Αρχική > Ένοπλες Δυνάμεις, Διεθνή - Γεοπολιτικά, Ιστορικά, επιλογές διαχείρησης > Τoday in Military History: January 22-23, 1879:Battle of Rorke’s Drift; Outnumbered British Force Defends Supply Depot vs. 4000 Zulus (Μικρή συλογή άρθρων)

Τoday in Military History: January 22-23, 1879:Battle of Rorke’s Drift; Outnumbered British Force Defends Supply Depot vs. 4000 Zulus (Μικρή συλογή άρθρων)

Α)January 22-23, 1879:Battle of Rorke’s Drift; Outnumbered British Force Defends Supply Depot vs. 4000 Zulus

 

«Defence of Rorke’s Drift» by Alphonse-Marie-Adophe de Neuville (1880)
Currently at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
(Unless otherwise indicated, all illustrations are courtesy of Wikipedia)

Many students of military history have seen – or have at home – the 1964 film Zulu. It shows a heroic defense of a frontier outpost by a small band of British regulars against a numerically superior, determined native foe. The battle of Rorke’s Drift has attained a certain cult status in military history circles.

Background

The Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 could – rightly or wrongly – be called a «war of aggression» with Britain playing the role of the bully. Unfortunately, the bully’s target hit back, hit back hard, and gave the bully a very bloody nose. The Zulu Empire, situated in what is today the province of KwaZulu-Natal in the Republic of South Africa, had fought with the Boer and British settlers of southern Africa for more than 50 years. British colonial politicians were seeking to unify the disparate provinces that today comprise South Africa, but the Zulus stood in their way. After a South African diplomat issued an ultimatum to the Zulus to disarm and disband their army, British forces invaded Zululand on January 11, 1879. Neither the ultimatum nor the invasion had the approval of the British government in far-off London.

Map showing location of former Zululand in modern-day South Africa
[Modern-day international boundaries are shown]
Image courtesy of kids-britannica.com

Prelude to the Battle

The invasion of Zulu land was a well-planned operation, with the major forces divided into three distinct columns. The invading army consisted of some 6600 British troops, with about 9000 African native auxiliaries. The main column led by Lord Chelmsford was given the job of attacking the Zulu capital of Ulundi, while the other columns were tasked with keeping outlying Zulu tribes from interfering with Chelmsford’s attack force. The main attack column consisted of about 1837 British, Boers, and native troops.

The first major battle of the war occurred on January 22 at Isandlwana, where over 1300 British regulars and members of their native contingent were massacred by 20,000 Zulus before noon. The disaster at Isandlwana was partly a result of poor reconnaissance by the British, as well as failure to follow their own orders to form a wagon laager when making camp. 

One portion of the Zulu army, being held in reserve (sometimes referred to as the «loins» of the buffalo), had been unable to participate in the battle. They had been sent to block the line of communication and retreat for the British force. When the battle ended, this section of the Zulu army spontaneously advanced toward Rorke’s Drift, where a small garrison was guarding the column’s supplies. Given this chance to «wash their spears,» an estimated 4000 Zulus marched the 10 miles from the site of the massacre to the mission station/army depot at Rorke’s Drift on the Natal side of the Buffalo River. Their advance was delayed by the need to find a usable crossing, which took them some time.

Zulu ruler Cetshewayo, c. 1875
Photo on glass plate

[The Zulu ruler, Cetshewayo (catch-a-WHY-oh), had specifically told his regimental commander NOT to cross the Buffalo River to attack any enemy units, nor to attack any organized defenses such as Rorke’s Drift. The Zulus at Rorke’s Drift were under the command of Prince Dabulamanzi, a half-brother of Cetshewayo.]

Fortunately, two European officers of the Natal Native Contingent (NNC) managed to escape Isandlwana on horseback and ride to Rorke’s Drift to warn them, arriving at about noon. There were only about 150 British soldiers at the post, with 96 fit for duty, the rest laid up in the hospital (the mission station, built in 1877 by Swedish missionary Otto Witt, had been converted to serve as an aid station). They also had a company of NNC – between 225-250 men and their white officers – as well as about 100 men of the Natal Native Horse (who had escaped from Isandlwana earlier in the day) to scout for the approaching Zulus. The three senior officers present – Lieutenant John R.M. Chard, Royal Engineers; Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, commander of B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot; and, Acting Assistant Commissary James Langley Dalton – discussed their options.

