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DateOriginal Topic
25th January 2005Private Owen in the film " Zulu " as played by Ivor Emmanuel
By Robert James Howells
Can anyone explain why Private James Owen was given his real name in the film " Zulu ", when he was originally attested at Brecon on19/12/76 and posted to the 2/24th Warwickshire Regiment as David Lewis, Private 963, on 22/1/77 ?
25th January 2005Julian whybra
Easy. It was a film. Films take many liberties with the truth. Owen-Lewis was one of many (they weren't Welsh, they weren't called the SWBs, there was no Ulla Jacobssen there, Witt wasn't a drunkard, etc, etc, etc, etc). What do you expect from a film? Even though it was a good film.
25th January 2005Robert James Howells
Life has never been easy for the private soldier at the sharp end of any war, especially when for Pte. Owen-Lewis was faced, despite his previous experience in earlier South African Campaigns, with 4000 Zulu warriors at Rorke's Drift. " Zulu ", indeed, was only a film, but Pte. Owen/Lewis was a Welshman and I still have to ask why he was chosen to play such a significant part in the film, as in the episode of the singing of " The Men of Harlech " or ,maybe, some other such popular song or hymn at a crucial moment in the battle? Granted that B Compamy of the 2/24 Warwickshire Regiment was a British and not a Welsh Regiment, nevertheless is there anything in the record that would suggest that Owen-Lewis stood out amongst his fellow soldiers to be chosen for such a significant part in the film? The Welsh have always been prone to burst into song at times of stress and excitement, especially when faced with the England Rugby Team at Cardiff, in what could be described as " tribal conflict ". Was Owen-Lewis, in fact, a singer?
25th January 2005Peter Ewart

Stanley Baker was Welsh and by all accounts proud of it. He got the chance to create a film which featured a company from an English regiment which he knew was later renamed the SWBs & already (by 1879) had a Welsh depot for one of its battalions.

For whatever reason (Welsh pride, presumably) he decided to imbue his creation with a rich Welsh atmosphere - by pretending the regiment itself was Welsh, by asking Richard Burton to narrate it, by ensuring that anyone with a traditionally Welsh surname would be featured prominently and - just to lay it on really thick - to come up with the idea of using one of the most traditionally known Welsh songs, albeit after having the words adapted to suit his film, and pretending that the soldiery at Rorke's Drift actually burst into song!

Accurate history? No, of course not, but it would make a good film, wouldn't it?

What is he going to do? He's going to look at the roll and extract the Taffiest names from the list. "Have we got a Jones, a Williams, an Owen, an Evans by any chance in there somewhere? Yes? Oh, lovely - we'll have some Welsh fun with them; never mind where they were born!" (To be fair to Baker, several of the VCs fought in the hospital together & did have Welsh surnames).

Was Owen-Lewis a singer? He is now!

Sheridan's probably got another version, but mine's best! :-)

25th January 2005Robert James Howells
Peter, Thanks for your sympathetic reply to my original question. I have noted the Welsh surnames of those who fought at Rorke's Drift but am still to be convinced that the choice of Owen-Lewis was purely fortuitous, in the film " Zulu ".

My first viewing of the film was a most exciting experience. It was only recently on learning of the fact that Private David Lewis alias James Owen was my paternal grandmother's brother that it has become an even more personal one. My sincere thanks to all those who help to keep their memory alive. Robert.
25th January 2005Paul Cubbin
Nothing really to add to the above except to say that the song 'Men of Harlech' (even with lyric changes) was perfect for the feel of the action and never fails to raise the hackles on my neck. If you're one of the lucky few who have got a ticket for the opening match of the Six Nations in the Millenium Stadium, Cardiff then you may get a chance to exprience this for yourself. The choir will sing it before kick-off and England gets a good shoeing. Sorry you red rose sais, but its our turn this year.
25th January 2005Peter Ewart

Congratulations on your descent from a Rorke's Drift man! (Or from his sister, anyway). You are in good company as several other RD descendants come up from time to time on this forum and all are, I'm sure, envied by the rest of us.

I'm not sure the featuring of Owen/Lewis's voice can be anything other than fortuitous, however. One of Baker's aims was to project the defence of RD as a glorious Welsh triumph. Whether he knew that there were very few Welshmen present I don't know, but having decided to select the characters from the real names on the roll, he didn't have many Welshmen to choose from, as there simply weren't many there, and even some of the Welsh-sounding chaps were English!

Having identified the characters who'd feature prominently in the (i.e. his) plot, he departed at once from all matters genuinely historical. For better or for worse (for better as far as the film was concerned but for worse as far as historical accuracy is concerned, but never mind) he then mucked about with the characters completely, portraying them completely differently than they actually were and are KNOWN to have been. (Again, these characters made the film what it is, so no complaints here - other than historical).

