b. 28/07/1856 Birmingham. d. 31/01/1927 Barrow in Furness, Cumbria.
Samuel Wassall (1856-1927) was born on 28th July 1856 at 11, The Court, Alcester Street, Deritend, Aston, Aston, Birmingham. Little is known of his early life prior to enlistment with the 80th Regiment of Foot (later the South Staffordshire Regiment).
In 1878, following disagreements between the Zulus and the Boers in the Transvaal, an ultimatum was offered to the Zulu king, Cetshwayo, which, due to its impossible demands, was rejected.
A British force under Lord Chelmsford was ordered into Zululand in January the following year including Private Wassall. Neither the ultimatum nor the military action had been approved by the British government. The Zulu wars had begun.
On 22nd January 1879, a force of 20,000 Zulus overwhelmed and annihilated 1800 British soldiers in the worst military disaster ever to be inflicted on a British army by a technically inferior indigenous force. On that day, when the camp at Isandhlwana was taken by the enemy, Wassall retreated to the Buffalo River, where he witnessed one of his comrades struggling (Private Westwood). Westwood was struggling to swim and seemed to be drowning. Wassall rode to the bank, dismounted, leaving his horse on the Zulu side of the river, rescued the man from the stream, re-mounted his horse, dragging Westwood across the river under a heavy shower of Zulu fire.
Wassall was recommended for the Victoria Cross, and following approval his citation appeared in the London Gazette on 17th June 1879. Wassall at the time, was the only VC awarded for the Battle of Isandhlwana, though the actions of Lieutenants Melvill and Coghill would later be recognised with posthumous VCs in 1907. Wassall was presented with his VC by Lord Wolseley on 11th September 1879 at Utrecht, South Africa.
Following his Army service, little is known of Wassall’s later life except that he ended up living in the North West of England. He lived to the age of 70, passing away in North Lonsdale Hospital, Barrow in Furness, Cumbria on 31st January 1927. He was laid to rest in Barrow Cemetery, and the headstone was eventually replaced in 1986. Wassall’s medals are held by the Staffordshire Regimental Museum, Whittington Barracks, Lichfield, Staffordshire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: STAFFORDSHIRE REGIMENT MUSEUM, WHITTINGTON, LICHFIELD.
BURIAL PLACE: BARROW IN FURNESS CEMETERY, BARROW IN FURNESS, CUMBRIA.
Section 3B, Plot 1952
Thomas Stewart – Image of Wassall VC’s name on the Staffordshire Regimental Chapel Memorial.
Paul Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of Wassall Lane, Lichfield, Staffordshire.