Henry Edward Gallagher
was born in March 1855 of a poor Roman Catholic family at Thurles,
County Tipperary, Ireland. His farming parents died of disease so
the Catholic church took over the farm and raised Henry. He began
his working life as a clerk.
At the age of 19 Henry
ran away and boarded a ship for Liverpool. On the 13 March 1874 he
enlisted for the 25th Brigade of the British Army - Regimental
number 81 - for 12 years service with the 24th (Warwickshire)
Regiment of Foot. He was assigned to 'B' company of the 2nd
He became a
Lance-Corporal on 11 March 1875, a Corporal on 1 April 1876 and a
Sergeant on 9 October 1877. During April of that year he married
Carolina Maria Stanley. He was now 22 years old.
After 4 years of home
service he embarked on 1 February 1878 on the troopship Himalaya
at Plymouth which was bound for South Africa. Over the next
year he was saw his first active service in what became known as
Cape Frontier Wars.
On 9 January 1879 his
Battalion advanced towards the frontier of Zululand and set-up
camp by two thatched buildings - a storehouse and a field hospital
- which made up the small mission station known as Rorke's Drift.
It was a place Henry and his comrades would remember for the rest
of their lives.
At three in the
afternoon on Wednesday 22 January 1879 news reached the camp that
the British Army outpost at Isandlwana had been taken by the Zulus
and all the men in it massacred. A wing of the Zulu Army was now
on its way to attack Rorke's Drift. A decision was made to stand
and fight. The camp was hurriedly fortified with anything to hand,
and Sergeant Gallagher was placed in charge of the south wall
where two wagons had been included in the barricade. There were
139 men to defend the post, a quarter of
whom had been hospital patients that morning.
It is estimated that
they were attacked by 3,000 Zulus of which 350 were killed. The
battle left 15 defenders dead, 2 dying and 10 wounded. Eleven
Victoria Crosses were awarded, the most ever gained by one
regiment for a single action in British Military history. This
successful defence has often been summed-up as: aided by the Martini-Henry rifle 'with some guts behind it'.
Henry carried the scars of the defence with a permanent blue mark on the right side of his nose, which was a powder burn caused by the backflash each time he fired his rifle.
For a full account of Rorke's Drift
The trauma of battle
suffered by the defenders had a deep effect on them and many
soldiers discharged from Army service soon after the war. Henry
chose to remain with the Colours and became known as 'A Rorke's
He arrived back at
Brecon, via Gibraltar, on 3 December 1880, and was later promoted
to Colour-Sergeant. In July of that year the regiment was re-named
South Wales Borderers and Colour Sergeant Gallagher was given
regimental number 1590. On 3 January 1883 Henry, his wife, and
their new daughter Caroline, went with the 2nd Battalion to India
where they had four more children. They stayed there for the next
After more adventures in
Burma the family arrived back in England in 18 November 1893 where
the Battalion was stationed at Hilsea and Gosport, Hampshire.
Henry continued his service beyond the normal 21 years and on 10
August 1895 he was appointed to the Army Staff as Garrison
Sergeant-Major. His last child was born in
Portsmouth on 9 June 1895 and his last tour of duly took him to
Egypt until 30 March 1897.
Henry was discharged
from the Army at Gosport on 10 May 1897 after serving the Colours
for 23 years. He became Barrack Warden at Portsmouth and lived in
a house called Wisteria in Augustine Road Drayton Portsmouth.
During his retirement he was fond of walking for miles on
Portsdown where he would recount his campaigns to old friends.
Henry Edward Gallagher
died at his home on 17 December 1931 aged 75 and was buried with
full military honours at Christ Church, Portsdown, Portsmouth.