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TOPIC: Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana

Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana 2 years 4 months ago #53081

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This example from DNW, February 1999 which sold for £5,400.

[CMG]
SAGS (1) 1879 (Lieut. A. F. Henderson, Natal Native Horse)
[QSA]
[Natal 1906]

Alfred Fairlie Henderson was born sometime in1854 and educated at Heidelberg in Germany, returning to Natal in 1872 where he began farming and prospecting for gold. Of his fortunate escape from the battlefield of Isandhlwana, the following details appeared in the Natal newspapers at the time of his death: “With the passing of Mr. Henderson, Natal has lost a soldier whose experiences in the Zulu and Anglo Boer Wars were probably more trying than any other men who survived them. In 1879 he was one of the very few to escape the massacre of Isandhlwana and in 1899/1900 he again figured in the very few who existed through the siege of Ladysmith. It was his extensive knowledge of the Zulu language, his wide experience of Dutch habits and his familiarity with every part of Natal that made him an extraordinarily useful man in these wars. And, combined with those acquired qualifications there was an innate ability for soldiering which readily brought him to the forefront in the Intelligence Department in both campaigns. At the outbreak of the Zulu War in 1879 Mr. Henderson was placed in command of a big batch of natives recruited from Edendale under Captain George Shepstone. This contingent was amongst those surrounded but with one or two others Mr. Henderson broke through the weakest spot in the Usutu circle and effected a narrow escape. Having come through such a slaughter with his own life one would have expected that he would have moved on to safety as quickly as possible, but he did not, and in his actions at this juncture one can read the bravery, unselfishness and hardiness which combined to form a noble character. One of the very few Natal Carbimeers who escaped was Trooper Barker whose narrative of the battle was taken as an official one. In Barker’s description one reads that he (Barker) escaped and was riding away when he came across Lieutenant Higginson who was running away having lost his horse in crossing the flooded river. Barker gave his horse to Higginson and continued on foot. It appears that Mr. Henderson saw Higginson riding and recognised Barker’s horse, so promptly discovered that Barker was left behind unmounted, fleeing from a horde of blood-thirsty Zulus. It was riding to a possible death but Mr. Henderson did not waver. He collected another horse and rode back to meet Barker. In company with other men they escaped to Helpmekaar.”

Three days after the disaster at Isandhlwana Henderson wrote to his father from Helpmekaar, “You will have heard before this reaches you of the fight and massacre in Zululand. I would have written you yesterday only I wanted to try and hear something about George [Capt. G. J. P. Shepstone, Natal Native Horse, killed - Alfred’s brother-in-law]. I am afraid there is no hope for him. Colonel Durnford we think was killed as he has not turned up. The kaffirs surrounded us in thousands. We were fighting from about 9.30 a.m. until about 2 p.m. when the Zulus drove us into the camp. Our kaffirs fought well and stood their ground until we were surrounded. I never saw George all through the fight as he was with another part of our mounted men. There must have been about five hundred of our men killed. Twenty-two of the Natal Carbineers are killed. I don’t know what they are going to do with us just now. We have lost everything belonging to us. We may have to go down to town to fit out again then I will be able to give you more particulars.”

Alfre wrote again three days later with further details: “I wrote you the other day to say that I had got out of the fight the other day. I have not as yet heard anything about George. If I had known what sort of a man Durnford was (when he got into action) I don’t think I would have gone with him. He was close to me during most of the fight and he lost his head altogether in fact he did not know what to do. The General was (I think) a good deal to blame as he left the camp in such a bad place to defend. As far as I can make out there are about 700 killed white and black. They say there were about 20,000 Zulus and I think there must have been quite that number. We shot hundreds of them but it seemed to make no impression they still came on. Here we are now with nothing, all I saved was my mackintosh which was on the saddle. I have got one shilling left today. We have got to patrol the country with my troop and the Edendale troop, the only ones left...”

It is curious that Henderson makes no reference in his letters to the remarkable defence of Rorke’s Drift, for, at about 3.30 p.m. he arrived there from Isandhlwana with some one hundred men of the Hlubi and Edendale troops, Natal Native Horse. Lieutenant Chard, no doubt grateful for some reinforcements in light of the disturbing news that Henderson carried with him, put them out as a mounted screen to observe the Drift and the reverse slope of the Oskarberg. Several more survivors from Isandhlwana arrived and attempted to impress upon the garrison the futility of a defence, but Chard’s resolve could not be altered. These survivor’s, however, having seen the horror of Isandhlwana, and believing the same fate would surely befall Rorke’s Drift, continued their flight. At about 4.20 p.m. sporadic gunfire was heard behind the Oskarberg, and the Natal Light Horse galloped past the mission station in the direction of Helpmekaar. Lieutenant Henderson, pausing only to report that his troops refused to obey orders, took off in pursuit of them.

Henderson shortly afterwards contracted typhoid fever and returned to his home where he was nursed back to health in time to be in at the kill when the Zulu power was crushed at the battle of Ulundi. For the next twenty years Alfred was engaged in business with interests in several mining concessions amongst other enterprises. In the Boer War Henderson again came to prominence and received high commendation from the Director of Military Intelligence: “Mr. Alfred Fairlie Henderson, Field Intelligence Department, took part in the Defence of Ladysmith and was present at the operations near Helpmekaar and the actions at Alleman’s Nek and Bergendal and the advance on Lydenburg. Mr. Henderson’s services were invaluable. Mentioned in despatches, London Gazette 8th February, 1901.” For his scouting services throughout the defence of Ladysmith, Henderson was created a C.M.G.

Alfred subsequently served through the Zulu Rebellion of 1906 in the Helpmekaar Field Force under Colonel Mackay of Estcourt and was Chief Leader of the 1st Estcourt Militia Reserves. In a newspaper report of the 1st June, 1906, a correspondent with this force wrote that it seems a strange coincidence so many years after Isandhlwana that the Carbineers should camp on the scene of the calamity which had taken place twenty-seven years earlier. He added that it seemed even stranger since, with the Carbineers in the person of Mr. Henderson, chief leader of the Estcourt, Mooi River and other reservists, there should be one of the survivors of the fight. “A hale hearty old Gentleman, Mr. Henderson despite his years is as eager now as he was in the full vigour of his youth in pursuing the work he has taken up.”
Dr David Biggins

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Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana 2 years 4 months ago #53082

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SAGS (1) 1877-8-9 (299 Pte. W. Johnson, 1/24th Foot)

DNW December 1999, £3,500.

The statements, held in the Regimental Museum, of the six private soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment, who escaped from the battlefield of Isandhlwana, 22nd January, 1879, were published for the first time in Medal Rolls of the 24th Regiment of Foot, South Wales Borderers by Norman Holme (J. B. Hayward & Son 1971) and subsequently in The Silver Wreath by Norman Holme (Samson Books 1979), to whom acknowledgement is hereby given for that reproduced here. The following is the statement of 299 Private William Johnson, 1/24th Regiment:

‘I was one of the Rocket Battery under command of the late Captain Russell, R.A., which was attached to Colonel Durnford’s Column. We got to Isandhlwana Camp about 11 a.m. on the 22nd January 1879. We halted there about 10 minutes when Colonel Durnford came down from the Campof the 1/24th Regiment and gave orders that, as the Zulus were retiring fast, the mounted men should advance up a hill about two and a half miles from Camp, and that the Rocket Battery supported by the Infantry of the Native Contingent should follow in rear of the Mounted Basutos. About two miles out we met a ‘vidette’ of the Natal Carbineers who reported that the Mounted Basutos were heavily engaged on the opposite side of a hill on our left, at the same time offering to show us a short cut to the place where the engagement was going on. The Captain galloped up the hill and before he returned to us shouted ‘Action front’.

While we were getting into action the Zulus kept coming out of a kloof on our left, which the big guns had been shelling from the Camp. We had time to fire our rocket when they came over the hill in masses, and commenced to fire on us. As soon as they opened fire the mules carrying the rockets broke away. The Native Contingent, who were in the rear of us, after firing a few shots ran away. I observed that a great number of them were unable to extract the empty cartridge cases after firing, and offered to do so for some of them but they would not give me their rifles. Before this the horses had broken away and I tried to help Captain Russel from the field, but he was shot before we had gone many paces. I made my escape to a donga held by some of the Police, Mounted Infantry and Carbineers. On my way to this place I met Colonel Durnford and he asked me where my battery was; I told him that the battery was cut up and the Captain shot, when he said you had better go back and fetch him. I then pointed out to him that the enemy had already nearly surrounded us. At this time he was mounted as well as his orderly who had a spare horse, and he retired with a few Basutos towards the left of the Camp. Just below the Camp I met Privates Trainer and Grant with Bombardier Gough, they gave me a horse. We then went up to the Camp and found the Police extended in front of it and they were shortly afterwards driven in. The Camp was now almost completely surrounded and I made for the Buffalo following some of the Police and other mounted men, and crossed it below Rorke’s Drift. I afterwards met Major Spalding on the road to Helpmakaar, and turned back and joined the Companies 1/24th under Major Upcher. We met a lot of natives on the left of the road to the Drift but could not make out what they were for certain.’
Dr David Biggins

