South Africa General Service Medal, 1879 bar (‘Anglo-Zulu War’) - 771 Pte. W. Lake, 99th Regiment
The 99th Regiment were stationed in Chatham, Kent, in November 1878 when orders were received directing them to Natal. They sailed in three drafts between the 2nd and 5th December and arrived at Durban between the 3rd and 10th January 1879. They reassembled at the Lower Drift on the Thukela River as part of Col. Pearson’s Right Flank (No. 1) Column. Pearson’s column was ordered to occupy the deserted mission station at Eshowe in Zululand and, despite heavy rains, crossed the Thukela river shortly after the British ultimatum expired on 11 January 1879. One company of the 99th was left to guard the base at Fort Tenedos and three more were directed to escort a supply convoy in the wake of the advance. Early on the morning of 22 January Pearson’s advance guard blundered into a Zulu army waiting on the hills behind the Nyezane river to intercept them. The Zulus, commanded by Godide kaNdlela, immediately advanced to attack and Pearson deployed his leading companies in a defensive line along a length of wagon track.
The Zulu advance on their left flank was particularly determined and two companies of the 99th were hurried forward to check them – the Zulus were eventually driven off with about 600 casualties, and the following day Pearson occupied Eshowe. The convoy escorted by three companies of the 99th arrived there on the 28th. At Eshowe Col. Pearson heard the news that on the 22nd – a few hours after his own battle at Nyezane – the British Centre Column had suffered a serious defeat at iSandlwana and that he was unsupported. Pearson decided to defend Eshowe, but two companies of the 99th were sent back to the Thukela with a convoy of wagons. The rest of the garrison dug in, turning Eshowe into the biggest British fortification built during the war.
The Zulu king Cetshwayo was irritated that Pearson appeared to have settled the country as if the British already owned it, and directed the fort to be surrounded by a series of Zulu outposts. Over the next three months the Zulus regularly harassed the garrison, sniping at work parties, attempting to surround foragers and ambushing vedettes. Conditions inside the fort were cramped, insanitary and often made miserable by frequent downpours; food supplies began to run short. In the meantime, Maj. Gen. Lord Chelmsford assembled a relief column in Natal and crossed the Thukela at the end of March. This column included the three companies of the 99th who were then based on the border, and these took part in the battle of Gingindlovu on 2 April. Eshowe was relieved on the 3rd, and the garrison were withdrawn. The 99th spent the rest of the war garrisoning forts in the coastal sector and, once hostilities were over, embarked for Bermuda.
The 99th had been heavily involved in the story of the siege of Eshowe, and unusually detachments had both been present at the fort and during the relief operations. The battalion lost two men killed at Gingindlovu and one man killed and another wounded in skirmishing around Eshowe. One officer and six men of the 99th died of dysentery, heatstroke, drowning or suicide during the siege.
Pte. W. Lake’s entitlement to the medal with bar 1879 is confirmed in Forsyth’s medal roll.