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 BOMBADIER THOMAS LEWIS (1854-1910)

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Saul David 1879



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PostSubject: BOMBADIER THOMAS LEWIS (1854-1910)   Thu Mar 05, 2009 7:50 pm

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Lewis joined the Royal Artillery as Gunner 458 on November 21st, 1874. In February 1878 he was with 'N' Battery in South Africa, he was promoted to Bombadier. Bombardier Thomas Lewis had some luck that he perhaps did not regard as such. After a wagon overturned on him and badly injured his leg, he was in the Field Hospital at Rorkes Drift. Had this not been the case, he would have been with “N/5” at Isandhlwana. Rorkes Drift was a trading post built by James Rorke. In January 1879 it was serving as a Commissariat and Field Hospital. It was regarded as a backwater and lightly defended.

Zulus repeatedly attacked the hospital and set the roof alight. Henry Hook defended a doorway single handed for several hours with bullet and bayonet. Private 1395 John Williams hacked through walls with his bayonet to get the patients back to (relative) safety. At the other end of the building Privates 716 Robert Jones and 593 William Jones also defended each inch at bayonet point. Private Cole and another of the Hospital Guard were soon killed. Private 1398 Joseph Williams defended a window single handed and when his ammunition ran out, he continued to defend the window at bayonet point. Eventually the Zulus dragged him out and disembowled him. After the battle, 14 dead Zulus were found by “Joseph Williams Window” and many more in his field of fire.

Eventually the Hospital Guard got most of the patients out of the hospital and carried those who could not walk through a rain of assegais and bullets to the Commissariat. Thomas Lewis, had to jump out of a window despite injury to his leg, and crawl the 30 or so yards across open ground to some form of safety. Miraculously he reached the Commissariat unscathed.

The battle continued all night but in the morning the Zulus being unable to take Kwa Jimu (Rorkes Drift) and fearing the arrival of Chelmsford’s reinforcements, retreated. Thus a military legend was born. 11 VCs were awarded, including Chard, Bromhead, Dalton, Henry Hook, John Williams, Robert Jones, and William Jones.

Bombardier Lewis developed fever in addition to his leg injury and was taken to the hospital at Pietermaritzberg. Thomas’ brother in law was dead, he was injured and although he was unaware at the time, his father had died six weeks before the battle.

3rd July 1882 at Windsor Great Park, Lewis was accorded the great honour of being personally presented to Queen Victoria. Victoria always retained a soft spot for Rorkes Drift Defenders and it was she who coined the phrase, “The defence of Rorkes Drift is Immortal”.

Circa 1885 Thomas Lewis left the Army. He worked briefly as a Prison Officer, perhaps in Brecon. He then came to London and took up residence in Highgate and became Horse Tram Driver. It is believed he worked for London Street Tramways, based at Junction Road or London Metropolitan Tramways based at Highgate (Holloway Road) Depot. Both these companies were taken over by London County Council Tramways. The first date that Thomas can be placed in this occupation is January 1898, as he is shown as such on his eldest child’s Birth Certificate.

In August 1910 Thomas developed Appendicitis. This was a very serious matter in 1910 and the only “free” hospital with the technology to operate was The London Hospital Whitechapel. Thomas Lewis’ full daily medical notes is still extant for his final 77 days.

After his initial operation (before the days of antibiotics) Pus developed and also gangrene. Thomas’ wound was opened twice more. In addition, various drainage tubes were inserted. Despite this and being bedridden from August, Thomas recovered to the point that he was considered for discharge. (No actual date has been given by Thomas’ Grandson-in-Law) but at 10.22 pm in Richmond Ward, London Hospital, Thomas’ Medical Notes record….”Was practically ready to go out till 2-3 minutes from death, when he was reading a book and seen to drop it and fall dead”. The note was signed by Mr Levy the house surgeon

Thomas died from a Pulmonary Embolism. There is a final twist, line six and seven of Thomas’ Post Mortem Report records….”Small amount of fibrin along sinus which leads to a pus soaked Gauze Swab. Fibrous adhesions around the swab”! They left a swab inside him after one of his three operations. Although this was not the direct cause of death, it would have delayed his recovery and made the final Pulmonary Embolism more likely. Thus, after surviving the horrors of Rorkes Drift and Victorian working class society, Thomas’ demise was at least hastened by the negligence of Hugh Rigby, his Surgeon.


He is buried in Highgate Cemetery in a pauper’s grave

See Pictorial catalogue of AZW graves

HIGHGATE CEMETERY MILITARY
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PostSubject: Re: BOMBADIER THOMAS LEWIS (1854-1910)   Thu Sep 24, 2009 11:15 pm

THE heroic background of a soldier buried in an unmarked grave in Highgate Cemetery has been unearthed by his granddaughter's husband.

John Roker has painstakingly researched the life of Thomas Lewis and found that he was one of the few to survive the siege of Rorke's Drift in 1879.

Bombardier Thomas Lewis of the N Battery 5th Brigade Royal Artillery escaped death at the battle immortalised in the 1964 film Zulu starring Sir Michael Caine.

Mr Roker, who lives in Gloucestershire, said: "My research started nearly two years ago. My late mother-in-law Gladys Blackwell always maintained her father fought at the defence of Rorke's Drift.

"To my shame, I did not pursue this while she was alive. My knowledge then was confined to watching the film Zulu which I now know to be historically inaccurate.

"I believed, again to my shame, that the research would take only a few hours, I would prove it was a load of rubbish and still be in time for a pint and a pipe in the village pub."

But Mr Roker found there was certainly more than a grain of truth in his mother-in-law's stories and that his wife's grandfather was a "brave and gallant soldier, who while an ordinary man, led a most eventful life".

Born in Brecon, Wales, Thomas Lewis joined the Royal Artillery in 1874 and was dispatched to South Africa in 1878. After being injured when a wagon fell on him, he was taken to Rorke's Drift, a supply station and makeshift field hospital. On the morning of January 22, 1879, Rorke's Drift became the stuff of legend when 150 soldiers successfully defended it against some 4,000 Zulus.

In 1882, Bombardier Lewis met Queen Victoria and was also awarded the South Africa Medal with Zulu Wars Clasp.

He left the army around 1885 and later came to London, where he worked as a horse tram driver. He and Annie Price had six children and the family lived in several places, including Despard Road and Highgate Hill. In August 1910, Thomas developed appendicitis and was taken to The London Hospital in Whitechapel.

After studying his post mortem notes, Mr Roker said: "They left a swab inside him after one of his three operations.

"Thus after surviving the horrors of Rorke's Drift and Victorian working class society, Thomas's demise was at least hastened by the negligence of his surgeon."

With the help of staff at Highgate Cemetery, Mr Roker located his relative's grave.

Simon Moore-Martin, manager of Highgate Cemetery said: "He's buried in a common grave so there's likely to be more than one person buried there. It's not visible from the path so we cannot include it in the tour but it could be mentioned."

Source: .hamhigh
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