The characters of Bromhead, Dalton, Witt & Hook were absolute travesties of their actual personas and several others - Bourne for example - were given stereotypical roles which fitted beautifully and were played beautifully - but weren't the actual blokes. Others were fine. But he introduced the singing because he thought it would help the film along and who better than Ivor Emmanuel, the best known Welsh singer of the time and who turned out to be not a bad actor either.

But no-one in charge of the film was ever likely to have wondered whether the character he played was really any good at singing - they simply don't appear to have bothered overmuch with details. They were making a cracker of a feature film, not teaching history.

As far as I would guess, your chap probably was a good singer simply because he was Welsh. Surely all Taffies can sing and harmonise beautifully? It's simply their birthright. As Paul says, at the Millennium Stadium - or at the old Arms Park - the Welsh crowd are in their element. They sing their anthem. At Wembley, the football crowd shouts its anthem (and, of course, boos all the others!)


P.S. "Swing low......!"
26th January 2005Sheldon Hall
There's one name missing from this discussion, and that is John Prebble - the writer of the screenplay (with contributions by Cy Endfield). Let's not give Stanley Baker TOO much credit! I'm not sure that he DID know that the 24th wasn't the SWBs at the time - his interviews at the time don't suggest so. Prebble certainly did know, and played up the Welsh theme to satisfy his star/producer, but many of the elements were there in his script already. (Incidentally, no-one in the film refers to the regiment as the SWBs - only Burton's narrator does, speaking in the present.)

The choice of Owen as the name of a prominent character does indeed seem to be entirely fortuitous - I don't believe Prebble was aware that it was Lewis's real name, and he probably chose it as a purely fictional creation, along with Owen's mate Thomas. Remember that while AZW buffs now know the names of almost every man present on the day (in part thanks to the awareness of the battle stimulated by the film), almost no-one in 1963 did or cared, and whether there really was an Owen or Thomas at the battle was frankly immaterial (just as I'm sure John Wayne didn't bother to check whether there was a character called "Beekeeper" at the real Alamo - though someone may tell me that there was...).

The choice of "Men of Harlech" for the rallying song was probably made by Ivor Emmanuel himself (the script refers vaguely to "an old Welsh hymn"), who rewrote the lyrics with Endfield. That version is, I believe, the one likely to be sung at the Millennium Stadium.
26th January 2005Julian whybra
Robert, in case you hadn't realised (I don't think it's been stated above), no-one at RD actually sang Men of Harlech; the regiment didn't have a choir; Owen was probably plucked out of the air as a name by Stanley Baker as being typically Welsh without his realising there was an Owen present; the 2nd Warwickshires has The Warwickshire Lad as its regimental song; and B coy had 10 definite Welshmen in it (the coy had 13 Irishmen - it's just as well Patrick McGoohan didn't replace Stanley Baker or else we'd all be singing The Rose of Tralee). I'm sure you have every reason to be proud of your relative - i'm not so sure about the link to Ivor emmanuel's 'Private Owen'.
26th January 2005Robert James Howells
Julian, Peter, Paul and Sheldon, Thank you so much for your kind, perceptive, constructive and often amusing comments on my original query. I am, indeed, aware that producers and script-writers often act with " poetic licence " in dealing with historical facts, when making films about " historic " events. There is no James Owen on the Roll of those present at Rorke's Drift. There is a Thomas Lewis, Bombardier R.A. 458 and, of course, David Lewis 963. Were those who made " Zulu " completely unaware of this contradiction? Had they , in fact, seen a copy of the Roll ?
26th January 2005Peter Ewart

Very good question. Sheldon may know but without analysing the script (Sheldon again?) one could probably make a good argument for saying the film could have been made without sight of the full roll at all.

All the officers and all the decorated defenders, as well as all the casualties, were prominent or their names were readily available in accounts published before 1963 & available to them. These well known accounts also mentioned several other defenders who appeared in the film. Even Bourne's authentic-sounding reading of the roll at the end (e.g. "Chick") could have been accomplished by referring to the list of casualties.

If they did introduce a Welsh name like Owen for obvious reasons but fortuitously, did they use (i.e. make up)any other names which cannot be pinned down to a defender?

I've always thought that is what they could have done with Hook - the perfect Tommy Atkins character for the film, but why not anonymously, with the name of someone they knew wasn't there? They didn't, and that's that, I suppose.

27th January 2005Sheldon Hall
John Prebble had access to copies of both Chard's and Bourne's rolls, which he transcribed in his typewritten research notes. What he did not have was access to detailed biographical information on many of those present, hence it is unlikely he was aware that Lewis was really Owen (or that 612 John Williams was also known as Fielding). As far as I can tell, Owen and Thomas were the only names he 'made up', though obviously he invented characterisations and biographies for all the figures whose real names he used.

