Even more history on your doorstep

Zulu! One of my favourite films, Michael Caine’s big break and a classic movie of the 60’s.

Zulu tells the story of the defenders of Rorke’s Drift during the Anglo-Zulu war in the late 19th Century. Over two days – 22 and 23 January 1879 – around 150 British and colonial soldiers successfully defended the mission station from attack by between 3 and 4 thousand Zulu warriors. By any standard it was a heroic battle; 11 Victoria Crosses and 4 Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded for that one action.

Of the 150 or so defenders, one stands out for me. Not because of his actions but because this afternoon I came across his grave in the local churchyard. I didn’t know it was there and I was in the graveyard for a completely different reason. But the clean and well tended headstone with fresh flowers attracted my attention, situated as it was in an older part of the plot amongst old and collapsing grave markers.

Private ‘David Lewis’ was born James Owens in 1852 near Whitland. In his teens he sought and obtained work in the tin works at Swansea Docks before he became a weaver. He married in 1875 and had two children, one of whom was named David Lewis Owens. He enlisted into theĀ  2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot at Brecon in December 1876 under the name David Lewis. His pay was sent to his sister.

In 1878 he sailed with his regiment to South Africa where he fought in the Cape Frontier war and the Zulu war between 1877-79. He was invalided to England and discharged from service in August 1879 with heart problems. He returned to Swansea where, as James Owens, he resumed his trade as a weaver. Years later, he lost an eye in an accident when he went into work on his day off to collect his wages.

James Owens died on 1 July 1938 in Brynmill, Swansea, aged 87 and was buried with full military honours at Bethel Church, just down the road from where I live.

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Strange days

It’s been an odd month; a strange mix of depressing news, achievement and good news.

All this month, there has been bad news in work. A friend has passed away, another two are off with serious illnesses and relatives of colleagues are seriously ill or have passed away. It’s at times like these that you fully understand the value of supportive colleagues and friends. I remember how important it was for me when my mum was ill, and I try to be as supportive if I can.

Rufus had to go to the vet for an operation to remove two small lumps from his eyelid and head. A routine, minor operation but given the stress in work, I found myself more worried than I should have been. I needn’t have, of course, as he bounced out of the vet’s with only a slight, post op stagger (although his eyes betrayed the effects of the anaesthetic as did the fact that when he tried to circle me – his usual greeting when we’ve been apart – he kept bumping into me as the circle became an ellipse). His head was shaved and he resembles a monk at the moment.

A while back, I was asked a strange question. “Do you want to take photos of a bunch of Vikings fighting on Pen y Fan?” It’s the kind of offer you can’t really refuse.

I know some of the Vikings in question because one of them works with me. Thus a week ago I found myself driving to the car park at Pont ar Daf with two giant Scandinavian warriors, four round shields, two sets of chainmail armour, a Dane Axe, a sword and two scrams. The conversation had I been stopped by the police would have been one to retell for many years. But fortunately, we weren’t pulled over. Nor were we ambushed by Angles, Saxons or Celts. Instead, we managed to get the last parking space in the car park and met up with 5 other Vikings to make the long trek to the top of the mountain.

All of this was for Cancer Research, (the Just Giving site is here), and we had a lot of interest and support from all the people we met on the way up, at the top, and on the way down again. Thank you to everyone who donated on the day.

Today, I took Rufus for his first long walk after the op. He was walking in a straight line again, which is always an advantage, and we went along a quiet stretch of the Pembrey cycle path. In the past we’ve encountered belligerent cows on this route so i was particularly wary but all the cows I could see were in the distance. But as we got to the end of the tarmac part, there on the left on the field were around 50 cows. Almost as one, they looked at us and Rufus and I looked at them. We stayed where we were, with the bravery that only a barbed wire fence can bring out in one.

As we watched each other, four of the braver bovines approached the wire. I am guilty of anthropomorphising animals but this time they really did look like four tough guys walking menacingly towards us as their stares never left us. We stayed long enough to appear not to be concerned and, egos satisfied, we set off back tot he car.

With one eye constantly looking behind for any signs of a herd of cows charging towards us.

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