Saturday, November 22, 2014

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Recent UK dedications for Rorke's Drift men

Pte. J. Manley 'A' Coy 2nd Btn 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment, present at the Defence of Rorke's Drift (Section C-C4 grave 89 Nottingham)

Pte. D. Lewis (James Owen) 'B' Coy 2nd Btn 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment, present at the Defence of Rorke's Drift (Bethel Cemetery)

Graham Mason, Tim Needham

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Looking for Lumley (Anglo Zulu War) Descendant in Natal

Mole is seeking David Moon of Pietermaritszburg, descendant of Lumley, regarding Zulu War ancestor. Please make contact via this blog.  Thank you.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tracing a Military Man 6

Map showing the Thrre Towns, including Stevenston

It’s easy enough, through Census records, to track Finlay Gibson’s career subsequent to his settling in Stevenston, Ayrshire. 

He appears not to have remained part of his sister’s household for long, meeting and marrying Annie Bell on 20 May, 1881, and setting up his establishment elsewhere. Being an employee at the Dynamite Factory, Finlay and his family qualified for quarters in Nobels Villas in Dynamite Road. Not as cheerless as nearby Ardeer Square, the Villas did not offer any great heights of luxury but they were a secure roof over the Gibsons’ heads and convenient for work at the dinnamit.  Bill Cunningham's potted history of Nobels Villas and the conditions in which people lived there.

By 1891 Finlay and Annie Gibson née Bell are listed residing there with five children, all born in Stevenston: Ann, aged 8, Catherine, 6, Mary, 5, Margaret, 4, and William, 2. The birthplace of Finlay’s wife Annie is given as Canada (West) and her age as 32 – 16 years younger than her husband – a considerable disparity.

Finlay is described as a British Subject and his occupation given as Gatekeeper.

Annie Bell’s parents were Samuel Bell and Catherine Thomson Ross. Both were English by birth, but Samuel Bell’s father, another Samuel, had been born in Scotland.  How Annie came to be born in Canada is another story. 

The Gibsons were still at Nobels Villas in 1901, when Finlay, aged 60, was working as ‘Cartridge Foreman’. His daughters, Ann, at 18, and Maggie, 15, were also employed at the dinnamit. Kate (Catherine) was a draper’s assistant and young William was in school.

Annie Bell Gibson, my grandmother,
daughter of Finlay Gibson and Annie Bell

Chimneys of Stevenston

Girls employed as cartridge makers

For readers with an interest in the background, much more about the Dynamite Factory and Stevenston and its environs can be found on the informative Threetowners’ site.

Stevenston historian John Millar's book on the Ardeer Factory is an enthralling in-depth look at this topic. [In the Shadlow of the Dynamite: Ardeer]

Ardeer Square:

Bridgend, ,Stevenston

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Souvenir Saturday: Umzinto School Cadets 1897

Umzinto School Cadets 1897
Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Celebrations, Natal

Standing L to R:
Thomas Bruce Bremner, Baldwin W Pennington, Alecie E Schreiber, Guy Metcalfe, George Whitfield, Alexander Langlands, Ernest J Smith (7th from left), Lynn Pennington, Joshua Charles (Jock) Landers,  Reginald Metcalfe

Seated in front L to R:
Bernard Schreiber, Norman Fletcher, Keith Stewart, Sam Woods, Douglas Crocker,  Cecil Stewart,  Harold Thomas Landers

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance Day 2014

They shall grow not old, 
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.  

L Binyon

A group of black South Africans on the Western Front. These men had contracted to work in the South African Native Labour Contingent (SANLC). In general the native police and NCOs were recruited from tribal chiefs or high-status native families. Some 20,000 South Africans worked in the SANLC during the war. They were not meant to be in combat zones, but there were inevitable deaths when the docks or transport lines on which they worked were bombed. 

The greatest tragedy was the sinking of the troopship SS Mendi on February 21, 1917, when 617 members of the SANLC were drowned in the English Channel.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Tracing a Military Man 5

William Gibson’s military records show that he emerged unscathed at the end of his twenty-year stint in the army. This might indicate that he did not serve at the hotspots of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift, at least, though there were, of course, other engagements during that conflict – many of them less well-known to posterity.