There was an obvious necessity to use the real names of those who won the VC (Prebble would not have made up a VC winner!) - and as there were eleven of these that is already a large number of characters for a two-hour movie. Most of the drama had to concern these figures, so their names were used and fictional biographies created for dramatic expediency. Prebble actually wrote short thumbnail biogs for most of the major characters, summarising their previous lives - fictional ones, of course. Some of these will be published in my forthcoming book (you will be appalled at what Hook got up to!), along with detailed notes on how the characters were developed over successive drafts.
27th January 2005Sheldon Hall
Further to the above, Prebble also created Margareta Witt - I'm not aware of the names of Witt's daughters and I doubt that he was either.
27th January 2005Sheldon Hall
Further again - extract from a BBCTV interview with Stanley Baker in 1963, shortly after he returned to Britain from filming in South Africa:

"It’s [about] a famous battle fought by famous Welshmen, and I play the only Englishman in the script! It’s a great story, it’s a story about the South Wales Borderers, and they happened to be commanded at that time in 1879 by a man called Chard, who was an Engineer lieutenant who happened to be English. I play that part because, well, it just works out that way, but the fact is, it is a story about the South Wales Borderers fighting this fantastic action at Rorke’s Drift."

Don't take the first sentence too literally - Baker knew there were other Englishmen there (Bromhead for one)! A year earlier, before filming had started, he told another interviewer:

"I first read this thing two years ago. The first thing that attracted me to the subject was that it was about the South Wales Borderers, strangely enough. It’s an action that the South Wales Borderers fought in 1879 at the beginning of the Zulu War, in which they won, fantastically, eleven VCs." At this point the interviewer interjects that some people say seven or thirteen VCs were won (testimony to how little was generally know about the batte at the time). Baker: "No, it’s eleven, you can take it for granted."
27th January 2005Robert James Howells
Peter and Sheldon, Your knowlegeable comments are greatly appreciated and have certainly aroused my awareness of the difficulties in coming to definite, factual conclusions about an " historic " event which took place almost a century and a half ago. Like you both, however, I feel that constant further research into all aspects of the Battle at Rorke's Drift can only be of benefit to the " historical " record.
I am most grateful to Glenn Wade, Archive Officer of " The 1879 Group " for making me aware of my relative's participation in the battle. It seems to me significant that, only today, I attended a commemorative service for a former colleague which was conducted entirely in Welsh with hymns dating fom the early and mid 19th Century. If David Lewis alias James Owen was a chapel man and a Welsh speaker he could possibly have been enlivened by the Welsh religious " Hwyl " of the period to burst into song when his very existence was threatened. Another pertinent topic of study!
27th January 2005Glenn Wade
Evening all
Robert, great to see you on the forum. As you are aware, the facts concerning the battle of Rorke's Drift will continue to be debated for the rest of time. Although there is no mention of singing in eyewitness accounts, nobody can say that there was no singing at Rorke's Drift for sure, we will never know but I think we can be sure that 'Men Of Harlech' was not sung by any at the battle. By the way mate, I am mearley an 'Assisstant Archivist', The 1879 Group's Cheif Archivist is Mr Graham Mason who is a frequent contributer to this forum and who's research, in my opinion, is beyond reproach. I'll be in touch with you in a week or so Robert.
All the best
28th January 2005Sheldon Hall
Thanks, Robert, for your comments. It's hard enough coming to definite conclusions about events forty years ago, let alone in the 19th century!
28th January 2005Robert James Howells
Glenn, Apologies for my error. Both " Chief" and " Assistant " Archivists of " The 1879 Group " have my fullest support in their ongoing historical research.
28th January 2005Mike Snook

I have to say I really dislike this rather sterile nationality debate that rears its ugly head from time to time. It has more to do with anti-Welsh predjudice than anything else. Let me state at the outset that my army records show me as Anglo-Welsh. So I am thoroughly neutral. I was born in Monmouthshire. You could say that makes me Welsh. But my name is Anglo-Saxon (Snuch) and close to a thousand years old. What does that make me then?

As (I guess) a Welshman who actually sounds just like an Englishman, I have been able to guage the true extent of the sort of prejudice I refer to. A great many English AZW enthusiasts really hate the whole idea of the Welsh thing at Rorke's Drift.

The truth is that nobody has the faintest idea what the true number of Welshmen in B Coy was. If it was 10 then they were unusually thin on the ground in this particular company. I venture to suggest therefore that this is inherently unlikely.

