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Natal Mercury

The Natal Mercury 1922 2 April - June

MONDAY, JUNE 12, 1922

96th Birthday.


Veteran of Crimean War.

A Peep into the Past.

("Natal Mercury" Special.)

Residing in the Y.M.C.A. Huts, at the Beach, Durban is a veteran soldier and colonist named Lewis Goldsmith LESTER who celebrated his 96th birthday on Sunday. His life story is one of service to the Empire, for he joined the British Army as a young man, and was with the Colours in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny, not to mention other punitive engagements and early Native wars in this country. Until recently Mr. Lester was very healthy considering his age - he was operated on when he was 92 years of age by the late Dr. Milner Smythe - and retained all his faculties, but now his strength is failing.

A "Mercury" representative called on Mr. Lester last week and had the opportunity of chatting with him of events which but for history would be forgotten by most of the inhabitants of the world to-day.

Naturally after the passage of so many years the veteran soldier is unable to give a coherent account of his stirring adventures in the early nineteenth century, but he recalls with pride the fact that he was with the British troops in the Crimea, and in the Indian Mutiny, and he speaks with old British soldier's traditional LOVE AND RESPECT of Florence Nightingale.

Mr. Lester was born in Ireland on June 11, 1826, in the reign of King George IV., and as a young man he joined the 41st Light (Welsh) Regiment. He was drafted with his regiment to India, subsequently going to Mauritius. When the Crimean War broke out in 1853 his regiment was transferred to the scene of operations, and he went through the heavy fighting and hardships associated with that campaign. There was little respite for the British Tommy in those days, and no sooner was the Crimean War over than Lester found himself back again in India, where the rebellious outbreak of the native troops was threatening the safety of the Empire.

After the Indian Mutiny Lester left the Army and enjoyed a well-deserved furlough with his relatives in Ireland. He secured a free passage to the Cape, and carried with him letters of recommendation to the High Commissioner and other British officers. He could not find employment in Capetown, and went on to Port Elizabeth and East London. He was given an appointment in the Customs office at the latter town, which was then only a collection of wood houses, and wattle and daub huts. He was at East London in the late 'fifties, and apparently had all sorts of duties to perform, for in his diary he mentions the difficulties of guarding the stores in the open from thieving Natives; he also writes of the arrival of emigrant ships from the Homeland, and the hazardous manner in which the emigrants had to wade from the ship to the beach. One such ship brought out 300 Irish girls, and a number of married men and women and their families, while another brought mostly Germans.

About this time Lester records that the Natives in a settlement not far from East London were proving troublesome. They were influenced by a Native girl princess, known as "Nonqausi," who prophesied that if all whites, men, women and beasts, were driven into the sea, the DEAD WOULD RISE and the aged would take on a new lease of life. Not only did she prophesy, but she urged her warriors to act, with the results that British authorities decided to place her under restraint. A British officer was sent up from Capetown, and East London called for a volunteer to accompany him. Lester, who had been promoted to Chief Constable and Court Messenger, volunteered, and with the officer sallied forth and captured the youthful bloodthirsty princess, who was taken away by the authorities. She was apparently well treated and educated, for when she returned to the East London district she was, in Mr. Lester's words, "a perfect lady, speaking English well, and dressed up to the nines, as they say." She did not bear any ill-will, and presented Mrs. Lester with a valuable gold brooch.

Meanwhile Lester had begun rearing a family, and finding it hard to earn sufficient in East London, he migrated to Kingwilliamstown, where for some time he won a living for himself and his family by going into Native territory and purchasing cattle, which he marketed in Kingwilliamstown. He suffered a grievous bereavement in the loss of his wife, and, tiring of the life in Kingwilliamstown, he moved on to Pondoland in 1870, obtaining a farm. He married again, and was doing well, when the Natives rebelled in Pondoland, and he again donned uniform. This time as a volunteer.

His eldest boys also volunteered, and one accompanied an officer on A SCOUTING EXPEDITION.

The officer was killed, and the boy Lester rode back, warning all the settlers on his route. He carried the warning into Umtata, and was considered to have saved that village from disaster. In this rebellion Mr. Lester's eldest son saved the life of a British officer by shooting down a Native warrior who was in the act of putting an assegai into him. Mr. Lester was a quartermaster attached to the old Cape Mounted Rifles. One day, in riding a fractious horse out of a laager, he had his foot crushed. The doctor recommended amputation, but the quartermaster decided to retain his injured limb, and although he was on crutches for some time, he performed his military duties. He was afterwards certified unfit and discharged.

After the Pondoland rebellion, Mr. Lester returned to his farm, but lost all his stock owing to rinderpest. He came to Durban with the object of getting a farm, and has remained here since.

Mr. Lester was no doubt entitled to a pension when he was certified unfit for military service, but he states that he declined to apply for one as he was fairly well off then. Later, when he fell on hard times, he sent in an application, which was unsuccessful, and to-day he is only in receipt of £2 per month, half of which is contributed by the Commanding Officer of the D.L.I. Recently his cheques had been marked "Pauper's relief," which has hurt the old man and his relatives, for they feel that if only for his services as a soldier he is entitled to some pension in his old age. It does certainly seem unfair that the small amount that is paid to Mr. Lester should be labelled "pauper's relief," especially as the injury he received while on active service in Pondoland must have handicapped his chance of earning sufficient to put something by for his old age.

Mr. Lester was married three times, and had five children, who are living in different parts of the Union and Australia. He is living with his youngest son, who is now 52 years of age, and has a family of his own.

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