Here, regimental records, combined with William’s own service documents, provide a useful timeline. If it is not known precisely which company of his battalion the ancestor was in it is difficult to be precise about where he was and when. A general picture, however, can be obtained.

Apparently, William did not arrive in Natal until after the two famous battles mentioned above were over. His unit, 2/4th Foot (King’s Own Royal Regiment) had been stationed at North Camp, Aldershot, in the first week of December 1878, when orders were received to proceed to Natal on active service. Perhaps this came as a welcome break for William who had been at Aldershot since August 1877; now he would see a part of the world he hadn’t visited before.. The change from cold winter weather in England to the blazing heat of the plains of Natal and Zululand would have been a culture shock for the troops.

Durban harbour from the Bluff during the Anglo-Zulu War

Various companies were embarked in the transports Dunrobin Castle and the Teuton, sailing for Cape Town and Durban. The united companies were marched to Pietermaritzburg from Durban – about a fifty-mile hike in full kit -  and here they heard the devastating news of Isandlwana and the subsequent heroic defending action at Rorke’s Drift.

Those desperate engagements might have been too much excitement for William’s taste. There was, however, plenty more to come.

Several companies of William’s battalion were marched to Helpmekaar, and from thence to Utrecht and Greytown. Other reinforcements still garrisoned in Cape Town were brought up the coast in the African, a privately owned mailship, and later marched from Durban to Pietermaritzburg and onward up-country. Their route was swarming with the enemy, who kept mainly out of sight. Three companies, with Major Blake and Capt Moore, were surrounded by a Zulu impi but were not attacked. The battalion was distributed over a wide area, including the Utrecht district, Luneberg etc and on 28 March were involved in the battle at Inhlobana Hill. Some 2nd/4th casualties were incurred at Kambula.

Shortly before William had left Aldershot he had been promoted Sergeant on 25 November 1878. This step-up lasted only until 11 May 1880 when William misbehaved again (details not given), was sent back to Preston in England and subsequent to a trial he was reduced to the rank of Private on 2 June 1880. He forfeited 1d pay.

It was the end of the Zulu War for William as well as the end of his army career: he took his discharge on 17 August 1880, while his battalion went on to distinguish themselves in further action during the closing stages of the conflict.

William Gibson's Discharge Papers

William Gibson was certainly not cut in the heroic mould but was one of those hundreds of ordinary British soldiers who fought ‘Victoria’s little wars’, more out of necessity and circumstance than any feelings of patriotism or duty. Perhaps this makes their contribution all the more laudable. Despite the odds and any personal fears, they were prepared to ‘Stand To’ in the face of a warlike foe which was fiercely defending the Zulu homeland. William was finally able to retire peacefully to Ayrshire together with his brother and their sister’s family. After the vicissitudes of his twenty years’ service he would have been entitled to draw his army pension. I believe he had earned it.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Souvenir Saturday: Anglo-Zulu War group photo includes Chard of Rorke's Drift

Lt John Rouse Merriott Chard, VC, one of the heroes of Rorke's Drift,
with other officers of the Royal Engineers. Chard is wearing his decoration.

Read The Anglo-Zulu War in Soldiers' Letters by Frank Emery at

Chard Medal Group

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Anglo-Zulu War: William Roy DCM and some confusion

I am amazed at the facts about the Anglo-Zulu War which are still hidden in the mists of time and folklore. Far too often 'facts' reported in follow up books and publications need revision every now and again. 

Look at QM Bloomfield 24th as an example, oft reported married once with (issue) one child when in fact he was married TWICE with THREE children. However this article is not about him but of a Scotsman who saw his life over before 40 but somehow ended up in the 24th and was fighting for his life with his comrades on Jan 22nd 1879. I have written about William Roy, 1st 24th before including his voyage to Australia and his death a few short years after his arrival.

William Roy won the DCM (Distinguished Conduct Medal) on that fateful day so long ago, just what he did I am not sure: the 11 VC holders we know to the edge of a razor blade how they came by the coveted Cross, not so the DCM holders of which there were 5 awarded that day. I have recently got documentation which confirms the wedding of William Roy DCM and that he had a daughter when in Australia. Sadly that little girl did not survive long, was this due to the climate or the bad health of her father (William Roy).