Also it might have escaped people's attention that emmigration from Ireland during the potato famine was not merely in one direction. They poured in large numbers into newly industrialized South Wales, where there was work, as much as they crossed the Atlantic. Many men identified as Irishmen purely on the basis of their surnames were in fact second generation Irish living in the eastern valleys of South Wales. Irishmen or Welshmen? - I guess that rather depends on how they viewed it - on their own opinion.

Not all Welshmen are called Davies and not all Irishmen are called Murphy. Not all Welshmen live in Pontypool and not all Englishmen live in London. Place of attestation means next to nothing. The Regimental Records do not in most cases list place of birth. How do you define whether somebody is English or Welsh? And what about the old Monmouthshire conundrum. The Welsh bashers like to call it English in order to reinforce their argument. Funnily enough it was Welsh when Henry V was born there. But then he was an English King was'nt he? Well no he wasn't, nor were the majority of his splendid 'English' longbowmen - but the Welsh bashers can't bear that either.

The change of title to SWB in 1881 was to reflect the reality that the 24th had become a substantially Welsh and Marches regiment, a process which got underway in 1873, and was in full swing by 1879. It was chartered to do this in accordance with Cardwell's Localisation Act.

Lt Col Henry Degacher, commanding 2nd/24th in 1879 of course, makes open reference to the large numbers of Welshmen in his battalion.

Nor is the old myth that the 1st/24th were all long service English soldiers true. There was no substantive difference in the demographic makeup of the 1st and 2nd Bns.

Rorke's Drift was defended not exclusively by the Welsh, nor by the English nor by the Irish, but by the British. But Welshmen (including Monmouthshire) there were - to the tune, in my opinion, of not less than 30%. It may well have been more. We will never know. So let's live with it.

But for sure nobody sang anything. People don't sing under heavy close range fire. Sometimes they urinate in their trousers (forgive the crudity) but they definitely don't sing.

And on that slightly grumpy note - bon soir. (Oh my God I'm French!)

29th January 2005Michael Boyle
Good Morning All,

I must concur with Mike that while engaged, singing is the last thing on a trooper's mind (during lulls if your mate starts to whistle or hum you sometimes need to thunk him on the helmet to bring him back round and if he fixates on the biological affects on his trousers you show him yours to relieve his embarassment.)

I believe it was Julian and/or John in a long ago thread, who presented a compelling argument as to the break-down of nationalities in the 24th,and that coupled with a reading of Holme's "Noble 24th" leads me to think that the eclectic mix could only be described as 'British' (without too deeply delving into the respective religious affilliations).However I find it curious that amid all the 'Anglo-Saxon/Welsh/Scots/Irish' invectives that the term 'Norman' seems to have disappeared at some point in history. It seems to me that the British Isles were inhabited by predominately Celts (from various origins) with a bit of Scandinavian thrown in to lighten the colour.

The 24th did however seem to sing regularly as evidenced in part by one of Lt.Curling's letters where he stated (while at RD afer the battles) "Another thing that strikes me very much, is how little impression the sad affair seems to make on everybody. You hear the men singing just the same as if they had not lost half their number a week ago." (He seemed at that time to still be grappling with the concept that the key to a successful army is it's resillience.)

Rather than "Rose of Tralee" a fitting song to play over the closing credits at least could have been "Danny Boy".

Still it's a pity we couldn't attribute some biographical insight to Pte. Owens or the many other 'unknown' defenders.(Known but to their families.)



29th January 2005Robert James Howells
Mike, Michael, A rereading of my reply to Julian Whybra's first comment on my original topic will show that I accepted that B Company of the 2/24th Warwickshire Regiment was ' indeed ', part of a British Regiment. My original query was subjective, in referring to a Great-Uncle James Owen, alias David Lewis 963 but also objective, in the sense that I wished to know some definite historically authenticated facts about his part in the Battle at RD. The reference to Lt. Curling's letter would seem to indicate that singing was an integral part of the then soldier's life, in the absence of other distractions on campaign. The Victorian Age was renowned for the number of its music halls and popular songs. I must admit that I am of Welsh ancestry, my father was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. in the SWB towards the end of WW1 and my mother's brother fought with the SWB at Salonika in the same conflict.
29th January 2005Peter Ewart

I don't think it's anti-Welsh prejudice which causes the topic to come up from time to time, nor would I necessarily call it it sterile, although admittedly it has no more relevance than many other factors which are chewed over regularly on this forum. If more could be done (which of course it can't) to prove how many Welsh, Irish or English etc were there, then I suspect the topic would be discussed even more animatedly, simply because the forum is full of contributors who enjoy researching the minutiae itself of the AZW.

