My Salute to the Soldiers of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift!

June 11, 2011 sexyknees

Me and my redcoat!

The Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 is one of the most interesting times in history for me.  As a kid I would read any book I could find about the British invasion of the Kingdom of the Zulus (which is located in what is now South Africa).  I love the uniforms of that period and think of reign of Queen Victoria as being the “glory days” of the British Empire (not that I agree with colonialism or a great deal of British policy at the time).

The war was prompted by border disputes between the Zulu king, Chetshwayo, and the Boers (Dutch farmers).  Though the British empire was attempting to negotiate a peaceful resolution with both parties,  Lieutenant General Thesiger, Second Baron of Chelmsford (Lord Chelmsford in short) launched an invasion of the Zululand in January, 1879, without authorization.  Lord Chelmsford expected the Zulus to crumble with little to no resistance when faced with his modern military force of of 5,000 British and 8,200 African soldiers.  He was slightly wrong.

King Chetshwayo’s army numbered 40,000 men, and though mainly armed with only short thrusting spears called assegai, the Zulu’s bravery and determination to protect their land more than matched Lord Chelmsford’s force.  On the morning of January 22, 1879, 20,000 of King Chetshwayo’s soldiers attacked the encamped central column of Lord Chelmsford’s invading army – consisting of nearly 1,800 troops – and slaughtered all but 500.  It was the worst defeat ever suffered by a modern army against a technologically inferior native force.

Shortly following the British defeat at Isandlwana, 4,000 Zulu troops, under the command of Prince Dabulamanzi kaMpande, headed for a small British border supply post called Rorke’s Drift.  Manned by 141 soldiers of B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of foot under the command of Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead and Lieutenant John Chard of the Royal Engineers, this small reserve force resisted constant assault by the Zulus from 4:30pm on the 22nd until 4am on the 23rd, discharging all but 900 rounds out of the 20,000 being stored at their post.  The defenders of Rorke’s Drift were awarded more Victoria’s Crosses (equivalent to our Medal of Honor) than any regiment engaged in a single action in British history (11 in all).

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Rorke’s Drift but don’t have the time to read a book, watch the 1964 movie, Zulu, starring Stanley Baker and Michael Cain (his initial movie role, I think).  It is exceedingly well directed, acted, and filmed and well worth the 138 minute view time.  If you decide to watch it I’d love to hear your thoughts!!!

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mick  |  February 9, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    As a former Royal Engineer…… Thank you 🙂 x

    • 2. sexyknees  |  July 14, 2012 at 10:48 pm

      You are very welcome, Mick. What was it like being a Royal Engineer?

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