The credit for the decision to stand and fight at Rorke’s Drift should go to Mr. Dalton, due to the relative inexperience of both Chard and Bromhead. Dalton was an experienced sergeant-major, having retired from the British army several years previously. He volunteered to serve in the Army Commissary Service as the possibility of British action against the Zulus loomed.

Thoughts of retreat were almost instantly quashed, as moving the wounded by wagons in the open countryside of Natal would be suicidal, allowing the more mobile Zulus to simply run them down and mercilessly slaughter them. It was, therefore, decided to defend the mission station. Men were assigned to guard the hospital, and began to make loopholes in the walls and to barricade outward-facing doors. The company of NNC, armed only with spears, was assigned to the well-built stone kraal (corral) by the storehouse.

Actual drawing of Rorke’s Drift defenses, drawn by Lt. Chard, R.E.
(Light red broken lines show path of Zulu attacks)
Image courtesy of http://www.rorkesdriftvc.com/battle/chard_map.htm and
Royal Regiment of Wales Museum, Brecon

Work began shortly thereafter to construct barricades using 200-pound bags of mealies (cornmeal) and large biscuit boxes, which were in large supply in the storehouse. A fairly large perimeter was established, which included the storehouse, the hospital and the stone kraal. In the meantime, Rev. Witt, Surgeon James Reynolds and assistant army chaplain Padre George Smith clambered up a nearby hill (known to the locals as Shiyane, generally known to the Europeans as the Oscarberg) to watch for the Zulus. Lt. Chard felt he would be able to hold the mission station with the forces at his disposal, especially with something like 20,000 rounds of ammunition in the storehouse.

At about 4 p.m. Surgeon Reynolds, Padre Smith and Rev. Witt descended from the Oscarberg and reported they had sighted the approaching Zulus to the southeast at a nearby ford. The enemy was about five minutes away. Almost immediately, an NNH trooper appeared, saying the Zulus were about a minute away. This declaration caused the rest of the mounted natives to bolt, which their officers were unable to stop. As the mounted men left, the NNC company also took to their heels, followed by their commander and white NCOs. This last desertion provoked a response from some of the British troops, who fired on the fleeing NNC, killing one of their NCOs. Shortly after, Rev. Witt obtained a horse and fled the scene to join his family.

The Zulu Force

The Zulu army at this time had been honed by some 60-70 years of fighting and conquest by their founding ruler Shaka Zulu. The current Zulu ruler, Cetshewayo could call on 35,000 to 40,000 men, essentially a national militia. Zulu men were enrolled in regiments by age groups, usually in their teens. If a unit served with distinction, the whole regiment would be permitted to marry en masse. Members of married regiments were denoted by wearing black head-rings. Most unmarried regiments were considered the «standing army» while married men over the age of 40-50 were essentially the reserves. [It was not unknown for warriors in their 60s – or even older – being called to service.] The attackers of Rorke’s Drift consisted of elements of three regiments of married men in their 30’s and 40’s, and elements from a fourth regiment of younger unmarried men.

Typical Zulu warriors of various regiments, date of photo unknown
Image courtesy of http://www.britishbattles.com/zulu-war/isandlwana.htm

Each regiment also had various distinguishing features like loincloth color or fabric, ceremonial headdresses or leg or arm adornments. Colors and decorations of their oval cowhide shields also marked different regiments. Most unmarried regiments had black shields with other decorations, while married units could have nearly any colored and decorated shield design. A unit that truly distinguished itself in battle could be honored by royal decree by carrying white shields, thus denoting what were effectively the veteran units.

The primary weapon of the Zulu regiments was the iklwa, a short-handled spear mainly used in hand-to-hand combat, still sometimes referred to as the assegai. Another secondary weapon was the knobkerrie, a club carved from a tree trunk which often served as a badge of a regimental officer. The Zulus were also trained to use their shields as an offensive weapon.