It doesn't really matter, of course, but then nor do most of the topics discussed here. The subject usually comes up only when it is clear that the way the story in a certain film was projected has led to certain understandable misunderstandings!

It doesn't really matter. But then again it does if the defence is portrayed primarily (or exclusively) as a Welsh military triumph. It matters much more than, say, the name of a dog or even the exact spelling of the name of a Swiss. If one accepts (and I do) that the Welsh presence (whether by birth, parentage, residence etc) could have been as high as you suggest, there was still an insufficient Welsh presence to suggest it was anything remarkable or that the engagement should be remembered as a Welsh triumph - which it isn't by historians but remains so by many whose chief source of information has been the film.

I'd certainly go along with you that the force at RD was primarily British - with the odd German & Swiss thrown in, I suppose.

I can recall the odd bit of banter on the forum but nothing, hopefully, which smacks of prejudice. We English are (rightly or wrongly) known, above all, for being able to laugh at ourselves. At least, I hope we still are! It does us good. I have English & Scots blood but no Welsh that I know of, although I'm sure even the Welsh like a laugh now & again! :-)

30th January 2005Paul Cubbin
The Welsh, like so many small nations who have been overshadowed by larger, richer neighbours, are fiercely patriotic. I first moved to Wales 14 years ago and felt like I had come home.

There is an unbelievably potent national identity that is enhanced, not diluted, by the size of the population. I now regard myself as 'Welsh by osmosis' (I was born outside the UK on British soil to mixed nationality parents - English, Welsh Scots and Irish! The family name is Manx), wearing the red rugby shirt with pride and feebly attempting to learn the Welsh language from time to time (I do know the National Anthem by heart, though). My wife is Cardiff born and bred and there is nowhere else I would rather live (unless that luxury estate in Barbados turns up). There is a comforting and sometimes dour tendency to shrug at our failures and roar at our successes.

I believe the savage pride felt for a military victory so many years ago is more reflective of the spirit and fire displayed rather than the dusty records of a Regiment's geographical origin. That a number of Welshmen (and yes, lots of others too) stood, fought and died with such defiance, such dignity, is a source of tear-pricking pride and represents the tenacity that courses through the veins of my adopted country. Ask a resident what nationality they are and they do not say 'British'. They say 'WELSH'.....then 'British' second. This is not a snub to the other nations of the British Isles, it is an indication of patriotism that is not easily understood by those living elsewhere.

So, if the battle is claimed as a Welsh victory, just nod and agree. It was. It was also an English, Irish, Swiss and German one (and canine).

And as for the British being Anglo-Saxon/Welsh/Scots/Irish........and Norman? I'm sorry, I draw the line at French ancestry!
30th January 2005Michael Boyle

There seems to be much in what you say :

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales); 11/8/2001


TWO battles of great importance in Welsh history will be relived in the words of a renowned storyteller on Saturday.

The occasion is a lecture in Newport by David Rattray, an expert on the Zulu culture and the 19th-century wars against the British.

(Of particular interest is the "wars against the British" bit!)

Whether the above is the result of the Baker/Endfield/Prebble collaboration or if the idea pre-dates them I don't know, but it would seem that the Welsh have certainly adapted Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift as their own.
If I am correct in my understanding that the United Kingdom is in fact a sort of 'Royal Confederation' of the countries of England,Wales,Scotland and Northern Ireland perhaps this can be attributed to the normal jockeying for 'pride of place' among siblings.(I've been led to believe that Scotland as well places 'Scots' before 'British'!)(At home,not while on active service.)

(If we're to include the canines in the victory how about a nod to the Texas mules?)(On second thought as they were seen wandering about aimlessly with much needed ammunition on their backs,perhaps not.)

French? I've always considered Hastings to be a rather complex flanking manouvre by the Vikings!


30th January 2005Paul Cubbin
Michael - I was chatting to an American (strangely enough, a Texan) officer visiting Brawdy Barracks in Pembrokeshire, South Wales once and he casually referred to how much he was enjoying his trip to ENGLAND. I winced heavily and he asked why. I compared his gaff to walking into a bar in Atlanta, Georgia and loudly accusing the drinkers of being Yankees....then HE winced.
30th January 2005Julian whybra
Mike S - I'd be interested to know what evidence you have for the figure of 30% being Welsh in B coy. 10, yes, but where have the other 35 come from?
30th January 2005Robert James Howells
Michael & Paul, A judicious sense of humour almost always brings a sense of proportion to any discussion. Your latest contributions are greatly appreciated. We are , neverless, all ciizens of the "United Kingdom " but proud of our historical identities.
31st January 2005Simon Copley
Pt Chick (who died at RD and whose name sneaked into the script of Zulu) might have been Welsh. In Trinity Methosdist Church Penarth (South Wales) is a memorial to members who died in WW II including a Chick. My wife teaches in Penarth and has seen loads of Chicks pass through the school. Doesn't SOUND very Welsh though, does he?
31st January 2005Mike Snook

OK. This is a tricky one and quite long winded. (And I don't want to end up getting a Whybra bollocking!!)

