Private William Beckett attested at Manchester in April 1874 at the age of eighteen. Initially posted to the 2nd Battalion, he transferred to the 1st towards the end of the year. He first saw action in South Africa when with reinforcements for Komgha in 1877, but by 22 January, 1879, he was in hospital at Rorke's Drift. Private J. Waters, also of the 1st Bn., and a special orderly in the hospital, recounted the events of that night in The Cambrian (13thy June, 1879):
"...Between half past four and five, as near as I can remember, the Zulus came over the hill and I saw about fifty of them form a line in skirmishing orders... They came about twenty yards, and then opened fire on the hospital. Some of them came in and set fire to it. While I was there I took refuge in a cupboard, and Private Beckett, an invalid, came with me. As they were going out I killed many of them, and as I could not stay there long, the place being suffocating, I put on a black cloak which I found in the cupboard, and which must have belonged to Mr. Witt (a Reverend who whose mission was based at Rorke's Drift), and ran out in the long grass and lay down. The Zulus must have thought I was one of their dead comrades, as they were all round about me, and some trod on me. Beckett had gone out half an hour before me, and he, poor fellow, was assegaied right through his stomach, and went into laager the next morning. Dr. Reynolds did all he could to save him, but did not succeed... Poor Beckett was buried next morning properly. Round the hospital dead Zulus were piled high."
Major J.R.M. Chard, V.C., also described Beckett's fate in his account written at the request of Queen Victoria:
"Private Beckett...was badly wounded with assegais in running through the enemy. He managed to get away and conceal himself in the ditch of the Garden, where we found him next morning. The poor fellow was so weak from loss of blood that he could not walk, and he died shortly thereafter."
Private William Beckett is commemorated on the monument at Rorke's Drift and his effects were claimed by his relatives.
Pte. W. Beckett was one of four men from the 1/24th Killed in Action at Rorke's Drift.