The fact that the widow Roy re-married and eventually died in 1948 is testament to her toughness which can be accredited to Scottish stock. Roy himself was not born in Dundee nor indeed Edinburgh but in fact in Portmoak Kinrosshire. Yes he enlisted in Edinburgh Castle and lived in Dundee with his parents at 316 Hawkhill Dundee prior to his emigration to Parramatta in NSW Australia to the home of his brother John Roy. It was believed and hoped that the climate might be beneficial to William as his health was in a bad way at the time. He only lived in Parramatta for 7 years until his death in 1890.

William Roy married Cecilia Butchart on the 27th Oct 1882 in Monifieth Parish, Dundee. Williams parents had married in Portmoak in 1845 where today a glider school takes advantage of the hills and terrain in the area. The island in Loch Leven which Portmoak skirts is famous as the goal of Mary Queen of Scots, the prison with no bars because it is reported that Mary could not swim although I don't know of any evidence to support this. There is not much there today let alone in 1845/46. At the time of his marriage to Cecilia, she was living in Tay St Dundee while William was living William was living close by in Hawkhill as stated earlier.

Cecilia was the daughter of the local station-master while William was a porter at the same station, the obvious place where they first met. What is not generally known is that William served in the 32nd Regiment before his transfer to the 24th. Had he been with the column at Isandlwana, well we all know what happened there! William joined the 32nd Regt on the 13th Aug 1870. He had a terrible medical record throughout his career and was at Rorke's Drift as a result of malaria and eye problems. He deserted on the 16th Oct 1876 and was imprisoned, he transferred to the 24th on the 4th Dec 1877. He did transfer to the 2/24th in 1879 but after Rorke's Drift.

John his brother was a Church warden in Parramatta and it is believed he persuaded William and Cecilia to join him in Australia, however Cecilia did not travel with her husband but arrived on Christmas Eve 1883 in Australia aboard the 'PERICLES', she travelled under her maiden name, I am not sure why nor indeed why she did not travel with William, cost ?, maybe someone can enlighten me please?. They had a daughter called BEATRICE CECILIA ROY who was born on the 23 Nov 1886 in Brisbane but died on the 27 Feb 1888. It is not known why the birth took place in Brisbane and not Parramatta. There is no mention of the death of Beatrice on the death certificate of William Roy indicated on his death certificate by his brother John is , 'NO ISSUE', we do not know why.

Cecilia re-married and her husband was one EDWARD WILLIAMSON and they had a number of children. In 1948 when Cecilia died she was buried with her first husband, her second husband Edward and her daughter by William Roy, amazingly the location of the grave is unknown because the records have gone missing or have been destroyed (?).

On the 15th Sept 1948 in the 'Cumberland Argus and Fruit Growers Advocate' is the report of the death of Cecilia Williamson formerly Roy nee Butchart. I have traced the BUTCHART'S back TO 1798 and descendants of Cecilia to the present day. One last twist to the story is this. William was a Presbyterian by birth but is buried in the Baptist section of Parramatta Cemetery. A possible explanation is the following:

Parramatta has NO general cemetery, there was the large St John's (C of E) cemetery established c1790 about a mile down the road from the church of that name. The Presbyterians and Baptists were given an acre each for their cemeteries in the 1840's. They were run by their own trusts till the 1970's but they adjoin each other and have a single perimeter fence and collectively known as Mays Hill Cemetery. John Roy was the caretaker of St John's Anglican Church for nearly 10 years and lived next door to the Church. When William moved to Hunter St Parramatta it was some 8 doors down from his brother. There was no ground left for burials in the Baptist section of the cemetery and so the Anglicans were approached when William died. The Anglicans purchased the grave site to allow Beatrice Roy to be buried there in 1888. William died in 1890 and was buried with his daughter. Cecilia died in 1948 but is buried with both husbands and her daughter by William! So we have four people buried in the same plot, the last in 1948 and the location 'missing'.

A final footnote to this story is of course we have a PRESBYTERIAN buried in a BAPTIST grave and the ceremony (1890) performed by an Anglican minister! John Roy goes out of the picture at this point, no records of his demise seem to be available in NSW Australia, it may be possible he went back to Scotland after the death of his brother and parents (?). I sense more research is needed!