We don't want to go into case by case analysis on this means. Neither you nor I have the time for that!!

You allow only 10 Welshmen because in a limited number of cases their background is incontravertible. Amongst the remaining 84 a number were similarly incontravertibly English.

The Irish are a bit more difficult - were they genuinely Irish or were they second generation Welsh-Irish as postulated above. Almost certainly there were both types in B Coy.

My argument is:

1. In the great majority of cases, we simply don't have enough data to form an opinion on nationality.
2. There are no commonly agreed criteria by which to define nationality - no rules to govern the debate, if you will. (As you know many men who would call themselves Welsh now, called themselves English then, because 'English' was often used synonomously to mean British. Something of course which you reflect with your own ' England's Sons.' There were after all a whole lot more of South Africa's sons involved in 22/1/79 than there were Englishmen!)
3. Their Commanding Officer made open reference to the fact that his battalion had assumed a significantly Welsh character. (Off the top of my head I believe he actually used the expression 'mostly' Welsh - an emphatic word.)
4. The Depot in Brecon had been churning out short service recruits since 1873 - so by 1879 we are now 6 years worth of annual output down the road. The Localisation Act (Cardwell) allocating Brecon to the 24th, chartered regiments to assume a regional identity within a home recruiting area. It would be different if we were only 2 years down the Brecon/localisation road, but by 1879 we are 6 years from it having become a reailty (and even the British Army responds to orders within 6 years!)
5. There were a lot of young men in B Coy who by definition joined post the Cardwell changes, and who I strongly suspect would have been recruited from Wales and the Marches (but of course not exclusively).

But we don't know.

So I postulate, (on what I believe are reasonable grounds), but can't prove, that there were enough young Welshmen in the 24th to give it the character that Degacher referred to, and that B Coy was no different from any other company. You are arguing that only 10 men can be proved to be Welsh. But you can only prove that a proportion of the other 84 men were not Welsh. What you cannot prove, because nobody can, is that none of the other 84 men were Welsh. In most cases there is no ready answer to the conundrum.

Hence I give what I regard as a reasonable estimate - 30%. It is not a fact. It is my estimate. I prefaced my remark with 'in my opinion' to make this clear.

But be clear that I am arguing from a neutral position - 'ownership' of RD is not a problem for some of us - hence my point about a largely sterile debate. (I think of it as sterile perhaps because I have heard it rehearsed so otten in our Officers Mess!).

And for those with a constitutional bent there is of course no such place as England, just as there is no such a place as Wales. (The less well known, and much earlier Act of Union merged them into one country called 'England and Wales,' many hundreds of years ago.

By the way, I once exchanged in the letters page of the Times with a correspondent who tried to insist that all the men at Rorke's Drift were from Warwickshire. Bless.


31st January 2005Julian Whybra
Thanks Mike, no bollocking I assure you.
Re your points:
1) Where we do have enough data to form an opinion on nationality, the evidence by birthplace is as follows (Norman Holme's research):
England 42
Chesh 1 Glos 1 Herefs 3 Kent 2 Lancs 9 Leics 1 Middx 13 Notts 1 Som 4 Surr 1 Suss 1 Warks 3 Worcs 1 Yorks 1
Wales 10
Brec 1 Glam 3 Monm 5 Pembs 1
Ireland 13
Antr 1 Clare 2 Cork 2 Dubl 3 Kilk 2 Lim 1 Tipp 1
France 1 (Bromhead)
That makes for 66 men with 28 not known.
2. I agree there are no commonly agreed criteria by which to define nationality but individually we all know what we are - and they knew even more so in 1879. Birthplace is generally a good indicator of 'national identity.
The title 'England's Sons' comes from the inscription on the Carbineers' memorial. It worried me a little that its use was made to represent 'British' but seemed to exclude the Welsh/Irish/Natalian - however I decided to use it in the hope that it might help scotch the persistence of the exclusivley Men-of-Harlech-singing exclusively Welsh regiment legend.
3. I don't recall his using the word 'mostly' but I grant you that an influx of (let's say for argument's sake 10-15%) Welshmen WOULD elicit such a remark that the regt was becoming more Welsh.
4. Six years down the line yet only one man known to have come from Brecknockshire...the figure speaks for itself.
5. As you say, you don't know.
Hence, my reasonable Welsh estimate is 10-15% in B coy.
As with you, 'ownership' of RD is not a problem for me either. I do think, however, that " there is of course no such place as England, just as there is no such a place as Wales" would not go down too well in any pub on a Saturday night in the run up to the Six Nations' cup.
I prefer just to clarify the known historical situation because for so many the only knowledge they have of the event is the film Zulu which is unremitting in its Welshness.

