Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Senior Sergeant at the Drift: Windridge, 1879 Zulu War


The actor Joe Powell played Sgt Windridge of the 24th, in the film Zulu. I actually met Joe in Woolwich at the Royal Artillery museum when they hold their Firepower exhibition. Along with Joe was James Booth who of course played Pte HOOK VC in Zulu, however this piece is not about HOOK but WINDRIDGE.




Yet again the record books even today have the place of birth of Joseph Lenford Windridge incorrectly. Windridge was not born in Birmingham but in Southwark, Surrey, at No 10 Keppel St on 14th May 1842. Joseph`s parents were Daniel Windridge and Martha Clark. The Windridge family did have a connection with Birmingham but Joseph himself was not born there. At the end of January 1859 Joseph decided that the army was the life for him and so it turned out to be but with mixed fortunes, especially later on.

At first the career of Joseph Windridge took off like a rocket: by December 1863 he had risen to the rank of Quarter Master Sgt, not bad for someone aged 21; there was no evidence at this time that the demon drink grabbed hold of him as it did later. I believe that once the 24th went to India in 1865 Windridge began to indulge in drink which was the ruination for him both in his army and private life. 

735 Sgt Windridge had been promoted to Sgt in 1862, a rank he was to hold and lose many times before he eventually left the army. By the time of Rorke's Drift he was a Sgt, having been reduced and promoted from Pte to Quarter Master Sgt quite a few times. No less than eight admissions to hospital were as a result of 'intemperance', as it was called in those days. What drove Windridge to drink? Whatever it was it cost him a great deal.

Although it has been the subject of debate many times it is 100% certain that Sgt Windridge was the Senior Sgt at Rorke's Drift in January 1879, having attained this rank as far back as 1862 initially. When you realise Frank Bourne at the age of 23 was a Colour/Sgt having been promoted to this rank in 1875 some 13 Years after Windridge was promoted to Sgt, it makes it all the more sad that the demon drink gripped him so hard. Was it this that made Windridge order Sgt Frederick Augustus Millne of the Buffs to take charge of the rum cask at the mission station? The chance of being drunk on active service would have brought Windridge severe punishments, no doubt. Shortly after Rorke's Drift Joseph was in trouble once more and reduced to the ranks, not for the last time. Joseph started the climb through the ranks again. It was always believed he married only once but careful research has proven he in fact married three times; the first marriage is believed to have taken place in either India or Burma.

We don't know the name of his first wife but by 1874 he had married again and his second marriage record shows he married one Annie Sullivan aged 24; Joseph was then 32. However by 1877 he is shown as a widower and married for the third time in Dover to Helena Rawlinson who had been born in Berkshire in 1859. Helena was only 19 when she married Joseph but bore him no less than 13 children!

Fate conspired to the tragic loss suffered by this family of no less than six of their children within a month. Rumours abounded that the children were poisoned, a common fate at times in the darker days of Victoria's reign. The cause of death was in fact discovered to be a nasty form of tuberculosis. Fate had not finished with Sgt Windridge, however, as will be seen. According to the papers I hold, Windridge was a widower twice; subsequent research must now question this. Despite many a search I cannot at this time ascertain if indeed Windridge was a widower or not, and not once but twice. I am coming round to the belief he may have divorced his second wife, as he was to be divorced later on from Helena.

The army career of Joseph Lenford Windridge came to an end in 1883 after 24 years and 189 days. Having family members in Birmingham it made sense to try life in that city where he gained employment as timekeeper and clerk. It would appear that the problem he suffered with drink carried on in civilian life as we roll the clock forward to 1901. The census for 1901 shows Joseph at the home of his nephew; what of Helena and the remainder of the children? Going forward a little to his death at age 60 in 1902 we see that he died at the home of his married sister Clarissa Dyer. At first I could not find Helena and her remaining children but a stroke of good luck located her. When I searched for her as Windridge no luck, for whatever reason I put in her maiden name and she turned up with four of her children. Helena had divorced Joseph and moved away from the family home. Then to my surprise I realised she had given her maiden name to her four children, two sons and two daughters. Was it drink problems again that caused this marriage- breakdown? The couple seemed to have got through the deaths of six children. Helena was to marry again in 1903, no doubt in part due to financial reasons. 

You will recall that Sgt Windridge himself died in 1902 aged 60 and is buried in an unmarked grave in Witton Cemetery in Birmingham. One task that Sgt Windridge passed on at Rorke's Drift was to order Sgt Millne to mount a guard over the rum cask held within the confines of that little garrison. Sgt Millne's own story is just as fascinating..




B' Co
mpany Survivors of Rorke's Drift who had not been repatriated through injury or illness. Probably taken at Pinetown, September 1879.

Graham Mason
AZW Researcher


2 comments:

Denise Warner said...

thank you for this information, very interesting. I am told that Sgt Windridge was a relative on my mother's die of the family, whether it is true or not, I do not know. Regards Denise Warner.

Mole said...

Thanks for your comment, Denise. You might want to contact Graham Mason who wrote this guest post. He investigates links to Rorke's Drift men, and with great success in many instances. Best Wishes, Mole.