15-Year-Old Boy Dies After Being Attacked By Group In Birmingham My Local Hero of the Defence of Rorke’s Drift

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My Local Hero of the Defence of Rorke’s Drift

On January 22, 1879, a garrison of British soldiers successfully defended the warehouse and field hospital established at Rorke Drift against the Zulu army. This heroic stance was widely described and inspired the epic film “Zulu!”, a biographical tribute to Private William Jones, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery on that fateful day and eventually settled with his family In my hometown of Manchester, England.

According to his family descendants, William Jones was born on 16 August 1839 at 5 Lucas Street, Bristol Castle. He was the son of stonemason William Jones and his wife Mary Ann (the late Martin, formerly Lancastle). The Wesleyan Methodist Church in Coleford, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire records the baptism of William and James Jones on 22 March 1840, and the 1851 census records a family living in East Dean, Close to Wye-on-Ross, this could be them. William was apprenticed to a shoemaker before enlisting in the army, and records indicate that a shoemaker named Jones, who lived in Cowell Street, Evesham, Worcestershire, may have been William.

He enlisted at Birmingham on December 21, 1858, and as Pvt. W Jones of the 593rd he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment. He is described as five foot five inches tall, with a sallow complexion, dark brown eyes and brown hair. While serving in Mauritius, he was promoted to corporal on 1 September 1859, but was demoted to private the following year. He returned to service at Rangoon in 1868, completing 21 years of service, and he also served in India. He married Elizabeth Goddard on 25 May 1875 at the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Farnham. He was sent to Dover, where a child named William was born on 15 November 1876, and he was sent to live with his grandparents in Farnham.

Tensions between the British authorities and various factions in South Africa had built up for many years before 1879; especially over the independent-minded Boer peasantry and the Zulu warrior peoples. As such, many British troops were in South Africa for the ninth of a series of Cape Frontier Wars, with the 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment, aboard the troop carrier Himalayan on 1 February 1878, serving in the colonies. The campaign consisted mostly of small skirmishes, driving rebellious natives out of the bush, which allowed the British to gain some experience fighting on the prairie, with rebel leaders captured and carried out in mid-1878 dealt with.

However, the main threat to stability in the region came from a disciplined army of fearless Zulu warriors, whom the British government knew had to be subdued before any progress could be made under a unified banner, which would be easy to manage. In response to the Zulu threat, the British issued a deliberately impracticable ultimatum to the Zulu king, Cetshwayo, and even before Cetshwayo could respond, British troops began massing at strategic points bordering the Zululand. The 3rd (central) column advances to the requisitioned mission station Rorke’s Drift. The main force of this part of the invading army was the soldiers of the 24th Regiment. Private Jones sailed to the Cape of Good Hope with his unit, and his wife went with him, but she died of tuberculosis on October 11, 1878.

When hostilities with the Zulus began and the British invaded the Zululands, Private Jones and his “B” Company stayed behind to guard the hospital and shop at Rock Drift. When the Zulus attacked the warehouse, he was posted at the door of a room in the hospital building with half a dozen patients in it, and he had to single-handedly keep the fighters out until Private Robert Jones joined. Privates Henry Hooker and John Williams then broke through a wall and brought more patients into the room, and together they fought off the Zulus while the patients were helped out through a small window. He himself escaped from the burning building and spent the rest of the night with his comrades in the fortifications inside before rescue forces arrived the next morning. On 2 May 1879, the London Gazette published his Victoria Cross for service. He was also awarded the Order of South Africa with clasp 1877-8-9. Queen Victoria honored him at Windsor Castle on 13 January 1880. On September 3, 1879, he was examined by a medical board in Pietermaritzburg, who found him to be suffering from a chronic rheumatic disease. He was taken to Nately Military Hospital, where he was discharged on 2 February 1880 “unfit for further service by chronic rheumatism of the joints”. He holds three badges of good conduct.

His intended residence was 174 Lupine Street, Birmingham, and by 1881 he was appointed storekeeper, visiting Charles and Elizabeth Goddard at Court 3, 6 Love Lane, Dudston, Dudston, Birmingham. A child named Albert Ulundi (Frodsham) was born here on 12th May 1881 and Elizabeth (Frodsham) was born on 19th June 1883 at 7 Holt Street, Duddeston, Aston, Birmingham. Albert’s unusual name suggests he may be William’s father, and he and Elizabeth are the only two children who have changed their name to Jones. By 1891 their home was at 8 Luxton Street, Duddleston, Aston. Charles moved out and William was recorded as a boarder.

He moved to Rutland Street, Cholton-on-Medlock, Manchester, and by 1901 he was living at 7 Ash Street, Miles Platinum. When he came to Lancashire, he took part in the Buffalo Bills’ Wild West Show and appeared at Hamilton’s Pansterorama in Rochdale, reciting his descriptions of the defence. However, due to health reasons, he was unable to find regular work and he was forced to pawn his VC to support his family. Now in the Regiment Museum. At the age of 61, William married Elizabeth on 16 July 1901 at St Augustine’s Church, Newton Heath, Manchester. They were living at 72 Sanderson Street, Colliehurst, Manchester, in 1912 when William was found wandering the streets in ‘poor’ clothes. His illness and his wife had to be taken from Bridge, Salford. Street Workhouse picks him up.

William Jones died on 15 April 1913 at his daughter’s home in 6 Brompton Street, Ardwick, Manchester, aged 73, and was buried with military honors in a pauper’s grave in Philips Park Cemetery, Manchester. A ceremony was held at the cemetery in 2007 to mark the unveiling of new headstones.

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