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Archway war hero survives Zulu attack!

PUBLISHED: 11:50 25 October 2010 | UPDATED: 12:11 25 October 2010

War hero Tom Lewis and (inset) Mr Bancroft's book

War hero Tom Lewis and (inset) Mr Bancroft's book

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The real-life tale behind the film classic, 100 years on

THE incredible tale of an Islington war hero who fought off a legendary assault by 4,000 Zulu warriors has been uncovered – exactly 100 years after his death.

Welsh-born soldier Tom Lewis settled in Despard Road, Archway, after an army career which saw him serve in South Africa during the Boer War of 1880/81.

Mr Lewis, a gunner for the Royal Artillery Company, was one of 150 soldiers who a year earlier had defied the odds in the miraculous defence of Rorke’s Drift – a battle immortalised in the classic film Zulu!, starring Michael Caine.

He was just 24 at the time.

Historian James W Bancroft, who examines the battle in his new book The Rorke’s Drift Men, said: “Tom arrived at Rorke’s Drift having been promoted to bombardier and he was one of 36 hospital patients, having injured his leg in a wagon accident. There were about 150 defenders in the commandeered mission station when on the afternoon of 22 January 1879, as many as 4,000 Zulu warriors attacked the post.”

The battle lasted for almost 10 hours and of 20,000 rounds of ammunition in reserve at the British Army supply post, only 900 remained afterwards.

Just 17 soldiers perished compared to an estimated 500 Zulus. Hundreds more wounded warriors were massacred by the British in the aftermath.

Eleven men were awarded with the Victoria Cross following the battle, part of the Anglo-Zulu War - the highest ever for a single action.

Mr Bancroft added: “During the defence the Zulus made a ferocious assault on the hospital, and Tom managed to escape through a window. Another defender said ‘he crept on his hands and knees and came from the hospital to the fort through all the firing’.”

After leaving the army Mr Lewis found work driving horse-drawn trams in Highgate and married Annie Price, a nurse, with whom he had six children.

Mr Lewis died from a blood clot aged 56 at the Royal London Hospital, in Whitechapel, on November 1, 1910 – 100 years ago on Monday. He was buried in Highgate Cemetery.

- The Rorke’s Drift Men: Heroes of the Zulu War by James W Bancroft is out now, available from all good bookshops.


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