ours were on the screen, that is, the foremost position, and most exciting. We moved out of camp at 3am and worked around the back of the city while the infantry attacked from the front, thus completely surrounding them. From before daylight until 8 or 9 o’clock we were hampered by very heavy fog. The guns opened up about 9am and kept up a heavy bombardment all day and did a considerable amount of damage to Jacko. However, at the end of the day, after very strenuous fighting by the infantry and some good charges made by part of the 7th, 5th, and NZ Mounted Regts, we held a very good position, but owing to a large body of reinforcements coming up in our rear, all the Light Horse had to get out. So at 9pm we mounted and rode all night, getting back here to our desert camp at 8am. We captured several hundred prisoners, among them a general and his staff, and the civilian governor of Gaza.”
This so-called first battle of Gaza was in fact a costly failure, largely due to a loss of nerve on the part of the Allied commanding officer. George later sent the family a photograph of himself and a couple of other regimental colleagues escorting a captured Turkish cavalry Captain during this battle. His sisters ever after referred to George’s capture of the General, a claim Milson just as doggedly kept denying for the rest of his life!
Gaza was finally taken in April, and thereafter there was much hard fighting throughout the rest of 1917 as the Allied army moved north up into Palestine. Again, for the Light Horsemen, these were months of hard patrolling intermixed with deadly firefights with Turkish cavalry. Other times there were quick rushes on foot against dug-in positions, invariably ending with brief, close-quarter bayonet fighting. The 7th was one of a number of Light Horse units that was holding the ring around Beersheba at the time of the famous charge by the 4th and 12th ALH regiments that captured the town on October 31, 1917. “We left on October 21 for this big push and have kept going solidly ever since,” he wrote home in early December. “It’s been a most interesting time. Our Brigade (the 2nd ALH Bde) was sent out in advance to prepare the way on the right of the forces coming on. Our main work for the first week to make crossings in the many wadis and clean out wells which the Turks had blown in as they were forced to evacuate. On these we have had shifts day and night, our horses going 48 hours on occasion without a drink. That would be nothing to station horses, but it means a lot to these when they are working all the time on dry rations, and not too much of it. On the 30th, at sundown, we moved out to take Beersheba, attacking it from the east, a thing that jacko thought was impossible and least expected, with all his fortifications made for an attack from the south and south-west. After travelling all night we got right around and took up our positions early in the morning with little opposition. From then on we had Jacko thinking, with the infantry in the front and the LH on the rear and right.
“At about 4 o’clock in the afternoon the infantry pushed well up and the LH worked their way right in behind and cut off a nice little haul of about 1600 prisoners and 9 field guns, then charged and occupied the town before they had time to blow up the water supplies, railway station or anything else beneficial to our troops.”
By November the 7th was up the coast at Jaffa, where the troops were given a brief rest. “About a week ago we had a day’s spell near jaffa, where some of the boys were given leave for 5 to 6 hours to ride up and have a look at it. I was one of them. The town itself has some rather fine buildings, but a great number of them are closed, the inhabitants having run away with Jacko. While in there we bought some bread and fresh mutton and a few other little things. The great difficulty was to get change. Among the natives our main way of dealing is with tins of bully beef or a few biscuits in exchange for oranges. It is a wonderful country for fruit, and oranges are ripe at present and we had so many we are almost sick of them.” After a bout of malaria for which he was hospitalised in Cairo, Milson was with his regiment outside Jerusalem in April 1918 when the High Command ordered a raid across the Jordan River to the Turkish stronghold of Amman.
He wrote a vivid description of this operation in a letter to his brother Arthur. “The day we moved it rained solidly until 2pm, and by 5pm we got to Jerusalem and camped on a slope of the Valley of Jehosephat, looking onto the Mount of Olives.. All our clothes and blankets were wet, so six of us decided to rent a room for the night after dark, which was strictly against orders. We were back in the lines by 6 next morning, no one the wiser,” The regiment moved off to the east, through Jericho and down into the valley of the Jordan. “There is a drop of nearly 4000 feet in 20 miles, and a climb of 4000 feet on the other side. We travelled all night, crossing the Jordan at sunrise. After a brief rest we went on, and again travelled all night. By this time the rain had set in and was coming down all it knew how. It was the coldest time I have ever put in in my life.”
