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The Battle of Rorke's Drift


Rorke's Drift

On 22nd January 1879, eleven days after the British invaded the sovereign kingdom of KwaZulu in southern Africa, a Zulu force of some 20,000 warriors attacked a portion of the British main column consisting of about 1,800 British, colonial and native troops in a place called iSandlwana. The Zulu overwhelmed the British force, killing over 1,300 men.


The Zulu reserve of some 4,000 warriors which had played little part in the battle, decided to seek their share of glory and advanced on the requisitioned mission station at Rorke’s Drift across the Mzinyathi River in Natal. In doing so they were acting in direct contravention of the orders of the Zulu ruler, King Cetshwayo kaMpande.


Rorke’s Drift was an advanced store depot and field hospital. It was garrisoned by some one hundred and fifty troops, including a number of hospital patients. It had been hastily fortified after the news of iSandlwana had been received.


The Zulu first attacked the southern defensive wall at approximately 4:30 pm including the hospital and storehouse. Soon after, the main body of the Zulu forces attacked the northern wall, whilst others provided harassing fire from the rocky terraces of the Shiyane hill which dominated the mission station.


The men on the barricades were engaged in fierce hand-to-hand fighting the Zulu warriors who slashing at the British soldiers with their spears and firing their rifles at near point-blank range


At one point the Zulus entered the hospital, which was stoutly defended by a small hospital guard and the walking wounded until it was set alight and eventually burnt down.

The battle raged on into the early hours of 23rd January 1879, but by dawn the Zulu impi had withdrawn.

Rorke's Drift

The garrison had suffered fifteen killed during the battle and a further two would died from their wounds. A contemporary report states that in excess of three hundred and fifty Zulu dead ringed the post, yet subsequent evidence puts the Zulu casualty figure to have been over five hundred warriors killed or mortally wounded.


Eleven defenders were awarded the Victoria Cross for their distinguished defence of the post, seven going to soldiers of the 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment.


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