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

Today in Military History: January 25

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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