Private Robert Jones VC, was a hero of Rorke’s Drift – the major battle in South Africa of the Anglo Zulu war of 1879. He and his comrades successfully defended their station against numerous attacks by around 3,5000 Zulu warriors.
Robert Jones was born in Monmouth in 1857, and joined the 24th Regiment of Foot aged 19 in 1876. He was one of 11 to receive the Victoria Cross for their part in the battle at Rorke’s Drift when a tiny force of around 100 soldiers defended a small mission station against the Zulu warriors.
At the age of 21, Private Jones along with Private William Jones, defended the wards at Rorke’s Drift hospital and they saved many of the patients in there; using just his bayonet, Robert Jones managed to beat back the Zulus despite suffering four spear wounds and a stray bullet injury. He not only managed to survive but he went on to help evacuate several hospital patients from the blazing building……..he was the last man to escape before it burnt to the ground. His bravery was rewarded when he was given the VC medal by Sir Garnet Wolseley at Utrecht in 1879.
When Robert Jones left the army he settled in Peterchurch in Herefordshire, and married Elizabeth Hopkins…..the pair went on to have five children, whilst he worked on a farm. However his mental health deteriorated, whilst he suffered frequent nightmares relating to his part in the battle at Rorke’s Drift, and in 1898 he was discovered dead with gunshot wounds to his head. The inquest recorded a verdict of suicide whilst temporarily insane.
Sadly this verdict had a bearing on how Robert Jones was buried, and although his VC gave him the right to a decent burial in the Churchyard at Peterchurch, some petty rules still applied and his coffin had to be taken into the churchyard over the wall rather than through the gate, and his headstone had to face away from all the others.
Very touchingly, on 22nd January of this year (2019) Robert Jones’ grave was honoured by the Royal Welsh Regiment; The Regimental Band and Corps of Drums of the Royal Welsh attended a graveside dedication and laid a wreath.