Most would not know of the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879, in which the largest imperial power in the world imposed its authority on a small African group of tribes.
A few might be aware of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, a battle fought during that conflict, but most will only have heard of it through the popularisation of Michael Caine’s first major film, Zulu.
IT WAS a battle in which 155 brave British soldiers repulsed 4,000 Zulus warriors, resulting in 32 British killed or wounded against nearly 900 Zulus. Admittedly the soldiers had guns while their adversaries were only armed with shields and spears.
After the conflict medals which everybody would have heard of – the Victoria Cross – were awarded to 11 men. The largest number of gallantry medals ever given to a single regiment, for actions on a single day. In fact, a 12th should have been awarded, but only later were soldiers given recognition posthumously.
You might ask now what on earth has this to do with CabbieBlog which is written primarily about London.
Well, one recipient was Frederick Hitch.
Frederick Hitch, VC
The citation published in the London Gazette read:
War Office, May 2, 1879.
The Queen has been graciously pleased to signify Her intention to confer the decoration of the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned Officers and Soldiers of Her Majesty’s Army, whose claims have been submitted for Her Majesty’s approval, for their gallant conduct in the defence of Rorke’s Drift, on the occasion of the attack by the Zulus, as recorded against their names, viz.:—
2nd Battalion 24th Regiment Corporal William Allen and Private Frederick Hitch
It was chiefly due to the courageous conduct of these men that communication with the hospital was kept up at all. Holding together at all costs a most dangerous post, raked in reverse by the enemy’s fire from the hill, they were both severely wounded, but their determined conduct enabled the patients to be withdrawn from the hospital, and when incapacitated by their wounds from fighting, they continued, as soon as their wounds had been dressed, to serve out ammunition to their comrades during the night.
He obtained his discharge before the close of hostilities and found employment at the Royal United Services Institution in London. He met with an accident at this period and whilst he was in the hospital, his Victoria Cross was stolen from his coat which has never been found. A replacement was granted by King Edward VII and was presented to him by Lord Roberts.
Blue Plaque marking the home of Private Frederick Hitch V.C. at 62 Cranbrook Road, Turnham Green
Shortly afterwards, Frederick Hitch became a cab proprietor, the only London cabbie to have been awarded a VC.
It was reported in The Times at a later date that Cecil Rhodes – presumably on his last visit to Britain – called to see him at the offices of the Cabdrivers’ Union. Frederick Hitch drove a taxi for the General Motor Cab Company. So unassuming a man was he that few of his colleagues at the Chiswick garage of the firm knew anything about his heroism during the Zulu War.