Family in shock reading of Zulu war medal

The family of one of the heroes of Rorke’s Drift – the battle that inspired the film Zulu – may finally recover his medals after
reading about them in the Daily Express. Alfred Saxty was 20 years old during the Anglo-Zulu War when, in January 1879, he found himself one of 150 British and colonial troops facing 4,000 Zulu warriors in South Africa.

The defence of Rorke’s Drift mission station – 12 hours of bitter fighting – is recognised as one of the most famous battles in British military history.

A record 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded after the conflict, which saw the death of around 500 Zulu warriors and 17 defenders, with one of the awards going to Lt Gonville Bromhead – played in the 1964 film by Sir Michael Caine.

Alfred’s campaign medal from the battle is soon to be auctioned with another and are expected to fetch up to £20,000.

They have been put up for auction by an anonymous private collector.

But Saxty’s shocked ancestors had no idea the medals – a campaign clasp marked South Africa 1877-8-9, and an India General Service 1854-95 clasp – were still in existence until reading the Daily Express last week.

Now the proud family is campaigning to raise money to purchase the awards before they go to auction at Noonans in Mayfair, London on April 19.

They want to display them in a museum, so future generations can learn about their brave relative and his comrades’ story.

David Saxty is Alfred’s great-grandson. The 70-year-old, a father of two and grandfather of three, said the family were surprised to learn the medals were still in existence.

The retired lorry operator, who lives in Canvey Island, Essex, with his wife Jan, said the first the family knew of the
medals was from a 2006 book called Legacy: Heroes Of Rorke’s Drift, by Kris Wheatley.

The book describes Alfred Saxty as having “stood his ground” against the Zulu warriors despite “knowing that the garrison was hopelessly outnumbered” and that his chances of survival were “slim”.

David said: “My nephew Aaron picked up on the medals after reading the paper – none of us knew they were being sold or that they still existed, so it was a shock.

“Alfred was a bit of a rogue. He had altercations with officers, two marriages. It’s quite an interesting can of worms. But we are very proud of him in our family.

“The book said he’d lost the medals in Burma and had to apply for replacements. It would be nice to have the medals in a museum, then everyone could see them and learn the story.

“That’s a nice idea because the Battle of Rorke’s Drift is a big part of British history. I’m surprised a collector has got them. I feel the medals belong to the family.”

Aaron Saxty, 41, son of David’s brother Martin and great-great-grandson of Alfred, said: “When I saw the Express headline about the medals going up for sale, I was absolutely gobsmacked.

“We thought the medals had all been lost to time, so to see them going up for auction answered a lot of questions.”

Alfred, who served as a Corporal in B Company of 2nd Battalion, 24th Foot, was one of the last survivors of the battle.

He was posted to the 2nd Battalion, 24th Foot at Brecon and served in South Africa from February 1, 1878, to January 12, 1880, during the Anglo-Zulu War, fought between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom in 1879. Britain, which instigated the war in an effort to emulate the previous century’s forming of a federation in Canada, eventually emerged victorious from the conflict – ending Zulu dominance in the region of southern Africa.

Alfred was quickly promoted to the rank of sergeant the day after the battle and later served in Burma and India before eventually being discharged in February 1895.

He died in Newport, Wales, where he lived with his sister, in 1936, aged 77, and was buried with military honours at St Woolos Cemetery, Newport.

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