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Cotswold Soldier Henry Lysons

PUBLISHED: 09:50 05 January 2011 | UPDATED: 15:17 20 February 2013

How the heroic exploits of Lysons and Fowler were depicted at the time

How the heroic exploits of Lysons and Fowler were depicted at the time

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Cotswold soldier Henry Lysons, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour during the Zulu War. James W Bancroft tells his story.

Henry was born on July 13, 1858, the second son of General Sir Daniel Lysons and his wife, Harriet Sophia (formerly Bridges). His father is said to have been the first soldier to go ashore in the Crimea in 1854 and he brought the Light Division out of action from the terrible disaster at the Redan, Sebastopol in 1855. He later wrote a book about his military service.



The Lysons family owned the estate at Hempsted, near Rodmarton, from 1756 to 1893, during which time they became a prominent name in the county. Daniel and Samuel Lysons were writers, engravers and antiquarians of note, and members of the family were vicars at St Peter's Church in Rodmarton.



However, Henry decided to follow the military profession of his father's branch of the family and, after serving with the 1st Staffordshire Militia, he entered the 90th Light Infantry, becoming ensign in 1878. He sailed for active service in South Africa on the staff of Colonel Evelyn Wood and took part in bush fighting to put down a rebellion by native tribesmen in the series of campaigns known as Cape Frontier Wars.



However, the main threat to stability in the country came from the highly-disciplined army of fearless Zulu warriors. In order to deal with the Zulu threat, the British issued a deliberately harsh ultimatum to the Zulu king, Cetshwayo. British forces began to build up along the vast border with Zululand and when Cetshwayo failed to comply, they invaded in three main columns. Lieutenant Lysons travelled with Wood to the Zululand border and crossed into enemy territory on January 6, 1879.



On March 28, at Hlobane Mountain, Lieutenant Lysons was among a unit of men who came under fire from Zulu warriors hidden in caves above them. A company of South African mounted troops were ordered to advance and try to dislodge the enemy, but there was a delay during which several men were killed or wounded and Colonel Wood's horse was hit and it fell on top of him.



Lieutenant Lysons, with Private Edmund Fowler of his regiment and Captain Ronald Campbell of the Coldstream Guards, dashed forward in advance of the party. The path was so narrow that they had to advance in single file and the captain who arrived first at the mouth of the cave was instantly killed. Lysons and Fowler, undeterred by the death of their leader, immediately sprang forward and, with complete disregard for their own safety, cleared the enemy out of their stronghold while Captain Campbell's body was removed. Evelyn Wood, who was himself a recipient of the VC, described the action as: 'The greatest deed I ever saw performed in my life.'



For their gallant conduct at Hlobane, the London Gazette of April 7, 1882, carried notification that Lieutenant Lysons and Private Fowler had been awarded the Victoria Cross. Henry was serving in India at the time and received the medal from the officer commanding at Cawnpore in the following August. He also received the South Africa Medal with clasp.



On his return from India he almost immediately sailed to north Africa to join Lord Wolseley's troops being assembled at Cairo for the Nile expedition to try to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum. He was promoted to captain at Aldershot in 1886, transferred to the Royal Fusiliers as Major in 1898, and was appointed Brevet-Colonel of the Bedfordshire Regiment in 1900. While serving in India in 1904, he was appointed Commander of the Bath and became Colonel of the regiment. On his return to England in 1906 he retired onto half-pay.



Colonel Lysons died in London on July 24, 1907, aged 49, and he was buried in St Peter's Churchyard at Rodmarton. His wife died in 1924 and is buried with him. There is a stone memorial cross at the grave. His Victoria Cross and other medals are with the Cameronians' Museum in Scotland.




James W Bancroft is the author of several books concerning British subjects, his Rorke's Drift having been re-printed six times. He has contributed to several prominent publications, including The New Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and he has produced numerous historical articles for many regional newspapers. His archive of historical documentation concerning British courage and achievement, collected over thirty-five years, is the most comprehensive of its kind in the world.



