b. 24/05/1857 Abergavenny, Wales. d. 25/11/1932 Cwmbran, Wales.
John Williams (Fielding) (1857-1932) was born in Merthyr Road, Abergavenny, Wales on 24th May 1857. He was the second child of eight born to Michael and Margaret Fielding. The family were devout Catholics, and his father lived to the age of 82. He enlisted first in the Monmouthshire Militia in February 1877 under the name John Williams, and his height was recorded as 5ft 8in, but later that year he joined the 2/24th Regiment of Foot (later South Wales Borderers). The reason why John chose to enlist under the name of Williams is not known, so only theories can be offered such as possibly he was running away from home and didn’t want to be traced. Soon after enlistment, young John found himself sailing for the distant shores of South Africa to take part in the Zulu Wars.
On 22nd-23rd January 1879, John was stationed at Rorke’s Drift Mission when the large Zulu force made their assault following their victory at Isandhlwana. During the first attack, John was posted with Privates Joseph Williams and William Horrigan in a distant room of the hospital. They held their position for over an hour under heavy fire, until they had virtually run out of all their ammunition. With communication cut off, the Zulus were able to approach and burst through the door. At this point Private Joseph Williams was killed, along with two of the patients. At this point, John managed to knock a hole in the wall of the room, with the help of two patients, and they clambered through to the next room, where they found Private Henry Hook. Williams then teamed up with Hook, and with one of them fighting off the Zulus with a bayonet, the other worked at knocking a hole in the walls of the rooms. They broke through three more partition walls, and managed to get eight patients to safety through a window, and helped them to join the inner defences.
Williams was gazetted for the Victoria Cross on 2nd May 1879, but didn’t receive his medal until 1st March 1880. He received it at the Almeda Parade Ground, Gibraltar from the Acting Governor and Commander in Chief, Major-General Anderson. Following his short service in Gibraltar, he served in India in 1880-1883 before transferring to the reserve. He later served as a sergeant in the 3rd Volunteer Battalion, South Wales Borderers. Following leaving the Army, he became a farm labourer, and did attend the reunion of South Wales Borderers’ VC’s at Brecon in 1898.
In 1914, he volunteered for service and served on the SWB Depot staff at Brecon throughout the Great War. He married Elizabeth Murphy and had 3 sons and 2 daughters; one son was killed while serving with 1/SWB during the Retreat from Mons in 1914. John became the longest surviving recipient of the Victoria Cross from Rorke’s Drift, and passed away at his daughter’s home, 7 Ty Coch, Cwmbran on 25th November 1932 aged 75. He was buried in St Michael’s Church, Cwmbran. His medals are held by the South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SOUTH WALES BORDERERS MUSEUM, BRECON, WALES.
BURIAL PLACE: ST MICHAEL'S CHURCH, LLANTARNAM, CWMBRAN, WALES.
John Williams (Fielding) medals on display at the South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon, Wales (May 2014).
South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon, Wales
Replica medal in Cardiff Castle
South Wales Borderers Museum Roll of Honour
Williams (Fielding) VC pictured in Brecon in 1898 on far right of front row with fellow 24th Regiment of Foot VC recipients.