News, Pre-WW1

A Dinner fit for Heroes: The Defenders of Rorke’s Drift Remembered.

  • The battle of Rorke’s Drift was part of the Anglo-Zulu war in 1879.
  • Robert Jones and John Williams were at the forefront of the battle.
  • Both servicemen received the Victoria Cross for their bravery in the defence of Rorke’s Drift.
  • The Royal Welsh Regimental Museum hosted a dinner for the descendants of the soldiers who served during the conflict
  • Descendants of Robert Jones and John Williams joined the dinner.

Robert Jones VC and John Williams VC

Hailing from a farm near Clytha in Monmouthshire, the Welshman Robert Jones received the Victoria Cross for his contributions at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in January 1879. It is the highest and most prestigious award for British and Commonwealth forces.

Jones was 21 years old when he served as a private in the British Army during the Anglo-Zulu War. Jones successfully carried six patients to safety from the depots hospital during a Zulu attack. He showed incredible courage while saving his fellow countrymen. The Zulus stabbed Jones while he was rescuing a 7th patient from one of the small hospital wards.

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He suffered four spear or assegai wounds during this brutal assault. 

Sadly, in 1898, after years of recurring nightmares he committed suicide. Unfortunately, at that time, the church didn’t allow the bodies of suicide victims in the churchyard.

Jones and Williams both won VCs
Descendants of both Private Robert Jones, VC and Private John Williams, VC attended the dinner.

John Williams VC was also a British recipient of the Victoria Cross for his action during the same battle. The two assisted each other during the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. They showed an immense level of bravery during this most epic of struggles. Interestingly, they are the two most memorable names who participated in the battle. 

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The Battle of Rorke’s Drift

The Battle of Rorkes Drift
Alphonse De Neuville’s painting of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift which took place during the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879.

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift was a conflict in the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Lieutenants John Chard of the Royal Engineers and Gonville Bromhead of the 24th Regiment of Foot led the small British garrison.

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The battle is also often known as the ‘Defence of Rorke’s Drift’ as the British soldiers stood firm in the small walled yard that made the mission station.

Around 150 British troops successfully defended it by utilising the buildings and volley fire against an army of 3,000 to 4,000 Zulu warriors. The battle was difficult because Zulu warriors repeatedly struck with spears and rifles. Finally, after eleven hours of fighting, the Zulu force stopped due to exhaustion and losses. The Battle of Rorke’s Drift was over.

The Zulu casualties were around 500 killed with many more wounded. Amazingly only 17 British servicemen were killed, eleven of who received Victoria Crosses.

The Descendants of William Jones and Robert Jones

The Royal Welsh Regimental Museum hosted a dinner recently for the ancestors of the soldiers who served during the Rorke’s Drift battle, and is looking forward to contacting more families descended from Robert Jones and John Williams for future events.

The ‘Zulu’ dinner was a success. Around 160 guests made an appearance. During the event, the museum displayed exclusive footage of the making of the film Zulu. The movie depicted the Battle of Rorke’s Drift. In addition, the film immortalises the performance of service members during the war. 

Rorke's Drift
A contemporary drawing of Rorke’s Drift Post, from The History of the Corps of Royal Engineers

Dorcas Cresswell, the event organiser, said, “We were pleased that many descendants of the winners of the Victoria Cross at Rorke’s Drift were a part of our Zulu Dinner. We hope that more will come here and to other museum events in the future.” 

Robert East, a retired law lecturer from Llangorse, also joined the dinner. He met all the other descendants of John Williams VC for the first time, and he thoroughly enjoyed his experience. 

Of note was the fact that Jones had committed suicide as a result of this vicious battle.

East said, “Jones was a VC winner. He was allowed to be buried in consecrated ground, but the coffin could not pass through the main gate. So instead, the coffin was lifted over the wall and buried facing the different direction of all the graves.”

A hero to many nonetheless.