After walking around Lake Windermere and Ullswater you expect the whole Lake District to be splendid on the eye but when I drove out to Barrow-In-Furness to find this grave I found the on-the-edge-of-things feel to place a little deadening. BAE seemed to be the dominant employer though there were other industries factories there I knew I wouldn’t stop for the night. I bought six eggs in the only open shop and the serving lady opened the box to check I hadn’t smuggled anything in the box. I ate three fried eggs on toast in the motorhome before going to look for this grave. Good job too - the cemetery was sprawling and the graves didn’t seem to be in chronological order. It took over and hour to find this one. I don’t mind though - braves bones are worth it.
There seem to be only two photos of Samuel Wassall which is no surprise as he was born in 1856 and the Zulu war he fought in was in the nineteen century. He was born in Aston, Birmingham - nowhere his final resting place. Hardly anything is about what he did as a boy except that he worked as an apprentice dyer before he enlistment with the South Staffordshire Regiment.
Aged 22 he was very long way from home, fighting in in the Zulu Wars in South Africa. On Wednesday 22nd January 1879 British soldiers found themselves in an almost suicidal situation. Twenty thousand Zulus had overwhelmed and slaughtered 1800 British soldiers in the worst military disaster ever to be inflicted on a British army.
With the British camp taken over Samuel retreated to the Buffalo River with the Zulus chasing him. Here he saw one of his comrades (Private Westwood) trying to swim but drowning. He rode down to the bank and left his horse to rescue him. The Zulus maintained heavy gunfire but somehow they remained alive. With the injured man in his car Samuel had to coax the horse across the river so they could escape.
How they survived the annihilation of the day and the scene at the river is miraculous. The deed of the day would have gone unnoticed had it not been for Westwood’s recovery in hospital later. He was relaying Samuel’s selfless act and this lead to his acknowledgement with a Victoria Cross medal (presented to him at Buckingham Palace on 26th June 1879.)
Two crumbs of information are known of Samuel’s life after the war: a) he was living in Cumbria when he died aged 70 and b) life ebbed away in North Lonsdale Hospital in Barrow in Furness on 31st January 1927. He was laid to rest here where I’m stood and the crumbling headstone was replaced with this one you can see in 1986.
I’d almost given up looking for these brave bones. I had a photo of the headstone with trees in the background and simply couldn’t match up the trees with those before me. I was energised by the three eggs, coffee and Chunky Kitkat and spent an hour simply scanning headstones. Anyone soldier who survived 20,000 Zulus wanting warm his blood is worth an hour of my time and a burnt head. I did a hearty salute and left.
The grave looked so alone here, no rows of graves in chronological order…
When you see war graves you just have to salute don’t you…