Essex war hero Isaac Lodge: 150 years ago
PUBLISHED: 10:34 10 April 2018 | UPDATED: 12:50 10 April 2018
Many brave soldiers from across the UK and beyond have fallen in battle. Here James Bancroft celebrates the special sacrifice of one special Essex war hero 150 years on
This month marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of an Essex Boer War hero who was elected to receive the Victoria Cross by his comrades in arms.
Isaac Lodge was born on May 6, 1866, at Great Canfield near Dunmow. He was the son of Elijah Lodge and his wife Rhoda (formerly Ward) who was the daughter of William Ward, who lived at the farm down by the gates of Elusion Park, where Lord Warwick lived.
Isaac was educated at the local school and stated: ‘When I was 11 years old I was out at work; first on a farm, doing milking, and then I did various other things, tanning the barks of trees, and later on I was a gamekeeper, and my employer gave me two woods. It was a good job, but I had to be a soldier. Nothing put it into my head; it was there.’
He enlisted in the Royal Garrison Artillery at Warley Barracks on December 29, 1888, as 70062 Gunner Lodge and transferred to Q Battery, Royal Horse Artillery in February 1889. He first saw service in India, but when the Anglo-Boer War broke out in October 1899, and when things were going badly for the British, reinforcements were requested and he sailed for active service in South Africa.
Gunner Lodge was attached to Lord Roberts’ column which relieved the four month-long siege of Kimberley on February 15, 1900, and forced the Boers to surrender at the battle of Paardeberg on February 27. However, Boer commando units were still mobile and their foremost field commander, General Christiaan de Wet, had decided to use guerrilla tactics to keep mobile and only confront the British with surprise attacks. With this tactic, he decided to try to capture the British water works near Bloemfontein.
Gunner Lodge’s unit bivouacked for the night of March 30, at a place called Korn Spruit, near the Bloemfontein water works. Under cover of darkness, General de Wet and about 200 Boers with some artillery got into position to conduct an ambush on the British troops as they struck camp at first light. When the Boers opened a devastating fire on them the men in the camp were taken completely by surprise and were thrown into confusion.
The British retired to Sanna’s Post railway station, some 800 hundred yards in rear, and Major Phipps-Hornby, who was in command of Gunner Lodge’s Q Battery, ordered his men to unlimber and on deploying out in the open he began firing. However, the Boers returned such a heavy fire that the bullets were rattling on the guns like hail and the sand around them looked like the surface of a lake in a downpour.
The fire became too fierce for the horses to face, so the major gave the order for the guns to be retired by hand. Gunner Lodge was among the men who attempted this perilous task, and with great effort by every man involved, they hauled them across open ground exposed to enemy fire until all but one of the guns was saved. Four more efforts were made to rescue the other gun, but when several horses were killed and many more men wounded during the attempt, it was decided to abandon the gun and the limber.
Every man in the unit behaved with great daring and gallantry during the action. Following rule 13 of the Royal Warrant, under such circumstances certain men could have their names put forward by their comrades as being particularly entitled to receive the Victoria Cross. Isaac was one of the four men chosen and his award was announced in the London Gazette of June 26, 1900. He received the medal from Lord Roberts at Pretoria on October 28. He also received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with five clasps. On his return from South Africa he was presented with a commemorative silver pocket watch by the people of Great Canfield. Three Distinguished Conduct medals were also awarded for the Korn Spruit engagement, making it the most decorated action in the history of the Royal Regiment of Artillery.
Isaac was promoted to the rank of corporal in 1903 and after six more years with the colours he was discharged as a bombardier. He received the Long Service, Good Conduct Medal and the King Edward VII Coronation Medal of 1911. He was offered the position of drill sergeant at the depot, but he turned it down. This may have been because he realised he was having problems with his hearing, probably caused by the thunderous pounding of the artillery guns.
He stated later: ‘If I had my time over, I should be a soldier again. If I weren’t so deaf, I should be in it now.’
He took up employment as a gatekeeper at Hyde Park in London. A terrible tragedy hit the family in 1916 when his 11-year-old daughter, Gladys Sarah, died. Isaac died in a London hospital, on June 18, 1923, aged 57. He was buried at Hendon Park Cemetery, where there is a headstone. His wife, Minnie Elizabeth, and their daughter are buried with him.
There is a memorial to Isaac in St Mary’s churchyard at Great Canfield, his name appears on the memorial at the Royal Artillery Chapel in Woolwich, and his medals were given to the National Army Museum by his daughter in 1983, along with his army paybook. Q Battery is now known as Q (Sanna’s Post) Battery, which is the headquarters battery of the 5th Regiment of Royal Artillery.