b. 07/04/1856 Burgdorf, Switzerland. d. 14/12/1884 South Atlantic Sea
Christian Ferdinand Schiess (1856-1884) was born on 7 April 1856, Burgdorf, Bern Canton, Switzerland. His place of origin was Herisau, Canton Appenzall Ausserrhoden. Little is known about his early life before he enlisted with the French Army, before he sailed from Hamburg for East London, South Africa in 1877.
He volunteered for service and served in the 9th Frontier War. Colonel Dunford appointed him a Corporal in the 2nd Battalion, Natal Native Contingent. Due to ill-fitting boots, Schiess struggled with injuries to his feet, and it was due to this problem, that he found himself at Rorke’s Drift Mission in January 1879.
On the night of 22nd-23rd January 1879, Schiess, despite his wounds to his feet, displayed great gallantry when the garrison had moved back to the inner line of defence and the Zulus had occupied the wall of mealie bags which had been abandoned. Schiess crept along the wall, and dislodged one of the Zulus, and succeeded in killing him and two others before returning to the inner defensive wall.
After much pressure, he was awarded the VC (London Gazette 2nd December 1879) - the first to a soldier serving with South Africa forces. He received the VC from Sir Garnet Wolseley at a special parade in Pietermaritzburg on 3 February 1880. After the disbandment of the volunteer forces, he failed to find work. In 1884, he was found on the streets of Cape Town suffering from exposure and malnutrition.
The Royal Navy found him, gave him food, and offered him a passage to England, which he accepted, but he became ill during the voyage. He died on board the ship “Serapis” on 14 December 1884 aged 28, and is buried at sea off the coast of Angola. His VC was with him when he died. It is now on display in the National Army Museum in London.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM, CHELSEA, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: BURIED AT SEA OFF THE COAST OF ANGOLA.
Ferdinand Schiess' memorial at the Rorke's Drift Museum, Natal, South Africa
The front and reverse of Ferdinand Schiess' VC at the National Army Museum, Chelsea.
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Ashworth Barracks, Doncaster