Battling Welsh back at Rorke's Drift

IT IS 120 years since the Welsh soldiers of the 24th Regiment crossed the Buffalo River to destroy the power of the Zulu nation but the picturesque ford known as Rorke's Drift still marks a frontier of sorts.

To the west lie the green hills of Natal and to the east lies Zululand, home to South Africa's proudest and most conservative tribe. These uplands earned their inhabitants the Nguni name amaZulu, or people of the heavens, but apartheid turned the whole region into a compulsory "homeland" for millions of black South Africans who happened to speak the Zulu tongue. Impoverished villages and mud huts sprawl as far as the eye can see.

So there were plenty of people around yesterday when a detachment of the Royal Regiment of Wales, led by the band of the Prince of Wales Division, marched across the new bridge over Rorke's Drift and - literally - into history.

It was their forebears in the 24th Regiment (later the South Wales Borderers) who 120 years ago today fought two of the British Army's most remarkable battles. The first, Isandhlwana, was the worst defeat in the history of Britain's colonial wars - 1,500 British and colonial troops and their African allies lost their lives, including 600 members of the 24th and six companies of the 2nd Warwickshire Regiment.

The subsequent defence of the mission station of Rorke's Drift by 110 outnumbered British troops, most of them from the 24th Regiment, was a sideshow but led to the awarding of 11 Victoria Crosses, the most for a single engagement. It was dramatised in the film Zulu, compulsory viewing for the Royal Regiment of Wales every 22 January.

Yesterday Lieutenant-Colonel Iain Cholerton, who marched his men and women from Rorke's Drift to Isandhlwana, said he was deeply proud to bring his regiment back. "It is one of my aims to teach them something of the history of the battalion," he said, standing under the grave-strewn slopes of Isandhlwana. "We value this 24 hours of our history more than anything else in our 310-year history."

Today's anniversary will include a re-enactment and speeches by the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, and his controversial "prime minister" and Zulu nationalist, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

The Zulus lost 2,500 of their best warriors in the two battles and their king, Cetswayo, bemoaned a pyrrhic victory. The British commander, Lord Chelmsford, blamed himself for exposing the camp at Isandhlwana to the Zulus' surprise attack. The next time he came up against them, at Ulundi, his Maxim guns made sure the Zulus, with their leather shields and spears, would never seriously challenge colonial rule again.

Yesterday morning Rifleman Shadrack Mbatha, a member of South Africa's mainly Zulu 121 Infantry Regiment, stood guard as the unarmed British marched crossed Rorke's Drift. He was happy to see them, he said, because they reminded him of the great Zulu victory at Isandhlwana.

And what if he were called on to defend Zululand again? He smiled. "We aren't here to defend Zululand only but the whole of South Africa. We are all in South Africa together now."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A long-established, technology rich ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable