Sunday, May 13, 2012

Zulu War Ancestors continued

Men who fought in the Zulu War didn't suddenly materialize at the start of the campaign. The milestones discovered in the soldier's service documents make it possible to find out more about the ancestor's origins, his parents and siblings, using birth and baptismal records, census entries, marriage records - all the usual tools of the genealogist. Regimental museums and published regimental histories can be helpful; national and local newspapers are worth exploring if a reasonable date-frame is known.

For those who came through the rigours of the campaign, the battle wasn't over. Depending on their age and length of service at the close of the campaign, some men would be discharged to pension. Usually they would need to find employment to provide additional income.  Private Frederick Hitch, V.C., defender of Rorke's Drift, became a London cabby. Gunner John Cantwell, who was awarded the D.C.M., returned to South Africa, became a guard at Durban gaol and ended up as a lavatory cleaner. My own Zulu War ancestor was, by 1881, residing with his widowed sister in a remote Scottish village far from urban temptations.

How difficult it must have been to settle down to a civilian existence with family and other responsibilities. There's no doubt that some of the Rorke's Drift men were psychologically scarred by their experience, living out their lives in a confusing twilight. It's hard to say whether they were luckier than those slaughtered at Isandhlwana, or those who succumbed to fever at Utrecht. Career soldiers continued to serve wherever the army sent them: examples include Lieut. Gonville Bromhead, V.C., who commanded B Company 2/24th Regiment;  promoted to Major, he died in India of enteric fever in 1891 aged 46. Lieut. John Chard also remained in the army, dying at 50 in 1897. Assistant Comissary at the Drift, James Langley Dalton, V.C., survived for only 7 years after the war dying aged 53 in 1887, and lies buried at Russell Road Cemetery, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. His old comrade Sergeant John Williams of 85th King's Light Infantry and friends of Natal placed the memorial on his grave.  Surgeon, later Lieut. Col. James Henry Reynolds, V.C., who under enemy fire attended the wounded at Rorke's Drift, lived to the age of 88; his grave is in Kensal Green, London.

Research continues into the burial places of Zulu War soldiers, both famous and obscure, some of whom still lie in unknown or unmarked graves in the UK and elsewhere. Perhaps during your research into a Zulu War ancestor you'll be able to locate his last resting place and, should it be as yet unmarked, add the final accolade.

The 24th at Pinetown, Natal, South Africa: Anglo-Zulu War.

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