In addition, during the previous decades many Zulus acquired European firearms through trade. There were several hundred of these weapons being carried by the attackers of Rorke’s Drift. [It is, however, a myth that the Zulus were carrying firearms looted from the dead soldiers at Isandlwana, as none of the attackers of Rorke’s Drift had been involved in that fight. The weapons used were older smoothbore or rifled muskets, many in poor condition.] However, many Zulus considered the use of firearms unmanly, depriving your opponent of the opportunity to look into the eyes of his attacker. Though marksmanship training was unknown among the Zulus, it is a fact that 5 of the British soldiers killed at the battle succumbed to Zulu musket fire.

The British Force

The defenders of Rorke’s Drift were a mixed bag of men. Most were English, with some Irish, a few Welsh, and one documented Scotsman amongst them. One of the recipients of the Victoria Cross (VC), Corporal Ferdinand Schiess of the NNC, was born in Switzerland, of all places. The vast majority were from the lowest rungs of the English social ladder. They were paid «a shilling a day» and endured the disdain of their social betters when they returned home. [Readers are urged to read the poem «Tommy» by Rudyard Kipling for a general impression.]

Martini-Henry breech-loading rifle Mk III, with short lever;
Image courtesy of http://www.militaryrifles.com/Britain/MoreMartini.htm

The primary weapon of the men was the Martini-Henry rifle, the first British service rifle that was a true breech-loader with metallic cartridges. It fired a single .577/450 round, which then required working the lever to eject the spent cartridge, inserting a fresh round, then working the lever again to prepare the rifle for firing. Under good conditions, a British soldier could fire up to 10 rounds in a minute. However, the earlier ammunition had a tendency – especially in African climes – to overheat the breech block after extended use, easily fouling the rifle. This sometimes forced soldiers to use either their bayonet or a personal knife to extract the spent cartridges in order to reload, slowing their rate of fire. This unfortunate tendency of the Martini-Henry is perhaps partly to blame for the disaster at Isandlwana earlier in the day.

Battle of Rorke’s Drift

As more Zulus began to appear, Lt. Chard recognized that the current defensive line was now too large, so he ordered construction of an inner wall to shorten the perimeter, and ordered evacuation of the hospital. As these orders were being carried out, the first Zulu warcries of «Usuthu! Usuthu!» could be heard coming from the throats of thousands of Zulus; the first wave of Zulus charged the south wall. They were thrown back by the heavy volume of fire from the British soldiers, and heavy hand-to-hand fighting. Consequenly, the Zulus fell back, regrouped and swung to their left and hit the northwest wall and hospital.

Some of the Zulus then clambered up onto the nearby hill and began sniping at the defenders. Some Zulus concelled themselves in the walled garden north of the defenses. Several attacks were organized in this area, along with a number of Zulu marksmen firing into the enclosure. A second attack against the hospital was more successful. The roof of the hospital soon caught fire, forcing an evacuation of the defenders and the patients. Showing singular valor during this part of the fight were Privates Henry Hook, Robert Jones, William Jones and John Williams. The two Privates Jones defended one corner of the hospital, shooting Zulus and fighting with those that attempted to wrest their rifles from them through the loopholes.

Many of the rooms of the hospital were not connected to each other, making the hospital a maze and a deathtrap. As the defenders became hemmed in, Private Williams used a pickaxe to chop holes in three separate walls, allowing the defenders to drag themselves and 8 patients to safety. Private Hook took on the Zulus in desperate hand-to-hand combat, prevailing time and again. Hook and Williams (an assumed name) grew fatigued, they would switch roles, Hook wielding the pickax and Williams taking on the Zulus. Eventually, despite the personal attacks of the Zulus, the fire threatening to engulf them, and the physical exertion of chopping their way through the hospital walls, they escaped the conflagration to join the other defenders in the now-shortened perimeter. The the hospital burned to the ground. [Each of these four men received VCs for their bravery.] The conflagration also help light up the night, allowing the British to see their foes more clearly as the fighting continued past sundown (about 7:00 p.m. local time).