James has been married to Tracey for 27 years, and they live in an old Victorian house at Eccles with their four children.



Henry was born on July 13, 1858, the second son of General Sir Daniel Lysons and his wife, Harriet Sophia (formerly Bridges). His father is said to have been the first soldier to go ashore in the Crimea in 1854 and he brought the Light Division out of action from the terrible disaster at the Redan, Sebastopol in 1855. He later wrote a book about his military service.



The Lysons family owned the estate at Hempsted, near Rodmarton, from 1756 to 1893, during which time they became a prominent name in the county. Daniel and Samuel Lysons were writers, engravers and antiquarians of note, and members of the family were vicars at St Peter's Church in Rodmarton.



However, Henry decided to follow the military profession of his father's branch of the family and, after serving with the 1st Staffordshire Militia, he entered the 90th Light Infantry, becoming ensign in 1878. He sailed for active service in South Africa on the staff of Colonel Evelyn Wood and took part in bush fighting to put down a rebellion by native tribesmen in the series of campaigns known as Cape Frontier Wars.



However, the main threat to stability in the country came from the highly-disciplined army of fearless Zulu warriors. In order to deal with the Zulu threat, the British issued a deliberately harsh ultimatum to the Zulu king, Cetshwayo. British forces began to build up along the vast border with Zululand and when Cetshwayo failed to comply, they invaded in three main columns. Lieutenant Lysons travelled with Wood to the Zululand border and crossed into enemy territory on January 6, 1879.



On March 28, at Hlobane Mountain, Lieutenant Lysons was among a unit of men who came under fire from Zulu warriors hidden in caves above them. A company of South African mounted troops were ordered to advance and try to dislodge the enemy, but there was a delay during which several men were killed or wounded and Colonel Wood's horse was hit and it fell on top of him.



Lieutenant Lysons, with Private Edmund Fowler of his regiment and Captain Ronald Campbell of the Coldstream Guards, dashed forward in advance of the party. The path was so narrow that they had to advance in single file and the captain who arrived first at the mouth of the cave was instantly killed. Lysons and Fowler, undeterred by the death of their leader, immediately sprang forward and, with complete disregard for their own safety, cleared the enemy out of their stronghold while Captain Campbell's body was removed. Evelyn Wood, who was himself a recipient of the VC, described the action as: 'The greatest deed I ever saw performed in my life.'



For their gallant conduct at Hlobane, the London Gazette of April 7, 1882, carried notification that Lieutenant Lysons and Private Fowler had been awarded the Victoria Cross. Henry was serving in India at the time and received the medal from the officer commanding at Cawnpore in the following August. He also received the South Africa Medal with clasp.



On his return from India he almost immediately sailed to north Africa to join Lord Wolseley's troops being assembled at Cairo for the Nile expedition to try to relieve General Gordon in Khartoum. He was promoted to captain at Aldershot in 1886, transferred to the Royal Fusiliers as Major in 1898, and was appointed Brevet-Colonel of the Bedfordshire Regiment in 1900. While serving in India in 1904, he was appointed Commander of the Bath and became Colonel of the regiment. On his return to England in 1906 he retired onto half-pay.



Colonel Lysons died in London on July 24, 1907, aged 49, and he was buried in St Peter's Churchyard at Rodmarton. His wife died in 1924 and is buried with him. There is a stone memorial cross at the grave. His Victoria Cross and other medals are with the Cameronians' Museum in Scotland.




James W Bancroft is the author of several books concerning British subjects, his Rorke's Drift having been re-printed six times. He has contributed to several prominent publications, including The New Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, and he has produced numerous historical articles for many regional newspapers. His archive of historical documentation concerning British courage and achievement, collected over thirty-five years, is the most comprehensive of its kind in the world.



James has been married to Tracey for 27 years, and they live in an old Victorian house at Eccles with their four children.



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