High Adventure

The view from the Dr. Philip Millard's Residence of Wittenberg Mountain and Ursula's favorite golden poplars in the Eastern C
The view from the Dr. Philip Millard's Residence of Wittenberg Mountain and Ursula's favorite golden poplars in the Eastern Cape painted by her in 1935.

The view of Wittebergen Mountain and Ursula’s favorite golden poplars in the Eastern Cape painted by her in 1935.

High Adventure 

Joan inherited her skillful compassion from her father, Dr. Philip Millard, who sought high adventure in Africa.

High Adventure 

After dark, following a long days ride, Dr. Millard reached Herschel and pitched camp.  It was 1899, the first year of the Boer War.   He was riding with a column of the  British Army.  In the early dawn, there was the mountain, rising 3000 feet out of the  high plain.  Part of the Drakensberg, it had a stratum of white rock about a thousand feet from the summit, the Wittebergen (White Mountain).   It was teeming with wild game.  He vowed to come back when the ‘ruddy’ war was over.

Collins, his batman, said “Cor Sir, some people have strange tastes.  Miles and miles of nothing, I calls it.  As for me, I can’t wait to get out of this country and back to little ol’ England.”

Dr. Millard went off on foot to pay a courtesy visit to the District Surgeon.  “Let me know if you ever leave.”

“I love it here and I am sure I will never leave, but give me your address anyway, if you like.” Three years later Dr. Millard got a brief note saying, wife can’t stand the isolation.  Do you still want the job?

Millard established as a surgeon at a big hospital in Leeds, engaged to beautiful Ursula Forster, cabled back Yes.

The job wasn’t well paid.  All work was done on horseback, later on a motorbike, and finally, long after everyone else had a car, by car.  He loved his work and patients, 55,000 Africans, living in the remote mountainous country.

He had no hospital or help of any kind.  He ran vaccination campaigns for smallpox which was rife, treated lepers, and was one of the first to try diphtheria vaccine with his children as guinea pigs.  He extracted teeth, and coped with difficult childbirths.  All his outside work was done in the most primitive conditions.

He did amputations, the most dramatic of which was when a man fell down a cliff.  His leg wedged in a crack of rock.  Dr. Millard, let down on a sling, amputated the leg at the knee, heaved the man into the sling and waited, hanging onto bushes until the sling returned.  The man was taken to town many miles away.  The surgery was much admired by the hospital staff, the patient eventually returning home with a wooden leg.

Plastic surgery was unheard of at the time, but he would patch up dreadful wounds from accidents or fighting with spears. He had some amazing results.

Septicaemia was a big danger then, before sulpha drugs were introduced.  Dr. Millard himself almost died from a jab from a rose thorn.  His obituary was published in the local paper, to the embarrassment of the little editor!

Excerpts taken  from Rain on the Roof, by Joan (nee Millard) Freyburg (1999) ISBN 0 646 38477 5 with  family permission.   Tim Hughes has made electronic copies of this wonderful book that may be available on request via the comments section of this blog.