After winding their way down towards Amman along a mountain track that required the men to lead their horses single file, the regiment deployed for the attack. “The following morning,” Milson’s letter continued, “we went on and attacked Amman, where I stopped a piece of lead and by doing so got myself a holiday.” Some holiday! He was shot through the hip and it took 10 days in excruciating pain to get him passed back down the line – by horse, camel, motor truck, hospital train and finally boat – to a hospital on the Suez Canal.
By the middle of the year he was well on the way to recovery and was able to join his regiment to take part in the final Allied sweep up into Syria and the capture of Damascus. By then he had been commissioned as a lieutenant. Although the fighting ended in November, for him duties had not ended. In December he and his Squadron from the 7th embarked for Gallipoli, where they acted as an escort for the burial parties that went back to the old battlefield and for Charles Bean, the official historian of the First AIF, who came back to study what had happened four years before. It was not until June 1919 that Milson arrived back in Australia and was demobilised.
George Milson was, .ile just about every other member of the First AIF, a citizen soldier, and he ws among the lucky ones to come back and be able to settle down again to civilian life. He returned to Springvale, again helping his brother Arthur run the place and working in the mustering camp. In 1922 he took charge of taking 1000 Springvale bullocks sold to Sir Sidney Kidman down the Birdsville Track to Farina, in South Australia, a distance of about 800 kms. It was a dry time, but the mob was successfully delivered, a testament to his skill and maturity though still not yet 28. In the following year George, in partnership with Arthur and their younger brother David, bought a sheep place north of Winton named Brooklyn. While Arthur stayed on at Springvale the two younger brothers settled on Brooklyn and gradually built it up, constructing much of the homestead themselves and then guiding the place through the terrible drought of the late 1920s and the Great Depression that followed. These were cruel times of hardship and financial stringency that brought many of their neighbours in the district undone. In the little spare time he had George had two great loves. One was racing, training and racing his own horses for the local picnic meetings and serving for many years on the local organising committee. His other great love was reading, building up a library that took up the whole side of one room at Brooklyn.
When war came and David went off to join the army George not only ran the place but took on another job as a travelling inspector for one of the big pastoral companies. In late 1942 he returned full time to Brooklyn after the brothers acquired the neighbouring Ingle Downs. Soon after the war ended and David returned from service in Bougainville they bought a third sheep property, Fairview, near Kynuna.
George Milson became in time something of an institution in the Winton district, a long-time shire councillor, RSL member and race committee member. He was a gregarious fellow, generous with his time and money, full of fun and good advice, especially to his nephews, the life of every party but still a man with a huge appetite for work. He was also a shrewd and successful sheepman. In 1960 he sold Brooklyn and retired to Double Bay in Sydney, where he married and enjoyed his beloved racing, rarely missing a Saturday meeting. He hardly ever spoke about the war, and when he did it was invariably some funny anecdote. He died in 1975 after a long illness triggered by his war wound, his wife Helen having died the year before.
BOTH ARTICLES SUPPLIED BY SCOTT MILSON.
SCOTT IS A GREAT NEPHEW OF BOTH GEORGE MILSON AND COLIN MORGAN READE.
|Religion||Church of England|
|Address||c/o A.G. Milson, 26 Bond Street, Sydney, New South Wales|
|Age at embarkation||21|
|Next of kin||Father, Robert Kirk Milson, Springvale, via Winton, Queensland|
|Enlistment date||1 February 1916|
|Rank on enlistment||Private|
|Unit name||7th Light Horse Regiment, 20th Reinforcement|
|AWM Embarkation Roll number||10/12/4|
|Embarkation details||Unit embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, on board RMS Malwa on 22 July 1916|
|Regimental number from Nominal Roll||Commissioned|
|Rank from Nominal Roll||Lieutenant|
|Unit from Nominal Roll||7th Light Horse Regiment|
|Returned to Australia 10 May 1919|