My eternal thanks and gratitude to, 'STAN' and Mr and Mrs Gray for the additional information.nI add the report of the death of Cecilia.

Sept 15th 1948: Parramatta NSW Australia
A link with the massacre of Rorkes Drift, in 1879 has been broken by the death at her home in Philip St, Parramatta, of Mrs Cecilia Williamson aged 92. Her first husband, ex-Private (Cpl) William ROY of the 24th Regiment, was one of the handful of men who survived the massacre of the regiment by the Zulus. Wounded during the battle Roy was a patient in a field hospital which the Zulus set on fire. Despite his wounds he played a leading part in rescue work. For his gallantry Queen Victoria personally presented him with a medal 'For Distinguished Conduct on the field' and a bible inscribed: "Souvenir of Rorke's Drift Jan 22nd -23rd 1879".

Invalided from the Service, Roy married in 1882, at Forfar, Scotland, Cecilia Butchart, youngest daughter of the local station - master. An account of the couples arrival in Parramatta, and Roy's subsequent early death, appeared in the Argus in 1885, it read: "The hardships and exposure Roy had been subjected to made sad inroads on an originally robust constitution: and his brother, John Roy, of Parramatta, he came to this colony in the hopes of recruiting his failing health."
"He had not been here two years before his sight, which had been failing some time, was entirely lost; and, blind and paralysed, he lingered on till Friday night last, when death released him from his sufferings. His remains were interred in the Baptist Cemetery, Parramatta , on Sunday afternoon, two of his old comrades, from Sydney being amongst the little band of mourners who watched the earth deposited over the remains of the departed" .

Mrs Williamson's most treasured possession was a reproduction of the famous painting now in the Sydney Art Gallery, showing the escape from the burning hospital. The central figure in the painting is Private Roy carrying a wounded comrade to safety. In 1892, Mrs Roy married Edward Williamson of Parramatta who died in 1920. A son and two daughters of the marriage survive. Mrs Williamson was laid to rest in the Baptist Cemetery Parramatta, on Thursday, beside the ill-fated hero of Rorke's Drift.

Also buried in the same grave are her daughter by W Roy and her second husband. The location is not known as the records have been lost/destroyed.

Detail from Alphonse de Neuville's painting OF THE dEFENCE OF rORKE'S dRIFT
 showing wounded escaping from burning hospital

Graham Mason Anglo-Zulu War Researcher

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Anglo-Zulu War: Pitfalls in Researching an Ancestor

Even after all the passage of time from that fateful day of 22 January 1879 till the present there are many issues cloaked in mystery and ignorance. 

Life in 'civvy street' in Victorian London or any other major city of the time was grim to say the least; infant mortality was extremely high, mothers had, in many cases, ten or more children, and if four or five survived beyond 12 years of age they were doing pretty well in some of the really slum areas, especially in London.

To escape the grinding poverty and rampant illiteracy many a young man turned to the forces to escape this thankless life. Once again to quote my favourite example, Fred Hitch later to win a VC at Rorke's Drift was at the time of his enlistment a farm labourer and illiterate. I often wonder which was worse: to be the wife of a private soldier or suffer the harsh regime of a private soldier in a foot regiment (Infantry). There were no allowances made to wives and children of private soldiers, unlike today, and married quarters were still to come. A man could be sent to India and not see England for 18 years or more. Quite often the only concession to a married man was a blanket drawn across a bed-space at the end of a barrack room. No time for niceties in those days!

In 1879 a man had the choice of enlisting into one of the following: Infantry, General Service, Artillery or finally the Cavalry. Unlike today a man was usually accepted with little or no vetting into the Infantry: life was cheap and no questions asked. You could in certain regiments enlist as a boy and gradually work your way until you reached the age of 18 when you were considered a man - odd when you think that you were considered a youth till the age of 21 and could not get married below this age without consent of pare
nts, a soldier had to ask permission from his commanding officer to get married back in Victorian times.

