The Battle of Rorke's Drift
Did you know?
More Victoria Crosses were awarded at Rorke's Drift than on any other day of battle.
Rorke's Drift, in KwaZulu-Natal, was to enter the pantheon of British military heroics barely days after the self-same British army had suffered an ignominious defeat at Isandlwana.
From Isandlwana a reserve group of 4 000 Zulu soldiers advanced on the nearby trading post and mission at Rorke's Drift. British commander Lord Chelmsford had left a member of his staff, Major Spalding, in charge of the small garrison of 139 soldiers.
Spalding, unaware of what was happening at Isandlwana, rode out to ascertain the position of his companies and placed Lieutenant Chard in temporary command. Chard, a military engineer, was at the drift repairing pontoons when 2 survivors of Isandlwana, Lieutenants Vaine and Adendorff, rode in to tell of the impending attack.
They were followed by the remnants of the Natal Native Horse cavalry fleeing Isandlwana, and they volunteered to picket the far side of the river overlooking the drift. A defensive perimeter was hastily constructed and the buildings fortified.
Late that afternoon came news that the Zulu were crossing the river at Fugitive's Drift and could be expected at Rorke's Drift in a few minutes. This resulted in a number of the British contingent deserting, effectively halving the garrison.
Under furious attack, which continued into the night, the British were able to hold out until the next morning when the Zulu retreated. In what is still considered the greatest military defence in history, 10 of the defenders were awarded the Victoria Cross.
In 1962 the Evangelical Lutheran Church established an arts and crafts centre at the mission on this KwaZulu-Natal battlefield, which has had an enormous influence on art in South Africa. Among the famous artists to emerge from this centre are Elizabeth Mbatha, Bhekisani Manyoni and Ephraim Wiqubu.
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Battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal
Mobile: +27 (0)72 271 1766
The League of Researchers of South African Battlefields
Tel: +27 (0)12 355 6405