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Victoria Cross-winning hero of Rorke's Drift honoured by Gloucestershire housebuilder

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Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 12 January 2018 15:20

Victoria Cross-winning hero of Rorke's Drift honoured by Gloucestershire housebuilder

Today a small village in Gloucestershire will be honouring its most famous ‘son’ when a new housing development takes his name.

Private Henry Hook was awarded the Victoria Cross – the highest award for gallantry – following the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in the late 1800s.

He is buried in the church yard at Churcham off the A40 between Gloucester and Ross-on-Wye.

This morning (Friday, January 12) his great niece, Shirley Fowler, and great great nephew, Peter Collins, are due to join by parish councillors, one of the Vice-Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire and a representatives of Two Rivers Housing to unveil the sign for Henry Hook VC Close.

 
Left to right: David Powell, Two Rivers chair of board, Garry King, Two Rovers ceo, Shirley Fowler, great niece of Henry Hook, Peter Collins, great great nephew, Robert Bernays, Vice Lord Lieutenant, John Francis, chair of Churcham Parish Council

 

Garry King, chief executive of Two Rivers Housing, said: “Local councils should be inspired by the way the Churcham community has supported this wonderful scheme, getting involved right from the start and helping to design it around the needs of local people. As a result, we have been able to build homes that help to keep families together, which is great news for the future of this small rural community.

“It’s also very fitting to be able to honour one of Churcham’s war heroes in this scheme and I am delighted we will be joined by two of Henry Hook’s relatives to help us mark this great occasion.”

Alfred Henry ‘Harry’ Hook VC is recorded in history as an English recipient of the Victoria Cross for his actions at the Battle of Rorke's Drift.

The battle saw 150 British soldiers, most from the 24th Regiment of Foot, stand their ground against against 4,000 Zulu warriors.

Family and those in the know have long battled against the portrayal of him in the 1964 film Zulu, which starred a young Michael Caine.

Private Hook was played by James Booth, his film character being a reluctant, hard drinking shirker who became an accidental hero after saving the lives of eight patients stranded in an army hospital in the Zulu war in 1879.

It could not have been further from the true character of the real Gloucestershire man, a teetotal lay preacher who happened to have been given a bonus for good conduct shortly before his heroics.

His grave was restored in 2008 by those seeking to also restore his reputation.

When he died on March 12 1905 thousands lined the streets to honour him.

 
Crowds gathered for Henry Hook's funeral at Churcham Church in 1905

An online tribute found at vconline.org.uk explains although he is remembered as hero, like many returning soldiers of the time life was not always easy.

“On his return to England, he found that his first wife had run off with another man believing that he had been killed in South Africa. He would settle for a new life in Sydenham Hill in London, and worked at the British Museum. He re-married in 1897.

“In 1904, he retired from his job and then returned to his native Gloucestershire. Sadly, Hook’s retirement was very short, and he died of pulmonary tuberculosis on 12th March 1905 at his home, 2 Osborne Villas, “Gloucester.

"He was buried in St Andrew’s Churchyard, Churcham. His medals are held by the South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon, Wales.”

 
Henry Hook grave at Churcham

Hook served first in the Monmouth Militia, enlisting in the regular army at Monmouth in March 1877 aged 26.

At Rorke's Drift he suffered a serious head injury from a Zulu assagai which was to cause him discomfort in later life.

He later served 20 years in 1st Volunteer Battalion, Royal Fusiliers.

Churcham Parish Council identified the need for affordable homes in the area and worked closely with Two Rivers Housing to design them.

The result is four houses, two flats and a bungalow in Chapel Lane and people with a local connection through work or family were given priority.

Five of them are rented and the other two are Shared Ownership homes. The first occupants moved in just before Christmas.

Two Rivers Housing is headquartered in Newent and is an independent not-for-profit community organisation providing quality affordable homes for communities in Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.

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