Zulu War: Rorke's Drift...

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,381
T'Republic of Yorkshire
I'm not sure but I think Monmouthshire has changed hands between the English and the Welsh over the centuries. No doubt someone better informed than me can enlighten you far better.
In addition, the 24th wouldn't become the South Wales Borderers until several years after the Anglo-Zulu war.
 
Feb 2011
822
Kitchener. Ont.
As to the op, in the case of the Drift, perhaps the attitude of the rankers could be best summed up by Borne's line in the movie, "Because we're here, lad. And there's nobody else."
rorkesdriftvc.com - Colour Sergeant Bourne DCM
Col. Sergeant Bourne was my favourite character in the movie. Prime example of the British stiff upper lip.
"Button your tunic up lad, where do you think you are!"

Here's a question:
The Flying Column used in the movie that takes up position in two rows, rear-rank firing while the front row reloads.
It comes across as a powerful scene but was this arrangement a legitimate military tactic of the time or just created for the movie?
Anyone?
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,381
T'Republic of Yorkshire
The Flying Column used in the movie that takes up position in two rows, rear-rank firing while the front row reloads.
It comes across as a powerful scene but was this arrangement a legitimate military tactic of the time or just created for the movie?
Anyone?
That's known as volley fire, and had been in use in the British army at least since the late 17th century. It was arguably perfected during the Napoleonic Wars.

In the early days of firearms, they weren't accurate enough to be used individually to any great effect, so this was compensated for by massing the guns together. However, the slow reload times meant that, often, by the time one or two salvos had been fired, the enemy were upon them.

Volley fire enabled the soldiers to keep up a steady stream of bullets. The continual casualties would cause the enemies to break before they could engage in hand-to-hand fighting. This tactic had actually been used in the 16th century by Japanese daimyo Oda Nobunaga, but I believe it was independently developed in Europe (by Gustavus Adolphus?).

Not all British generals were enamoured of this tactic. Field Marshal Sir Hugh Gough famously remarked in one battle, when told that his men were running out of ammo, "Thank god! We'll be at them with our bayonets!".

On a side note, I find it quite remarkable that one of the few Europeans who survived the earlier massacre at Isandlwana went on to play a prominent role in WW1 - Horace Smith-Dorrien, which just goes to show how quickly military tactics developed. At the start of his career, he was fighting a war which involved spears and cowhide shields, and at the end of it, his battles involved tanks and planes.
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
35,381
T'Republic of Yorkshire
rorkesdriftvc.com - Colour Sergeant Bourne DCM
Col. Sergeant Bourne was my favourite character in the movie. Prime example of the British stiff upper lip.
"Button your tunic up lad, where do you think you are!"
The other thing to mention is that Bourne was much younger and greener than the gruff veteran depicted in the film. He was 22 at the time of the battle, and painfully aware that he was much younger than some of the men under him.
 

Kevinmeath

Ad Honoris
May 2011
14,063
Navan, Ireland
I too have read that the significance of Rorke's Drift was greatly exagerated in order to have some good news to counter the disaster of Isaldwana. Also the regiment wasn't primarily Welsh either. This website says it had the following makeup:

btw can you guys tell me what 'Monmouthshire' means? I'm guessing its a part of Wales where people consider themselves English?
Monmouthshire is the most eastern county of South Wales, that is the closest to England and the first to be invaded I suppose. During the acts of Union for legal admin purposes it was put into England ,literally so that the judges had an equal numder of counties to adminiser and so was often found labelled on older maps Wales and Monmouthshire.

The border around the Town of Monmouth and Chepstow are close to England and look and feel very much a 'shire', can not comment if they consider themselves English. The county also includes the industrial coastal town of Newport and the eastern and western valleys (Pontypool and Ebbw Vale for instance).

The county is almost completely English speaking with the lowest % of welsh speakers (and I expect most of the population moved in during the industrial revolution). However you would be a very foolish person indeed to go into the valleys or Newport and tell them that they consider themselves English!
 
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Kevinmeath

Ad Honoris
May 2011
14,063
Navan, Ireland
The other thing to mention is that Bourne was much younger and greener than the gruff veteran depicted in the film. He was 22 at the time of the battle, and painfully aware that he was much younger than some of the men under him.
CSM Bourne was the youngest senior NCO in the British army at the time, his knickname was 'The Lad'.

The 6th son of a small but respectable farmer it had been arranged for him to be apprenticed to a tailor , a nice repectable lower middle class job/life except he ran away and joined the 24th.

Offered a commission (many have wondered why he was no awarded the VC) but could not afford an officers lifestyle.
He was commissioned later and on the eve of WWI retired as a captain (I think) but returned to the colours on the outbreak of war and retired again after the war as a Lt Colonel.

Two good books on the subject are Rorkes Drift by Adrian Greaves and Like Wolves on the Fold by Mike Snook. Snooks 'How can men die better' is very good on Isandlwana.

Neither describe Chard or Bromhead as fools, although Dalton an ex senior NCO is given a great deal credit.

Snook blames Durnford for the disaster (he is an ex Colonel of the Royal Welsh so no surprise there) and Chelmsford and his staff for splitting his force taking 600 of his redcoats on a recon in force and leaving 600 to defend a camp set out for 1200.

I would argue that Rorkes Drift was a major (and needless) defeat for the Zulu, an invasion was not stopped true but the British collected 400+ dead Zulu add this to the number of wounded it was a major loss for what was supposed to be a mopping up operation.

The comment the 55 Europeans survived (I am sure made in jest?) by 'running like hell' is wrong because any European who tried to flee by out running the Zulu was dead, if he had a horse and luck he might make it.
 

Chookie

Ad Honorem
Nov 2007
7,628
Alba
The comment the 55 Europeans survived (I am sure made in jest?) by 'running like hell' is wrong because any European who tried to flee by out running the Zulu was dead, if he had a horse and luck he might make it.
It was indeed an attempt to introduce a note of levity, but it was based in fact. None of the European survivors actually wore red jackets. Each and every survivor wore a patrol jacket (which was blue).

Incidentally, Chard, as an Engineer was not entitled to wear a red jacket - that was reserved for "fighting men".
 

Kevinmeath

Ad Honoris
May 2011
14,063
Navan, Ireland
It was indeed an attempt to introduce a note of levity, but it was based in fact. None of the European survivors actually wore red jackets. Each and every survivor wore a patrol jacket (which was blue).

Incidentally, Chard, as an Engineer was not entitled to wear a red jacket - that was reserved for "fighting men".
It is possible of those who escaped where not wearing red and it is thought Ceteswayo (not spelt correctly I fear) had told them that you could identify British soldiers by their redcoats.

However a couple of redcoats did escape a groom by the name of Williams (I think), some of the mounted infantry. Smith-Dorien (who survived and very effectively commanded the Corps of the BEF in 1914) escaped and he may have been wearing red (officers had a nice blue patrol jacket).

Anyway as I think about it I was wrong and you were right (well sort off) a couple of wounded redcoats (guards of the rocket battery) did escape on foot but they were not in the main camp. About 6 of the 24th escaped

Not sure what jacket Chard had pretty sure the RE at the time wore red but you could easily be correct.

Love the film Zulu but its OK i suppose historically when compared to some (really bad) ones. But as you say not realy very accurate.