Henry Edward Gallagher was born in March 1855 of a poor Roman Catholic family at Thurles, County Tipperary, Ireland. His farming parents died of disease so the Catholic church took over the farm and raised Henry. He began his working life as a clerk.
At the age of 19 Henry ran away and boarded a ship for Liverpool. On the 13 March 1874 he enlisted for the 25th Brigade of the British Army - Regimental number 81 - for 12 years service with the 24th (Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot. He was assigned to 'B' company of the 2nd Battalion.
He became a Lance-Corporal on 11 March 1875, a Corporal on 1 April 1876 and a Sergeant on 9 October 1877. During April of that year he married Carolina Maria Stanley. He was now 22 years old.
After 4 years of home service he embarked on 1 February 1878 on the troopship Himalaya at Plymouth which was bound for South Africa. Over the next year he was saw his first active service in what became known as Cape Frontier Wars.
On 9 January 1879 his Battalion advanced towards the frontier of Zululand and set-up camp by two thatched buildings - a storehouse and a field hospital - which made up the small mission station known as Rorke's Drift. It was a place Henry and his comrades would remember for the rest of their lives.
At three in the afternoon on Wednesday 22 January 1879 news reached the camp that the British Army outpost at Isandlwana had been taken by the Zulus and all the men in it massacred. A wing of the Zulu Army was now on its way to attack Rorke's Drift. A decision was made to stand and fight. The camp was hurriedly fortified with anything to hand, and Sergeant Gallagher was placed in charge of the south wall where two wagons had been included in the barricade. There were 139 men to defend the post, a quarter of whom had been hospital patients that morning.
It is estimated that they were attacked by 3,000 Zulus of which 350 were killed. The battle left 15 defenders dead, 2 dying and 10 wounded. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded, the most ever gained by one regiment for a single action in British Military history. This successful defence has often been summed-up as: aided by the Martini-Henry rifle 'with some guts behind it'. Henry carried the scars of the defence with a permanent blue mark on the right side of his nose, which was a powder burn caused by the backflash each time he fired his rifle. For a full account of Rorke's Drift click here.
The trauma of battle suffered by the defenders had a deep effect on them and many soldiers discharged from Army service soon after the war. Henry chose to remain with the Colours and became known as 'A Rorke's Drift man'.
He arrived back at Brecon, via Gibraltar, on 3 December 1880, and was later promoted to Colour-Sergeant. In July of that year the regiment was re-named South Wales Borderers and Colour Sergeant Gallagher was given regimental number 1590. On 3 January 1883 Henry, his wife, and their new daughter Caroline, went with the 2nd Battalion to India where they had four more children. They stayed there for the next 10 years.
After more adventures in Burma the family arrived back in England in 18 November 1893 where the Battalion was stationed at Hilsea and Gosport, Hampshire. Henry continued his service beyond the normal 21 years and on 10 August 1895 he was appointed to the Army Staff as Garrison Sergeant-Major. His last child was born in Portsmouth on 9 June 1895 and his last tour of duly took him to Egypt until 30 March 1897.
Henry was discharged from the Army at Gosport on 10 May 1897 after serving the Colours for 23 years. He became Barrack Warden at Portsmouth and lived in a house called Wisteria in Augustine Road Drayton Portsmouth. During his retirement he was fond of walking for miles on Portsdown where he would recount his campaigns to old friends.
Henry Edward Gallagher died at his home on 17 December 1931 aged 75 and was buried with full military honours at Christ Church, Portsdown, Portsmouth
copied source ~~portstown//