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Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana 2 years 4 months ago #53084

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Picture courtesy of DNW

IGS 1854 (1) Perak (228 Pte. T. Westwood, 80th Foot);
SAGS (1) 1878-9 (228 Pte. T. Westwood, 80th Foot),

In his capacity as a member of the Mounted Infantry, Westwood served in Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel H. B. Pulleine’s No. 3 Column, which force was decimated at Isandhlwana on 22 January 1879. He had earlier seen active service in Perak 1875-76, and in operations against the Sekukini in 1878.

At which point Westwood decided to make his escape from Isandhlwana remains unknown, but presumably shortly after midday on the 22nd, when the right flank gave way - hot on his tail was Private Samuel Wassall, also of the 80th Foot, attached Mounted Infantry, riding a Basuto pony. Unbeknown to either of them was that subsequent events at “Fugitive’s Drift” on the River Buffalo were to be witnessed by Captain William Barton of the Natal Native Horse, who, on learning of their survival, submitted the following statement:

‘As I approached the river, a man of the Mounted Infantry [Wassall] was riding in front of me, and I also saw at the same time another man of the Mounted Infantry [Westwood] struggling in the river and he called out his comrade’s name; he was apparently drowning. The Zulus were at this time firing at our people from above us, others were down on the bank of the river stabbing others of our people on both sides of where I was. The man from the Mounted Infantry, who rode down in front of me, dismounted, left his horse on the Zulu side and sprang into the river to save his comrade. I consider this man performed a most gallant and courageous act, in trying to save his comrade at almost certain risk of his own life. I crossed the river myself about the same time and did not think it was possible that either of these two men could have escaped alive; indeed I spoke some days afterwards to Lieutenant Walsh of the Mounted Infantry, of circumstances which I had witnessed and spoke of it to him as evidence of my having seen two of his men lost at the Buffalo River.’

How Barton came to learn of Mounted Infantrymen’s survival was a remarkable story in itself. A few days after Isandhlwana, while visiting the hospital at Helpmekaar, he described to a fellow officer the act of gallantry he had witnessed at Fugitive’s Drift, an account that was overheard by a soldier lying in a nearby bed - none other than Westwood, who was happy to identify his rescuer as Private Samuel Wassall. Barton’s subsequent submission, as cited above, in addition to a sworn statement made by Westwood before the District Magistrate at Pietermaritzburg in April 1879, resulted in the gallant Wassall being gazetted for the Victoria Cross, the only such distinction won by an Isandhlwana survivor.

‘For his gallant conduct in having, at the imminent risk of his own life, saved that of Private Westwood of the same regiment. On 22 January 1879, when the camp at Isandhlwana was taken by the enemy, Private Wassall retreated towards the Buffalo River, in which he saw a comrade struggling and apparently drowning. He rode to the bank, dismounted, leaving his horse on the Zulu side, rescued the man from the stream and again mounted his horse, dragging Private Westwood across the river under a heavy shower of bullets’ (London Gazette 17 June 1879 refers).

That October, an issue of the children’s magazine Aunt Judy included a story entitled Jackanapes, written by Juliana Horatia Ewing, an army officer’s wife, a tale said to have been inspired by real events in the Zulu War. Indeed the rescue of the character Tony by his friend Jackanapes, after he falls from his horse, is believed to be based on Westwood’s rescue by Wassall - “Leave you? To save my skin? No, Tony, not to save my soul!”; moreover, the same story inspired Rolf Harris’ song Two Little Boys, which went to No. 1 in the charts 90 years after events at Fugitive’s Drift on the River Buffalo.

DNW July 2010. £28,000.
Dr David Biggins
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