31st January 2005Kris

may I add my half penny's worth to this debate by pointing out that there were in fact two Nottinghamshire lads, not one. 1315 Pte Robert Tongue and 1316 Pte Caleb Wood were both born, and both died in Ruddington,

1st February 2005Julian Whybra
Kris, many thanks for the additional info re Wood of which I was not aware.
1st February 2005Mike Snook

I'm a broken man - I was on about the second page of a full reply when we suffered a power outage and it was all lost!! I can't bring myself to type it up agin today - so I'll have another go later in the week.

In essence I believe it can be shown on the back of Norman's work that there were 37, shall we say, definite or suspected Welshmen (and possibly more) at RD.


1st February 2005Lee Stevenson
Firstly it strikes me that there simply is no definitive list of exactly who was present at Rorke's Drift on the 22nd January 1879, certainly the contributors of the 'official' rolls were unable to agree on the matter, (for example; the Chard/Cantwell roll has 82 men in 'B' Coy whilst Bourne goes from 85 up to 93 in his 'amended' version), which makes the whole question as to their individual nationalities even more difficult to define.

We should also bear in mind when looking at the data in the Noble 24th, that a soldier's stated place of birth, given at time of attestation, was not always correct. Whether this was a result of fraudulent information being supplied by the new recruit, (and there are certainly quite a few instances of assumed names being used, i.e, - James Ashton - place of birth according to his service documents parish of St. Mary's, Liverpool yet it turns out that he joined up under an assumed name and was in fact Anthony McHale - not forgetting of course that Bourne later referred to Ashton as a "lusty Irishman"), or that the recruit simply didn't know where he was born, or perhaps the recruiting sergeant wasn't too inclined to ask either!!

Perhaps the following might be of some significance in the 'debate' as to who was English/Welsh etc. The official records of nationality of men serving with the Colours was separated into three groups;- Scottish, Irish and English and Welsh: (source: General Annual Return of the British Army). As an example then, In 1878 some 70% were "English and Welsh; 8% Scottish and 22% Irish.

By far the majority of the 2/24th men who appear on one of other of the rolls of Rorke's Drift defenders joined the army between 1876 (27) and 1877 (51) - evidently then as a result of a serious recruiting drive - and not forgetting that several large drafts from the 2/24th were transferred to the 1st/24th at that time.

Going back to the question of what part Private David Lewis, (James Owen), took in the battle. This in some ways highlights the difficulties that are faced when trying to determine just who was or wasn't there. Lewis' name only appears, as a member of 'B' Company, on the roll of defenders compiled by Frank Bourne c. 1910. However his obituary in the SWB Regtl. Journal states that he was a member of 'A' Company. This is also repeated in his 'obituary' in the South Wales Evening Post, under the heading "Death of a Swansea Man Who Was At Rorke's Drift," which also adds the following somewhat confusing comment;-

"He took part in the famous march to Isandhlwana, and was present at the relief of troops at Rorke's Drift..."

Make of that what you will...

1st February 2005Glenn Wade
A wreath was sent by Frank Bourne and several other survivors of the Rorke's Drift garrison at his funeral. I think that speaks for itself.
1st February 2005Lee Stevenson
True, but you will note that Bourne, if it was he who actually 'sent' the wreath included the name of Pte J 'Devonport' amongst the "remaining survivors of Rorke's Drift"

1st February 2005Robert James Howells
Lee, Were all survivors of the South African Wars buried with full military honours?
1st February 2005Lee Stevenson

Well James Owen certainly did and quite rightly so.
That being said not all Rorke's Drift defenders were not graced with military honours at their funerals, Private William Cooper to name but one. Then again there was at least one old soldier who received a full military funeral with procession through the streets on the basis that he had been "at Rorke's Drift" but who does not appear on any roll of defenders.

1st February 2005Peter Weedon

Very interesting obituary.

"present at the relief" as opposed to "present during the defence."

As you say, make of that what you will.

2nd February 2005Peter Ewart
"The famous march to Isandlwana" sounds as if it is describing the return of the 2/24 to the camp that evening, suggesting he was out with Chelmsford's party. "Present at the relief of troops at RD" suggests likewise.

Damned sources!


