PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) was a very real thing back in the late 19th century just as much as it is today and all through history of course but sadly it was not medically recognised until long after the battle of Rorke’s Drift. In fact it was not recognised until 1980 when it first appeared as an operational diagnosis in medical journals. Therefore there were no services or support for veteran soldiers who had seen action. Even though a stiff upper lip is admirable it’s not always the best approach in dealing with trauma.
One of the saddest, documented, cases of PTSD from Rorke’s Drift was that of Private Robert Jones.
Jones was serving with the Second Battalion of the 24th Regiment of Foot when he became one of the 11 soldiers to win the Victoria Cross for his actions in the defence of the mission.
Robert Jones, along with another soldier called William Jones, plus dozens of patients found themselves fighting for their lives within the hospital. After running out of ammunition Robert Jones used his bayonet to defend a doorway until the room he was in was filled with dead or dying Zulus. He was stabbed four times with the Zulu assegai and also sustained a bullet wound but continued to fight on bravely. He helped six patients escape the burning hospital via a hole in the walls that he and other soldiers had dug. He then joined Private Hook and William Jones and went back into the hospital to rescue more patients. As Robert Jones fled the hospital, for the second time that night, the building collapsed right behind him meaning he was the last man out.
After his military service Jones married, had children and became a farm labourer. During the summer of 1898 he had become quite ill and one day asked to borrow his employers rifle to go hunting. Moments later a single shot rang out. Robert Jones was discovered in the forest with a gunshot wound to the head.
A verdict of “suicide whilst temporarily insane” was recorded after a coroner heard evidence that Jones suffered nightmares following his hand-to-hand struggle at the South African mission station at Rorke’s Drift.
The story, from here, just gets sadder I’m afraid…
In some religious traditions suicide is considered a sin because it is thought that only God had the prerogative to take a life. In former times those who had died by suicide were not permitted burial in consecrated ground. However, because Jones had been a recipient of the Victoria Cross this absurd rule was overlooked but as a caveat his coffin had to be passed over the wall into the Peterchurch Churchyard instead of being taken through the gates. Also, unlike all the other gravestones that faced the church, Private Robert Jones’s gravestone had to face away from the church.
There’s so much I want to say on this but my humble little blog about miniatures isn’t the place. Let’s just say that I find that whole thing absolutely deplorable.
In 2010 an SAS veteran who fought in the Falklands campaigned to get the gravestone turned around only to learn that the family preferred it that way so that it could be seen from the street.
Here is my version of Private Robert Jones in action with his bayonet. A true hero.