The Rorke's Drift Commanders (Hardback)
Gonville Bromhead and John Chard
Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead and Lieutenant John Chard had fame thrust upon them, as did the place known as Rorke’s Drift, which before 1879 was an unknown homestead situated in the middle of the South African veld.
Although both men came from families whose various members were highly distinguished for their military service and for their service to the church, they became reluctant heroes after being awarded Britain’s highest decoration for valour, the Victoria Cross.
During the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879, a British invasion force was massacred at iSandlwana, after which a wing of the Zulu army about 3,000 strong attacked the outpost at Rorke’s Drift. Lieutenants Bromhead and Chard commanded the post, and after supervising the construction of barricades they led their men in defensive actions throughout the night until the Zulus lost heart and returned to their kraals. For their gallantry ‘under most trying circumstances’, both Bromhead and Chard, along with nine of their comrades, were subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross.
In 1964 the defence of Rorke’s Drift was brought back to public attention with the producing of the epic motion picture Zulu! In this film, Chard was portrayed by Sir Stanley Baker, whilst Bromhead provided Sir Michael Caine with his first starring role.
Bromhead and Chard epitomised the way of life of Victorian officers, with the exception that fate put them at Rorke’s Drift. They became major players in a battle which continues to excite interest and cause debate, and is unlikely ever to be forgotten.
The Anglo-Zulu War lasted only six months in 1879, but in that relatively short time twenty-three men were awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry under most trying and dangerous circumstances. Zulu warriors gave no mercy and expected none in return, yet half of the awards were given to men who went back into the midst of fierce fighting to rescue stranded comrades, well-aware that they risked suffering a particularly brutal death. Two men received posthumous awards for their efforts to save the Queen’s Colour of their regiment after the disastrous engagement against overwhelming numbers of…By James W Bancroft
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