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Pte William Williams
Martin Everett


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 781
Location: Brecon
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I just thought I would share with you one of the more typical RD enquiries we receive from time to time. Can anyone help?

Dear Sir/ Madam

My Grandfather William Williams joined the 2/24th at Brecon in 1874. We think that he may have used an assumed name and may also have lied about his age, as we have been unable to trace him or his family in Wales. We believe that he was born in Penybont, New Radnor, Radnorshire on 2 October 1856.

These facts were passed on by members of the family my mother was the youngest born in 1920. We understand that:

a) He was at Rorke's Drift in the hospital with dysentery at the time of the invasion of Zulu land. b) That he participated in the defence and was wounded in the calf or thigh (pinned to a mielie bag by an assegai) and would show the scars to family members.

c) He apparently wished to stay in South Africa and that permission was granted for him to do so. Due some confusion regarding the permission he was posted a deserter and as result forfeited his medals.

d) He remained in South Africa and was a transport rider as far as Kimberley, Rhodesia etc.) 1880 and 1892.

e) From 1893 until he died at the age of 65 in 1921 he played a prominent part in constructing railway lines, roads, mountain passes and dams in the Eastern and Western Cape in South Africa.

Please, could you please supply me a list of the soldier who arrested at Brecon in 1874.

Your assistance in this regard would be most appreciated.

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Martin Everett
Brecon, Powys
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Dawn


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 610
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
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"arrested" at Brecon?

The same error that has sullied Pvt Hook!

Dawn
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Martin Everett


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 781
Location: Brecon
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Dawn

I think my correspondent does mean 'attested' not 'arrested'. I was hoping someone may be able to identify the truth from the folklore.


Last edited by Martin Everett on Fri Jan 19, 2007 7:00 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Martin Everett
Brecon, Powys
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Michael Boyle


Joined: 12 Dec 2005
Posts: 595
Location: Bucks County,PA,US
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Martin, that would seem to be a difficult request on which to frame a response.

How many recruits attested at Brecon in 1874? In the hundreds perhaps? He may have lied about his age but with a last name Williams would he have felt the need to use an assumed name?

It is feasible that he could have been in hospital at the start of the invasion. Dysentery is the plague of all field armies even up to my day but for a case to be bad enough to still be in a field hospital up to two weeks later would seem to indicate a particularly bad one which should have seen him transported to the rear before Jan. 22.

I'm unable to recall a silmilar injury reported amongst the defenders and pinned to a mealie bag? Pinned to a biscuit box perhaps. Without medical records scars carry a single provenance.

Attesting in 1874 he would be approaching time expired by the end of the A-ZW and wouldn't be the only soldier wishing to make a new start in SA but if he hoofed it early (desertion was rather a continuing problem in Victorian era armies of course) even due to some confusion it would seem that there would be some record of this. Medal forfeiture would seem to indicate that unlike most he neither returned to the Colours nor was caught out.

Tracing a single transport rider between 1880 and 1892 would appear a difficult task but if he were indeed 'prominent' in construction from 1893 there would perhaps be some newspaper accounts mentioning him or at least an obituary. The enquirers' mother being the last born and the year before he died would seem to indicate he made trips back home but one would think that avenue has already been explored.

Ploughing through a roster of 1874 recruits could I suppose trigger something but my advice would be that a SA geneology service would have the best chance of fleshing it all out.

Best

Michael
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Martin Everett


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 781
Location: Brecon
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Dear Michael,

Thank you for response - as you can imagine the AZW only a small part of our work - but significant nevertheless. WW1 does tend to dominate - with some 80,000 soldiers serving in the South Wales Borderers and Monmouthshire Regiment.

This was my response to 'Pte William Williams'

These enquiries require considerable skills and experience to answer. To
help us we have the regimental archives- but not all information has been
lodged with us at Brecon. However surviving soldiers' service papers are
not at the museum but held at the National Archives at Kew. Literally
thousands of people are now searching for 'their grandfather' - so there is
no other solution than to go to Kew and do the research yourself - the staff
there will point you in the right direction, but will NOT do the research
for you. They would need hundreds of additional staff to satisfy all the
enquiries. That sets the scene for you.

