Service for Rorke's Drift survivor in Ashby carries double message as PTSD issue is highlighted

By Graham Hill

23rd May 2024 | Local News

VIP visitors to the service in Ashby paid tribute to Pte John Smith. Photo: Charmaigne Allman
VIP visitors to the service in Ashby paid tribute to Pte John Smith. Photo: Charmaigne Allman

The first anniversary of the rededication service of Rorke's Drift survivor Private John Smith was held at Ashby Cemetery last Saturday - with a dual message.

The service was organised by the Ashby branch of the Royal British Legion who recognised the soldier 12 months after the original ceremony which was held at Ashby Cemetery last year.

On Saturday, they were joined by members of Whitwick RBL who arranged for a headstone for Pte Smith last year.

Former Major General

Pte Smith was a surviving defender at the battle of Rorke's Drift in January 1879, which happened during the the Anglo-Zulu War.

He was wounded by a spear in the battle which saw 150 troops from the British Empire defend the station from 4,000 Zulu Warriors.

A record number of 11 Victoria Crosses (VCs) were awarded, something which has never been repeated.

Pte John Smith lived and worked around Ashby and the area, sadly committing suicide, suffering from what is now suspected to be PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) which the Ashby Branch fully and actively supports.

Among several VIP Dignitaries at the service was former Major General "Mitch" Mitchell MBE.

He told Ashby Nub News that, as well as the history of the occasion, it was important to address PTSD now and said: "The important thing for me is that, of course, there's national commemoration and remembrance which is very important.

"Soldiers, sailors and airmen are local people. And so this sort of beautifully crafted very simple local commemoration and conversation lives on.

"But what can we do to prevent the John Smiths of the future?

Ashby RBL chairman Dan Harrison spoke about Pte Smith. Photo: Charmaigne Allman

"We, the military, are living communities. We want to live in communities. We want communities to remember. So I think I actually in a small way, probably slightly prefer the local, but it's got to work with the national.

"So I think it was beautifully done by the team here.

"John's story is a great story, but it's a sad story. If he could have had some support, as it there now, then maybe he wouldn't have died at 47. He might have died at 97. Events like this raise awareness."

Photo: Ashby Nub News

An Ashby based business, LH Financial Planning, with offices at The Old Cottage Hospital, is sponsoring the event along with a proposed 'fact display' to be sited within Ashby Museum.

The chairman of Ashby Royal British Legion, Dan Harrison, highlighted the importance of the event.

He said: "This was a very important occasion, highlighted by the number of people, VIPs and members of the public who attended.

"We think this will be more of an event that happens every five years, rather than annually.

"But, as a result of this, we've discovered that PTSD plays a part in what we do today. We hear terrible stories of people who end up on the streets.

Photo: Ashby Nub News

"Through this, we've developed a cause that we feel is the right way to go forwards - to be able to support veterans who may be suffering from it.

"There will also be a significant development by way of a display at Ashby Museum featuring actual artefacts from the period and a storyboard.

"In 20-30 years' time people will know what happened with John Smith who lay undiscovered for more than 100 years in an unmarked grave."


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