Paths of the three major attacks on the Rorke’s Drift defenses, January 22-23, 1879
Image courtesy of http://samilitaryhistory.org/vol044gc.html

The Zulus launched several more attacks throughout the next several hours, keeping the defenders busy, allowing them no rest. Actual fighting stopped around 2:00 a.m., with Zulu sniping ending about 2 hours later. The defenders had fought for nearly 10 continuous hours, from late afternoon until the early morning. At dawn on the 23rd (around 5:30 a.m.), the hospital was in ruins, burnt completely. At that time, Lt. Chard sent men out to search for Zulu survivors (which were shot, clubbed or bayoneted), gather weapons, and count bodies. About 370 Zulu bodies were calculated, but it was speculated that more were carried off by their comrades.

As the British finally started to relax, a lookout spotted a force of Zulus in the distance, causing the men to «stand to» once more. By this point in the battle, the defenders had less than 900 rounds left to them. However, this group of Zulus had apparently been involved in the fight and wanted no part of further conflict. Many of the Zulus were seen taking snuff, as they had had no food or water for 24-36 hours. After about an hour, the Zulus moved off to the east, back towards their homeland. An hour after that, another force of men was spotted approaching the mission station, but it was a column of British horsemen, who had escaped from Isandlwana. The battle of Rorke’s Drift was over…

Aftermath

The final result? An estimated 500-750 or more Zulu dead. The number of Zulu dead is speculative, as it is likely the retreating warriors carried many of their dead and wounded from the field. Or, that some crawled away, hid among rocks or in caves on the Oscarberg, and were never accounted for.

The «butcher’s bill for the British defenders? 17 killed, 10-13 wounded. Considering they were outnumbered something like 40 to 1, it is incredible that the casualties were not higher.

Footnote #1: As a result of their extraordinary defense of Rorke’s Drift, a total of 11 Victoria Crosses – the highest award given by the British military – were awarded. It was among the single largest number of VCs given for a single action in the history of the British army. Five other men received Distinguished Conduct Medals (considered a «near miss for the VC»), with some of the defenders receiving brevet promotions. [At that time, there was no provision for the posthumous awarding of the VC. One British soldier was «mentioned in dispatches» and apparently would have received the 12th VC, if he had survived.]

Footnote #2: The Victoria Cross recipients of Rorke’s Drift:

Lt. John R.M. Chard, R.E., photographed 1881

  1. Lt. John R.M. Chard, Royal Engineers, officer commanding, Rorke’s Drift;
  2. Lt. Gonville Bromhead, Company Commander, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot;
  3. Corporal William Allen, Company B, 2/24 Regiment;
  4. Private Frederick Hitch, Company B, 2/24 Regiment;

Private Henry Hook, Company B, 2/24 Regiment

  1. Private Henry Hook, Company B, 2/24 Regiment;
  2. Private Robert Jones (#716), Company B, 2/24 Regiment;
  3. Private William Jones (#593), Company B, 2/24 Regiment;
  4. Private John Williams (Fielding), Company B, 2/24 Regiment;
  5. Surgeon James Henry Reynolds, Army Medical Department;
  6. Corporal Christian Ferdinand Schiess, 2nd Battalion, Natal Native Contingent
  7. James Langley Dalton, Acting Assistant Commissary, Commissariat & Transport Department

Acting Asst. Commissary James Langley Dalton
Image courtesy of http://www.rorkesdriftvc.com/vc/dalton.htm

Footnote #3: Surgeon Reynolds, one of the VC recipients, also had his pet fox terrier named Dick mentioned in his citation. Dick stayed by his master’s side throughout the battle, except at one point to bite a Zulu who came too close to Reynolds.

Footnote #4: As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the 1964 film Zulu is a generally accurate depiction of the defense of Rorke’s Drift. There are a number of Hollywood-style additions for dramatic effect, and there are a number of character depictions that are…just wrong! [Henry Hook is portrayed as an insubordinate, drunken malingerer, which is 180 degrees from his true self. At the London premiere of the film, Hook’s two elderly daughters walked out of the theatre after seeing the incorrect portrayal of their father.] Otherwise, even after 50+ years, the film still holds up pretty well as entertainment.