However we do have very reasonable records of soldiers of the 24th who
served in the Cape Frontier and Zulu campaigns (1877-8-9) - some 2,500 men - and some 50 soldiers named 'Williams'. For an example, Norman Holme spent - 35 years - yes 35 years researching the soldiers of the 24th at battles of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift. The results are published in 'The Noble 24th' - available from our on-line shop. None of soldiers that Norman has researched appears to fit the story of your grandfather.

I think you will have to resign yourself to the fact that parts of the story
handed down to you about your grandfather may not be entirely true.

There is NO list of soldiers enlisting in 1874. It is possible for you to
compile one by working from the regimental number issued during that year (range 25B/50 to 25B/700). How do you know your grandfather enlisted in 1874? - what evidence do you have?

Here are some facts:

1. There was no soldier named 'William Williams at Rorke's Drift during the
famous defence that took place on 22/23 January 1879.

2. The 2/24th remained at Rorke's Drift for about 6-8 weeks after the
battle awaiting orders/reinforcements for the second invasion of Zululand
that started in May 1879. During this period a number of soldiers suffered
from sickness at Rorke's Drift and at Fort Melvill nearby - and about 6
actually died.

3. Apart from the defenders of Rorke's Drift (B Company 2/24th), very few soldiers of the 2/24th actually experienced hand-to-hand fighting in South Africa. So your grandfather may not have received his wounds as a result of enemy action.

4. If your grandfather served from 1874-1879 (thus would have been in South Africa from the beginning of 1878 when 2/24th arrived), he will be listed on the battalion medal roll. There are a number of instances
documented/annotated on the medal roll of soldiers deserting and forfeiting
their medal. These soldiers are still listed and so should your grandfather.

5. There are two soldiers on the 2/24th medal roll named 'William
Williams'. Neither deserted, both enlisted in 1877. We do NOT know where
either of these soldiers were born. 25B/1080 was serving with E Company but transferred to E Company at Rorke's Drift on 31/1/1879 (i.e. after the
battle). 25B/1233 served with the Mounted Infantry and therefore does not fit your story. We do NOT have copies of the service papers of either of these two soldiers.

6. It is possible for you to work through the quarterly pay and muster
rolls held at the National Archives. Remember you are looking at 800-900
men on each quarterly roll - very time consuming research. Sometimes the place of birth is given.

The file reference numbers at Kew for the 2/24th Pay and Muster Rolls are:

WO12/4155 - period 1874-1875
WO12/4156 - period 1875-1876
WO12/4157 - period 1876-1877
WO16/1579 - period 1877-1879

That's the best I can do.

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Martin Everett
Brecon, Powys
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Michael Boyle


Joined: 12 Dec 2005
Posts: 595
Location: Bucks County,PA,US
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Martin, no one could ask for more! It boggles the mind how much time you can find to answer so many queries ( I doubt you stand fast to the forty hour work week). Thanks for the information contained above as it will no doubt help many others in their quests.

Best

Michael
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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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Michael is right in that a South African genealogist - a good one - might be needed to tackle this one, especially the latter part of his life. A good deal can be discovered from details elicited from the records relating to death and more from the family might be required.

Each one (and every one) of the itemised points could be inaccurate. One place to start might be to analyse all those in the hospital. Julian Whybra has published a list he considers the most accurate possible from his research (and I doubt if there's a more accurate modern version) in England's Sons. It might then be tempting to see which, if any, of these were also among the wounded, but it seems highly likely that many of the minor wounds have gone unrecorded. Potentially, one could at this time have a very short list from which to work, but in practice there are so many "grey areas" that one would really have just a list of "possibles" and "don't knows" because the slightly wounded were many and the hospital list is not definitive, Julian himself being wary of at least eight.

Obviously, research in the KLH site could help, because presumably the family would know which of those memorials of RD defenders recorded by the KLH are not that of WW in either guise. In fact, though, it all depends on the claim of the old soldier being true in the first place - (a) was he one of the defenders? and (b) did he serve under an assumed name? If the first was true, then the second has to be. If the second is not true, then the first can't be either. A good few of the RD defenders had assumed names so it is not impossible for another to emerge.

However, I think this enquirer must settle down for the long haul and attack the case systematically - which is not easy, with so many imponderables. He/she needs at least one or two of the points mentioned to be provable facts first. If enough time and expertise is eventually expended, then progress could be made, even if only to eliminate this chap and disprove his story. Even if there was something in it, the chances are we have another Bob Head to deal with!

Peter
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Pte William Williams
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