Thursday, 9 June 2011

Captain Thomas Patrick Milne-Home, Highland Light Infantry

Today's story is by Stuart Graham, and comes to us via Sandy Leishman at the Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum. The original intention was to feature the uniform as an "object of the month", but I decided it deserved to be featured sooner. My thanks to Stuart and Sandy for the article.

I have been a collector of Scottish military items for many years with a keen interest in the Highland Light Infantry. A few months ago I purchased some items of HLI uniform which when researched have revealed a fascinating story surrounding the officer who they originally belonged to.

The uniform items consisted of an HLI officers doublet with Captain's insignia, a pair of Mackenzie tartan trews, a shoulder belt and sword slings complete with HLI shoulder belt plate and a dirk belt with HLI clasp. The doublet has the name T.P. Milne-Home on an old cloth name tag attached inside the collar.

Milne-Home's uniform. Picture courtesy of Stuart Graham
A check in Army lists revealed Thomas Patrick Milne-Home joined the HLI as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1895, promoted to Lieutenant in 1898 and then to Captain in 1901.

On contacting Sandy Leishman at the RHF museum he came up with some interesting information on this officer. He was born in 1875 and died at Darlington N/Yorks in 1956 aged 81. He was wounded at Dewetsdorp during the Boer War in 1900, but then in early 1901 was dismissed the service and then reinstated some months later, but Sandy had no more information as to why.

On looking through Proud Heritage (Story of the HLI) it revealed that only one HLI officer was wounded at Dewetsdorp (no name is mentioned) so this confirmed Sandy's information but the interesting thing was that the officer concerned had surrendered his post to the Boers and had been court-martialled and dismissed the service.

The Queens South Africa medal casualty roll only mentions one HLI officer as being wounded at Dewetsdorp and names him as Lieutenant T.P. Milne-Home.

Col. Kelham's Boer War Diary contains information on the action at Dewetsdorp and states:

"The fighting had been incessant for several days but about 3pm on Friday 23 November came the climax. Several men, some of them gunners, others infantry driven out of their own trenches by the enemy's fire and more or less demoralised, rushed headlong into one held by a young subaltern and some men of the HLI. The officer had already been wounded and was worn out, body and mind, by the strain of the continuous fighting and want of sleep. The trench was outflanked and under close fire so apparently pressed by his companions he raised a white handkerchief and all was over."

Col. Kelham goes on to say that this action cost the officer his commission but by order of H.M. King Edward the case was re-opened and the officer reinstated, he also says that in his opinion the young officer was made a scapegoat for the outcome of the action at  Dewetsdorp.

Further research at the National Archives shows that Lt Milne-Home's court martial was held at Bloemfontein on 29 Jan 1901 the charge being "Shamefully delivering up a post. Knowing doing an act (showing white flag) calculated to --------."   The remainder unreadable. The sentence "Dismissed the Service".  It also says "Laid before the King 9 March 1901".  A hearing was then held which exonerated him and he was reinstated. He was promoted to Captain in April 1901.

The QSA medal roll for the 1st Battalion HLI initially in 1901 shows against his name "On Black List" but in 1903 it was altered to read "Medal to be given as all record of conviction should be removed".   He was entitled to 4 clasps on the QSA medal,  Paardeberg, Wittebergen, Cape Colony and South Africa 1901.

In the 1904 Army List he was shown as Captain 2nd Battalion HLI, in the 1909 list still shown as Captain 2 Btn but also shown as on the strength of the 4th HLI Special Reserve (Militia).  He went on to half pay in August 1909.  There is no record of him serving in WW1.

After the Boer War and no doubt after his court-martial it states in Proud Heritage "the principle was somewhat forcefully laid down in "INFANTRY TRAINING" that, failing orders to withdraw, a position would be held "to the last man and last round" and that "a final effort will be made with the bayonet, rather than surrender".

Attached is a photo of Captain Milne-Home taken in full dress uniform sometime after the Boer War also a photo of a display dummy with his items of uniform included.  The other items I have added from my collection. 

Many thanks to Sandy Leishman, Tom MacGruer and Barry Thacker for their help with research.

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