Original lobby poster for Zulu (1964)

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The Victoria Cross Recipients of Rorke’s Drift; Tommy Atkins Comes Home

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The Victoria Cross Recipients of Rorke’s Drift; Tommy Atkins Comes Home

Lts. Chard (Stanley Baker) and Bromhead (Michael Caine) in movie Zulu (1964)
Image courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk

I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, «We serve no red-coats here.»
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ «Tommy, go away,»
But it’s «Thank you, Mister Atkins,» when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s «Thank you, Mister Atkins,» when the band begins to play.
***”Tommy” by Rudyard Kipling from Barracks-Room Ballads (1892)

As a follow-up to Friday’s lengthy posting about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, I began to examine the biographies of some of the men who were recipients of the Victoria Cross (VC) for “… most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.” Several of the men fell victim to what can only be termed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I can only advise the reader to judge for himself. The more things change…

Lt. John R. M. Chard, Royal Engineers; Commanding Officer, Rorke’s Drift; Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/
Lt. John R. M. Chard, Royal Engineers
Commanding Officer, Rorke’s Drift
Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/

Lieutenant John R.M. Chard, Royal Engineers – He joined the Royal Engineers in 1868, and had served in Bermuda and Malta building fortifications prior to being sent to South Africa. After the battle of Rorke’s Drift, he was promoted to captain, then breveted to major. He later commanded the R.E. detachment in Singapore from 1892 to 1896 at the rank of lieutenant colonel. Chard was promoted to colonel and sent back to Great Britain to take a posting in Perth, Scotland. However, he became ill with tongue cancer and died at his brother’s house on November 1, 1897, at the age of 49.

Lt. Gonville Bromhead, Commander, Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment; Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/
Lt. Gonville Bromhead, Commander, Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment
Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/

Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, Commanding Officer, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot – Bromhead came from a distinguished military family – his grandfather had fought the French at Waterloo. He was 33 years old at the time of Rorke’s Drift, although he had purchased his commission as a 2nd lieutenant in 1867. The reason for his slow promotion was likely the fact that he was profoundly deaf (which was not depicted in the movie Zulu). Bromhead was promoted to brevet major after the battle. He later served in India, also participating in the 3rd Anglo-Burmese War of 1885-1886. He died of typhoid fever on February 9, 1892 at the age of 46; he is buried in the north Indian city of Allahabad.

Cpl. William Allen, Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment; Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/
Cpl. William Allen, Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment
Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/

Corporal William Allen, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot – Aged 35 at the time of the battle, Corporal Allen had recently been demoted from sergeant for being drunk on duty. During the fight, he and Private Hitch (more on him later) helped keep communications with the men defending the hospital open until it was evacuated and both men were wounded. After their wounds were dressed, they both then helped distribute ammunition to the defenders throughout the fight. Allen was eventually promoted back to sergeant. He later returned to England, and served as a training instructor at the regimental recruiting depot at Brecon, Wales. He died at nearby Monmouth, Wales in 1890 of influenza at the age of 46.

Pte Frederick Hitch, Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment; Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/
Pte Frederick Hitch, Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment
Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/

Private Frederick Hitch, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot – Fred was 22 years of age at the defense, having enlisted in the army less than 2 years previously. [Fred was illiterate, and signed his enlistment papers with an “X”.] He was severely wounded in the right shoulder by a Zulu-cast musket ball, which left him permanently disabled. After his discharge from the army, he moved from job to job, unable to find permanent employment. Hitch was also married and raising a family (he eventually had eight children) and found it difficult to get by on his military pension of 10 pounds a year (in 2008 value, that’s about $1185). In 1901, he fell from a ladder; when he awoke in the hospital, he discovered his VC was stolen. Hitch managed to secure a replacement, but had to pay for it himself. It later turned up at an auction after his death. Later, Hitch became a London cab driver. He died of pleuro-pneumonia on January 6, 1913, living alone, age 56.

Pte Henry Hook, Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment; Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/
Pte Henry Hook, Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment
Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/

Private Henry Hook, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot – If one soldier of the 24th was truly maligned by the movie Zulu, it was “Hooky.” Depicted in the film as a malingerer and a drunkard, he was neither. Characterized by his superiors and fellows as a model soldier, he had volunteered to help cook for the garrison prior to the Zulu attack. Oh, and he was also described as a teetotaler. Assigned to defend the hospital, he performed “above and beyond the call of duty.” He and Private Williams held out for an hour in one of the hospital rooms, literally digging their way through three walls and bringing 8 patients to safety before the hospital was overrun by the Zulus. In the aftermath of the defense, as the men of the 24th were being offered their rum ration, Hook took his for the first time, explaining that after the events of the previous days, he deserved it. After his retirement in 1880, he served for another 20 years as a member of the 1st Volunteer Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, attaining the rank of Sergeant-Instructor, finally retiring in 1904. Hook then worked as a janitor at the British Museum. He died of pulmonary tuberculosis on March 12, 1905, aged 54. [Hook’s two elderly daughters were invited to the London premiere of the film Zulu in 1964. However, when they saw the early scenes depicting their father in a less-than-truthful light, they walked out of the theater in disgust.]

Pte Robert Jones (#716), Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment; Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/
Pte Robert Jones (#716), Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment
Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/

Private Robert Jones (#716), Company B, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot – Another soldier of the 24th who came to a poor end. He enlisted in the regiment at the age of 19, apparently wanting to be something more than a Welsh farm laborer. During the defense of the hospital, Jones and his comrade Private William Jones (#593) defended one of the wards until six of the seven patients were evacuated. He was stabbed in the stomach by a Zulu assegai. He saw service in India, and in 1882 transferred to the reserves. When he subsequently left the army altogether, he returned to Wales, became a farm laborer and married, producing five children.

He complained of headaches later in life. In 1898, he borrowed a neighbor’s shotgun “to go rabbit hunting.” He was found shortly afterwards, dead of a head wound. His death was ruled a suicide. As a result, his body was carried into the town graveyard over the wall – not through the gate – and his headstone faces away from the church, opposite all the other headstones. His family has tried for years to have the verdict of suicide reversed but to no avail. He was 41 years old.

Pte William Jones (#593), Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment; Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/
Pte William Jones (#593), Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment
Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/

Private William Jones (#593), Company B, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot – William Jones is possibly the most pathetic of all the heroes of Rorke’s Drift. He was 39 years old on January 22-23, 1879. He also served in Mauritius, Burma and India, and was awarded a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. He was discharged from the army in February, 1880 due to chronic rheumatism which he claimed to have contracted from the cold, wet nights lying on the ground after the battle. Unable to find steady work, Jones did some acting and in 1887 toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. However, Jones’s mind never recovered from that battle. He was found wandering around Manchester, destitute and penniless, having pawned his VC in 1910 for £6. His family took him in but, convinced that Zulus were coming through the windows of his family home, he grabbed his grandchildren and ran them out of the house. He was declared mentally unstable and sent to a government workhouse where he died on April 15, 1913, age 74. No one claimed his body and he was buried as a pauper in an unmarked government grave.

Pte John Williams (Fielding), Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment; Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/
Pte John Williams (Fielding), Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment
Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/

Private John Williams (Fielding), Company B, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot – He enlisted in the army in 1877, at the age of 19, probably using a false name to avoid being traced after running away from home. Fielding and Hook saved eight patients – and themselves! – by digging their way through three walls of the hospital, sometimes using a pickaxe, more often digging with their bare hands. After Rorke’s Drift, Fielding served in India from 1880 to 1883. He then returned home to Wales, and served as a sergeant in the 3rd Battalion (basically the recruiting unit) for the South Wales Borderers (the renamed 24th Regiment) at its depot in Brecon, Wales. Though retired, he volunteered to serve on the SWB depot’s staff during World War I. He married and had six children, one of his sons being killed at Mons in 1914. He was the last Rorke’s Drift VC recipient to survive, dying of heart failure on November 25, 1932 at the age of 75.

Cpl. Christian Schiess, 2nd Battalion, Natal Native Contingent; Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/
Cpl. Christian Schiess, 2nd Battalion, Natal Native Contingent
Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/

Corporal Christian Ferdinand Schiess, 2nd Battalion, Natal Native Contingent – Corporal Shiess was 23 years old at Rorke’s Drift, a native of Switzerland and a veteran of the French Army and the 9th Cape Frontier War (1877-1879) in South Africa. He was only at Rorke’s Drift due to the fact that he was in the hospital suffering the effects of poorly-fitting boots. During the defense, Schiess at one point dislodged some Zulus who were threatening the inner defense line, despite being wounded.

