A few years ago, my wife was nursing at Rookwood Hospital in Cardiff. I don't know how the subject came up, but one of her patients had had relatives involved in the Zulu Wars, so I loaned him my copy of Bancroft's Rourke's Drift through my wife. I never met Bill but he sent me a letter by hand, and I am going to copy this below in case it is of interest. I suspect that Bill may not have survived his illness, given that Rookwood at the time was a home to many paraplegic patients, and is due to be demolished in the next few years.
The letter is handwritten, six pages long, and is as follows. I hope that this is of interest.
Thank you for the loan of your book.
Four of my family were in Zululand c.1879. My father's maternal grandfather, who as 963 David Lewis, was one of the defenders at Fort Revenge ( as his daughter, my grandmother, always referred to it, as he also did in his letters home ) or Rourke's Drift.
One of his half-brothers ' Clarke ' was in a different company and so was killed in action just up the road at Isandlwana, as was my mother's great-great-uncle ( from her mother's paternal side ) Griffiths V.C. along with his nephew.
Two others from my mother's maternal mother's side were also in Zululand c1881, but with the Welch Regiment. We have photos of them on the battlefield of Isandlwana.
They subsequently transferred to the Royal Engineers and both won DCMs in the Sudan with that Unit, one going on to win another ( colonial ) DCM in the Natal Rebellion c 1906, after both serving in the Boer War of 1899-1902. Both were killed in action in 1914, after putting their ages back to re-enlist with the 2nd Welch. Their nephew, who put his age forward to re-enlist, died at Rookwood Hospital in 1967.
David Lewis of Rourke's Drift was born in Swansea, though his father, a master mariner, was from Llandaff nr Cardiff. His wife to be was from Cardiff.
Both his father and his stepfather were lost at sea, he had to leave education, and to keep the family afloat, at various times, my paternal great grandfather and the Clarke Bros would often resort to ' pear-cropping'.
That is enlisting into the army usually under an alias, getting the bounty which was officially abolished in c 1881, but in practice went on in various guises until 1914, and then desert if possible before reaching their regiment, never mind being posted overseas.
However, this was not the case when he enlisted in the 24th. He was working as a policeman in Cardiff and his wife was carrying my gran. He had a dispute with a superior. This left the aforementioned laid out on the ground very much the worse for wear ( my great grandfather was a bare knuckle fighter, like his father before, and he fought under the name of 'Gay Jack' and himself on the run.
Cardiff being too hot for him and hearing that the 24th ( 2nd Warwickshire ) were soon to be re-christened ( 1881 ) South Wales Borderers. With this change in mind, a new depot was already being set up in Brecon.
Like the Foreign Legion, recruits could enlist no papers / ID ever asked for. This suited my great-grandfather for a number of reasons. One being he was already a deserter from 23rd Fusiliers ( Royal Welch ) and a veteran of the Ashantee Campaign, where he and Clarke won the DCM while as acting sergeants seconded to the West Indian Regiment.
The DCM is named to the 23rd Fusiliers, but he appears on the West Indian Regiment Roll.
My sources for the above are 25 letters he sent home from the period ( he did not get back to Cardiff until c 1884 ), medals, photos, various documents, and the oral tract given to me by his daughter, my paternal gran, until she died in 1968 when I was 14.
Among the documents were a number of 'Protecting Certificates' granted by the Queen as pardons during one of her Jubilees ( 50th? ). They have my great grandfather's alias, as well as his real name on each.
In point of fact, the only unit I could trace that he enlisted into in his real name was the First Glamorgan Yeomanry contingent to go to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.
He survived his ' year and one day ', the Clarke half brother ( brother to Alfie Clarke killed in action at Isandhlwana ) died of fever, or so my great grandfather heard, as he was not with him at ' base camp '.
My great grandfather subsequently went on to serve in a colonial unit until the end of that war.
However, his story does not end there. He was reported dead in ' Ankoken ', West Africa, on Wednesday July 18th 1906.
I have never been able to trace a place called Ankoken. Though a merchant seaman from Barbados told me ' his folks had come from that place, and it was in Sierra Leone '.
In fact my great grandfather served with the Grenadier Guards and was medically discharged in the Autumn of 1914. But he re-enlisted in the Welsh Home in 1914. They were also known as the South Wales Lancers but ended up as part of a service battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and also saw action in Egypt, the Holyland, and the Western Front. This is where his story ends.
Thank you again for the loan of your book. Among the photographs given to me by my gran are the one on pp99. My great grandfather is sitting at the extreme right / front, directly behind the bearded bloke with the mascot ( 'Pip' ).
He is also in the photo on p110. We have a better print of this. We were told it was taken before the stand at Fort Revenge, the above after.
I have also one of B Coy, 24th Ft. taken at Fort Revenge when they formed-up, to see the column off. In this they wear their helmets and equipment, and are at attention.
My great grandfather recovered this ( the plate ) off of the battlefield at Isandhlwana, sometime after the defeat. One of the officers' hobby was photography, he writes home, and he has had a print made. He also writes " this was the last time I saw Africa ".
All the very best,
One of my great grandfather's letters home states that his draft is on its way to join the regiment in South A.
In addition to 2 spares of boots for their own use, each member of the draft has 2 spares of boots for the troops already out there.
Also each member of his draft have 20 new helmet plates packed in their kit, so the boys already out there will look just as smart as the new draft.
Being ex regular army myself, this amuses me. It shows that the army never changes. The spare boots are an obvious necessity ( if very heavy in your back pack ). But as to the helmet plates! Well they say bullshit baffles brains, don't they?
No wonder the Zulus won - they were on a different wavelength.
Incidentally, I met Kenneth Griffith at the Conway pub near Severn Grove in the 1970s. It was a Free Wales Army ( Welsh Nationalist ) Pub in those days. I was a serving soldier at the time. I went there to home-up on my Welsh, which was very useful on my signallers course. As well as down a few pints! But that's another story "
I have tried to reproduce Bill's letter accurately, but any spelling mistakes are mine!!