The remarkable life of Ned Wakefield...
Ned Wakefield was born on September 25, 1854, in Talke village on the Cheshire/Staffordshire border.
Like most children in those days, by the age of eight he was doing a job for a meagre wage, in Ned’s case it was turning the new bricks in a brick yard, along with other boys of a similar age, this was to ensure the bricks cooled quicker and equally.
By the age of 11, he was now working in the coal mines and by his 12th birthday he had experienced his first pit disaster, when an explosion in 1866 at the Talke o’ th Hill Banbury colliery killed more than 90 miners.
Young Ned was uninjured but at this tender age helped save two lives as in all mining disasters the mutilation of the bodies was beyond the comprehension of a
We have now to assume all the family moved North, into the more lucrative Lancashire coal field.
We find Ned working at the Crow Orchard pit in Skelmersdale and once again fate played a kind hand, as another explosion killed a number of miners and Ned came away unscathed.
Third time unlucky for Ned, in an unnamed St Helens pit he was trapped in a roof fall, suffering only minor injuries.
Ned, having enough of the pits, joined Her Majesty’s armed forces, namely the 24th regiment of foot.
The regiment that was made famous by two engagements in the Zulu war of 1879 in Natal South Africa, now 25-year-old Ned was once again lucky as his company was in reserve when the other battalions were wiped out by 20,000 Zulus at Isandhlwana on 22nd January 1879.
And 585 British soldiers were slaughtered, only two surviving, he was also only on his way up the line to Rorke’s Drift when the Zulus attacked.
Of course, the story of the heroes of the Rorke’s Drift is now legend all over the world. Ned in his later years tells the tale of Zulu king, Cetawayo, visiting England in 1882 with a wry smile. Only a couple of years before his tribe was slaughtering British troops, and now he was at Queen Victoria’s court.
Moving on to WW1 and we find Ned was still serving in the forces aged 62, in 1916. Around this time Ned was taken out of the firing line and he, now living in Cross Street, Leigh, was sent to Suttcliffe and Speakmans, where they were engaged in making shell cases and gun sights as well as the newly invented gas masks.
Ned served out the war here and one would think at age 64 he would retire.
Not Ned, he then moved to Harrison McGregors as a moulder for a short while, he then once again moved on and worked at Plank Lane pit coming full circle so to speak.
It is thought he was working under ground until he was 70 years of age. This remarkable man worked the last years as a surface worker, retiring in 1927, aged 73. Ned Wakefield passed away in Atherleigh Hospital aged 95 in 1949 having witnessed some of the world’s most horrific scenes.