In one famous case, a certain man got married without his commanding officer's permission but escaped punishment: this was Driver (Royal Engineers) Charles Robson, batman to a certain Lt Chard RE. A driver RE received a little extra pay as opposed to a Sapper. After much research I realised that the crafty recruiting Sgts played a 'fast one'. The optimum age to enlist was, as stated, 18, and this was true for all four elements at the time. However, to enlist in either the Artillery or Cavalry you had to serve a minimum of 12 years. In the Infantry or in the General Service it was 10 years if aged 18 or over at the time. If you were 17, you had to serve the extra year plus the minimum requirement of 10 years if joining the infantry.

Very soon it was realised that if details on the enlistment sheet were 'lost' there was no way of checking if a man was signing up for 10 or 12 years. In many cases an alias was used and a wrong age indicated. In some cases the enlistment sheet survived and this is when this anomaly presented itself to me. As there were different enlisting forms a person could sign up on a Cavalry form for 12 years when in fact it should have been 10 (Infantry). This meant in many cases a man serving 2 extra years plus any shortfall years below the age of 18.

A lot of enlistment sheets are missing but by the same token a lot survived. I even have papers where you can see the 10 years crossed out and 12 inserted and also the reverse! Where papers do survive it is the attestation sheet that survives. You had to enlist first, then usually within 3 days attest (make a definite commitment to service). Men signed for 6 years in the regulars and 6 years in the Reserves in which time, if not already dead in battle or of fever, were liable to be recalled to do further service both in the UK and abroad.

There was no choice at first as to what regiment you served in, which is why men from Eire, London and Bristol served together. If a regiment was under strength the next batch of 40 to 60 men were sent to a particular 'holding brigade' before being allocated to a particular regiment. In the case of the 24th Regt of Foot it was 25 Brigade. Look at the casualty lists for Isandlwana with regard to the 1/24th. Many men have, as an example, 25 B/1234 Pte John Anybody. This meant that an individual was still held in a holding unit but served with the 24th, attached but not actually part of the regiment as yet. So we have the situation where Pte J Anybody enlisted under a false name, lied about his age, was recruited falsely, and it was often found that he changed units. When a man was granted a change of regiment he was given another number, his old number being allocated to another man. We find Pte Anybody wants to return to his old unit, does so and gets yet another different number! Very confusing when it comes to obtaining service records or pension details.

At the termination of this article there will be a list of books to refer to with regard to the casualty lists of the battle at Isandlwana (in the main). It was not until the Cardwell reforms of 1881 that the rules were changed and a man kept his number from enlistment till discharge, and regiments of Foot were given titles, such as the Essex regiment, Lancashire regiment etc. The 24th became, of course, the South Welsh Borderers. Many an author still refers to these men at Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift as being in the South Welsh Borderers but this change of title only occurred after the reforms. A man often took to the army life and re-enlisted after 12 years or even beyond 21 years in many cases.

Frank Bourne of Rorke's Drift found himself a Colour Sgt in the 24th at the tender age of 23. For every two years good conduct a man got an extra one penny a day pay and a good conduct stripe to indicate this. A maximum of six could have been awarded during a man's service. These could be traded in for rank so a Cpl with three Good Conduct stripes could 'cash in' two and go to C/Sgt (Colour Sergeant). In the case of Sgt Windridge of Rorke's Drift he went from Private to Quarter Master, back to Private and finally to Sgt. A fondness for the black bottle was his undoing.
To make my life as a researcher more difficult the service papers of a man killed in action were destroyed: the 1/24th took their service papers into battle and these were all lost after the action was finally over that January day. 

To make matters worse a large number of service papers were destroyed in the Second World War due to the action of the Luftwaffe. Despite all these obstacles we have barely touched the surface on research matters and I hope new facts will still emerge.

For the casualty returns mentioned, I advise you to look in the following books in particular.
1. Casualty Roll for the Zulu and Basuto wars, South Africa 1877-79 IT Tavender (JB Hayward & Son ISBN 0-903754 24X)
2. They Fell Like Stones: John Young (Greenhill Books ISBN 1- 85367-096-0)3. The Roll Call for Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift, 1879: Julian Whybra (Roberts Medals Publications ISBN 1-873058-0-1)4. The Silver Wreath, 24th Regt at Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift, 1879: Norman Holme (ISBN 0-906304-02-4)

Graham Mason, AZW Researcher