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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Milne, John Alexander (1872–1918)

by Betty Crouchley

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

John Alexander Milne (1872-1918), farmer, agent and soldier, was born on 23 March 1872 at Woodside, Cromar, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, son of Alexander Milne, labourer, and Jane McCombie, and was educated at Torphins School. He arrived in Brisbane as a free immigrant on the Dorunda in August 1890. Initially a farm-labourer in the Wide Bay district, he was a miner in 1897 and then engine-driver on the Gympie goldfield, and in 1903-06 a farmer at Kilkivan Junction. He became a commercial traveller for hardware firms, based at Maryborough and from 1908 at Bundaberg, where he established a commission agency in 1913 and was a dealer for the International Harvester Co. of Australia Pty Ltd.

An excellent rifle-shot, Milne was from 1908 an officer in the Wide Bay Regiment's 1st Battalion (later the 4th Infantry Battalion). He enlisted in the 9th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, as a captain on 20 August 1914 and sailed on the first troopship to leave Queensland.

On 25 April 1915 Milne took 'E' Company ashore at Gallipoli; although wounded five times he continued encouraging his men until he collapsed and was dragged down to the beach where it was realized he was still alive. After treatment in hospital he returned to Gallipoli but on 11 November, two days after his promotion to major, he was evacuated because of fever and in January 1916 was invalided to Australia.

After enthusiastic civic welcomes in Maryborough and Bundaberg, Milne told in recruiting speeches, 'cheered to the echo', of his pleasure in leading such men as the Australians, unveiled the honour board of St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Bundaberg, and enjoyed a short fishing holiday at Urangan. On 1 May 1916 he resumed duty with the A.I.F. and was appointed second-in-command of the 41st Battalion. Reaching France in November, he was promoted lieutenant-colonel and given command of the 36th Battalion on 24 February 1917. Gassed at Messines, and injured by a shell at Passchendaele, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in August for 'great capacity and initiative' and was mentioned in dispatches in December.

In March 1918 Milne successfully organized and executed two important raids on German defences near Warneton, and at Villers-Bretonneux on 4 April led a spectacular bayonet charge. Generals Birdwood, Goddard, Monash and Rosenthal appreciated Milne's achievements but before receiving official recognition he was killed on 12 April 1918 by a shell and was buried in Heath cemetery, Harbonnières.

Strong, broad-shouldered, seemingly fearless, with a powerful voice and marked Scots accent, the sandy-haired Milne was well liked and respected by his troops. A rugged individualist, with little respect for formality though a rigid disciplinarian, he was an eminently practical and competent soldier with a strong sense of duty.

On 6 October 1898 at Kilkivan Junction, Queensland, in a Primitive Methodist ceremony performed by Rev. John Adamson, Milne had married Mary Elise May Bull who, with their three sons, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. E. W. Bean, The A.I.F. in France, 1918 (Syd, 1937)
  • N. K. Harvey, From Anzac to the Hindenburg Line (Brisb, 1941)
  • London Gazette, 24 Aug, 28 Dec 1917
  • Maryborough Chronicle, 16, 22 Feb 1916
  • Brisbane Courier, 27 Apr 1918
  • Sydney Mail, 22 May 1918
  • private information.

Citation details

Betty Crouchley, 'Milne, John Alexander (1872–1918)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

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