Thomas Burke (1872 to 30th September 1945)


Surely you have seen the 1964 film Zulu featuring Michael Caine based on the battle between the British Army and the Zulus at Rorke's Drift? Here I am at a cemetery north of Liverpool city at the grave of one of the soldiers who survived. Oddly the fine Celtic cross grave dedicated to Thomas Burke makes no mention of his military career in the Anglo-Zulu War in South Africa.


On Thursday 23rd January 1879 at Rorke's Drift he was one of 131 people at Rorke’s Drift Field Hospital (39 were patients) which was attacked by 4000 bloodthirsty Zulus. They were intent on killing every soldier, patient, doctor and nurse. The attack lasted through the evening and night. Thomas was in B Company of the 2nd Battalion and helped fight off the Zulus (probably with a tomahawk, knife or spear.) The British lost 17 men but the Zulus lost 351. Five hundred Zulus were injured and its thought the British kill them all. Eleven Victoria Cross medals were awarded after the battle but Thomas was only awarded the South Africa Medal.


He also served in the Far East, reached the rank of sergeant and was discharged from the Army in 1897 probably due to long-term illness. After his career in the Army he became the landlord of city centre pub the Crown Vaults. He died 82/3 (date of birth unknown) and he’s buried here with his wife Honora (with the inscription “To the repose of the soul of my dear husband”) and their two sons, one who died aged nine months. Though he only died in 1955 there are no known photographs of him.


While there I spotted the grave of Bernard Donnelly who died in the First World War - just a bit of a kid at 18. A strong salute to both.