After the war, he was unable to find employment of any kind, either military or civilian. He was found wandering the streets of Cape Town in late 1884, suffering from malnutrition and exposure – essentially homeless! He was taken in by members of the Royal Navy, after he told them of his exploits at Rorke’s Drift and showed them his VC, his only possession. Taking pity on the man, the Navy gave him food and offered him passage back to England, which he gratefully accepted. However, during the voyage on the troopship Serapis, Schiess succumbed to the ravages of his unfortunate circumstances, dying on December 14, 1884, at the age of 28. He was buried at sea off the coast of Angola.

Surgeon James H. Reynolds, Army Medical Department; Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/
Surgeon James H. Reynolds, Army Medical Department
Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/

Surgeon James Henry Reynolds, Army Medical Department – Surgeon Reynolds, born in Dublin, Ireland in 1844, joined the Army Medical Department in 1868, and served in India and several military actions in Africa prior to the Anglo-Zulu War. Besides attending to the Rorke’s Drift defenders while under heavy fire, he also helped distribute ammunition. After the battle, Reynolds attended to the sick and wounded, and was subsequently promoted to Surgeon-Major. He retired from the army in 1896, with the rank of Brigade Surgeon Lieutenant Colonel. He died March 4, 1932 at the Empire Nursing Home in London, age 88 years old.

James Langley Dalton, Acting Asst. Commissary; Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/
James Langley Dalton, Acting Asst. Commissary
Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/

James Langley Dalton, Acting Assistant Commissary, Commissariat & Transport Department – Dalton enlisted in the 85th Regiment as a common foot soldier in 1849, at the age of 17. He transferred to the Commissariat Corps in 1862, and was later promoted to Master-Sergeant. In 1870 he served as part of the British Army’s Red River Expedition to quell the Métis rebellion led by Louis Riel, one of the first challenges to the newly-created country of Canada. Dalton retired in 1871 after 22 years of service. Apparently unable to find civilian work – or feeling the call of the frontier – he moved to South Africa and volunteered for service in the Commissariat Department in 1877. After the battle, Dalton was given a permanent commission in the department. He left for England in early 1880, returning to Africa shortly after to take part shares in a gold mine. In late 1886, he was in Port Elisabeth, South Africa visiting an old friend. Staying in a hotel, he died in his sleep from unknown causes on the night of January 7, 1887, age 55.

Colour-Sergeant Frank Bourne, Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment; Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/
Colour-Sergeant Frank Bourne, Company B, 2nd/24th Regiment
Image courtesy of http://www.prisonersofeternity.co.uk/rorkes-drift-empire-at-bay/

SPECIAL MENTION: Colour Sergeant Frank Bourne, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot – If you have seen the movie Zulu, you still can see in your mind’s eye the tall, severe visage of Colour Sergeant Bourne, his muttonchop sideburns bristling, his eyes blazing, staring down at the (in his mind) malingering soldiers of the 24th shouting, “Nobody told you to stop working!” [See below] Well, the reality is a bit different. At the time of the battle of Rorke’s Drift, Frank Bourne was 24 years old, the youngest colour sergeant in the British Army, having enlisted only 6 years previously. His youth earned him the nickname “The Kid.” Also, Bourne was only about 5’ 6” tall. For some reason, his actions at Rorke’s Drift were recognized with a Distinguished Service Medal rather than a VC. Bourne was also offered an officer’s commission, but he declined.

British actor Nigel Green (1924-1972) as Bourne in Zulu; Image courtesy of http://actoroscar.blogspot.com/2013_12_01_archive.html
British actor Nigel Green (1924-1972) as Bourne in Zulu
Image courtesy of http://actoroscar.blogspot.com/2013_12_01_archive.html

After the Anglo-Zulu War, he saw service in India and Burma. Bourne was later promoted to Quartermaster-Sergeant. In 1893 he was appointed Adjutant of the School of Musketry (now the Small Arms School Corps) in Hythe, Kent, retiring from the army in 1907. He volunteered for service during the First World War, at the end of which he was given the honorary rank of lieutenant colonel. In 1936 Bourne made a BBC radio broadcast discussing the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, a transcript of which still survives. He became a fixture at the funerals of the other VC recipients from Rorke’s Drift. Bourne outlived all the other defenders of the mission station, dying on May 8, 1945 – VE Day – at the age of 91.

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