Rorke’s Drift Zulu War medal awarded to defender John Waters – £44,000 at Dix Noonan Webb.

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The 1877-79 South African War medal given to Private John Waters, 1st Battalion, 24th Foot, sold for £44,000 against an estimate of £30,000- 40,000 at the Dix Noonan Webb (25% buyer’s premium) auction in London on May 21.

Christopher Mellor-Hill, head of client liaison at DNW, said: “The medal was bought by a doctor working overseas who loved the connection with the Rorke’s Drift hospital and that Waters was in there defending the hospital. The story of his escape from the hospital building after hiding in a wardrobe as it caught fire despite being wounded is one of the well-known side stories of the famous defence of Rorke’s Drift.”

The 1st Battalion of the 24th Foot formed part of the central column which advanced into Zululand in January 1879. Waters, however, was in some way sick and was left with nine other men of the 1st Battalion, who were mostly ambulatory like himself, at the hospital of the tiny rearguard base at Rorke’s Drift which was manned by just one company of the 2nd Battalion, 24th Foot.

Of the 10 men of the 1/24th present, five, including Waters, defended the hospital, which was the scene of the most savage fighting and the greatest deeds of heroism during the defence. Four men were killed and two, including Waters, were wounded.

While fellow defenders Williams and Hook (both later awarded the Victoria Cross) escaped the building after passing patients through, Waters preferred the “dubious safety of the blazing hospital to the unknown perils of a run in the open. He turned away from his loophole and crawled into the wardrobe at the back of the room, pulling the door shut behind him and burrowing down into the Witts’ [the missionary family who established the post at Rorke’s Drift] winter clothing” (from The Washing of the Spears by Donald R Morris).

Waters fled when the heat became too much, running under a large black cloak, but was stabbed by a Zulu before collapsing into a ditch where he hid until the fighting was over.

This medal, sold at a Wallis & Wallis auction in 1971 and subsequently in the Peter Minns and the Norman Rigg collection, came to the present vendor in May 2002.

In December 2016 DNW sold the South Africa Zulu War medal of Private Michael Minehan, 2nd Battalion, 24th Foot, right-hand man of the front rank of B Company at the defence of Rorke’s Drift, for £70,000. The result set a record price for a Rorke’s Drift medal awarded to a defender who did not receive the VC.

Fleet Air Arm group

Another noteworthy result among the 850 lots at DNW was the Korean War and Second War Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot’s Distinguished Service Cross group of 12 awarded to Royal Navy Lieutenant-Commander Sidney Hall.

His DSC was awarded in the Second World War for gallantry in leading 800 Squadron’s Hellcats from HMS Emperor during Operation Tungsten, the raid against the German battleship Tirpitz on April 3, 1944. The attack totally surprised the Germans and Tirpitz suffered a number of direct hits and was out of service for three months.

Mentioned in Despatches for Operation Pot Luck, when Hall led his squadron in strafing attacks of German shipping and aircraft at Rorvik, Norway, on May 14-15, 1944, Hall later took part in operations in support of the D-Day landings and was heavily engaged against ground targets during Operation Dragoon (southern France).


Korean War and Second World War Fleet Air Arm fighter pilot’s Distinguished Service Cross group of 12 awarded to Lieutenant- Commander Sidney Hall, Royal Navy – £18,000 at Dix Noonan Webb.

As if all that was not enough, during the Korean War, as Air Group Commander, 14th Carrier Air Group, Hall flew a large number of sorties, piloting Sea Furies from HMS Glory. In September 1951 he was shot down near Choppeki Point, being picked up by a helicopter after an hour in the water, thus being awarded the ‘Winged S’, Helicopter Rescue Certificate, as well as the Distinguished Service Order.

Estimated at £8000-12,000, Hall’s medal group – offered with the Defence and War Medals 1939-45 to Third Officer Dorothy M Hall, Women’s Royal Naval Service – sold to a US collector for £18,000. The lot included an extensive collection of original items such as three pilot logbooks, detailing all flights between January 1941 and August 1956.

Mellor-Hill added: “This Korean group was a splendid combination of Second World War and Korean War service and was bought by a collector who collects medals for notable British naval actions to reflect the story of the Royal Navy (since medals were awarded) from The Glorious First of June to recent times.”