2nd February 2005RON CLAYTON
The power of Zulu lingers on.Viz Flashman and the Tiger[Why no mention of Sir Harry and Tiger Jack among the rolls of RD?] our hero tels us he always wars a daffodill on Davids Day in respect of RD and its defenders.
2nd February 2005Paul Cubbin
Perhaps he was discovered in a bawdy house in Durban 'sans pantalons' avec Mrs Chard, Bromhead and Bourne, escaped via an open window and was last seen working in a jeweller's shop in India under the name Schiess?! His name may have been stricken in disgust by horrified husbands.
2nd February 2005Glenn Wade
Well, I, and relatives of James are certain that he was Present at the defence. You have to consider two main points which secure his place as a defender of Rorke's Drift

1. His name appears on the Bourne Roll and I think it is reasonable to assume that Bourne would know his Company by name after several years service

2. A relative of his is still alive who knew him and is certain she remembers speaking to Frank Bourne at his funeral

This is not concrete evidence I know but apart from a small piece of newsapaper and we know how unrelaible they can be, what other evidence is there to assume he wasn't present?
2nd February 2005Lee Stevenson

I quite agree with your points. Bourne obviously had reason enough to include Pte David Lewis, (James Owen), on his roll of defenders compiled back in 1910, and some 28 years before Owen's death. (Did Bourne know that he was in fact James Owen when he compiled the roll I wonder?).
However quite why Lewis, or indeed any of the other men that Bourne added, was not included on the Chard/Cantwell roll remains to be seen.
By the same token then you say that "it is reasonable to assume that Bourne would know his company by name. " That being the case what of the men of 'B' Coy listed on the Chard/Cantwell roll that Bourne chose not to include on his roll - Are we to assume then that Bourne doubted their inclusion as Rorke's Drift defenders, or was his recollection of names and faces not so clear after all?

Yes I am also aware of family stories concerning James Owen's presence at Rorke's Drift and see no reason to doubt their origins either.

Whilst it is tempting to dismiss the small pieces of newspaper evidence on the basis that we know they are sometimes "unreliable" surely the element of doubt, however small, remains - at least until something more concrete is discovered....
2nd February 2005Glenn Wade
I see where you're coming from Lee. It is very difficult to determine wheather James was at Rorke's Drift for certain with the very limited amount of material available to us. Examining the write up of James' funeral in a clipping from the 'South Wales Evening Post', it describes how:

'The coffin was covered with the Union Jack, and on top rested two beautiful wreaths 'In memory of a gallant comrade' from 'B' comapny, 2nd South Wales Borderers, and 'In memory of a gallant comrade' from the remaining survivors of Rorke's Drift 22-23 January, 1879-Lieut.col. Frank Bourne, Dr P. Hayes, Ptes. J. Devonport, G. Edwards, T. Lockhart, J. Thomas, W. Cooper and Sergt. W Maybin, Royal Engineers'

In the article, James is described as 'a Rorke's Drift survivor'. There's nothing that tells us he was at the actual defence but at the same time, there certainly is nothing that says he wasn't. The mystery continues.
2nd February 2005Graham Mason
Fuel on the fire .

To one and all , The exact number of participants at Kwajimu will never in my opinion be known , i have some 152 names " in the frame " and estimates go as low as 88 and up to 160 in some cases , due to the number of replies on this subject i hope in some ways we never know ! . Bourne at 23 was a very young C / Sgt and did he realise that he had a Chief Clerk ( MABIN ) amongst the defenders ? . We never hear if Maj Spalding had a list of men under his command and what was his eventual outcome in life ? , and so we go on ! , Graham .
2nd February 2005Robert James Howells
Lee, When I put in my original query, little did I expect the response that it has generated. I have only seen the " Evening Post " article: " Zulu War Survivor: Sketty Funeral", provided to me by Glenn Wade. The other obituary you mention could be interpreted as showing that David Lewis alias James Owen was actually there. He was, in fact, originally heading towards Isandlwhana and was present at the relief of RD because he was actually there at the time. Please provide dates for each newspaper article. This very morning I laid a wreath from my family on the grave of a hero which is marked only by a white cross with the inscription James Owen. James Owen , unlike my grandfather James Howells, also from Carmarthenshire, chose to endure the trials of military life instead of working in the factories in the industrial area of South Wales. It seems to me that it is always the volunteer soldier that bears the burden of a new war. May he rest in peace, for he was always loyal and supportive of his sister's family!
3rd February 2005Paul Cubbin
This is a subject that generates so much attention, interest, research and speculation that I cannot help but feel that in the search for minutiae somewhere the importance is lost. Without wanting to claim an emotional connection to an event I have no family link to, I have always regarded Rorkes Drift as a triumph of the best of the human spirit. It illustrates that men who may otherwise have gone on to lead fairly nondescript lives were thrust into a situation that brought greatness out of them. I often wonder what their reaction to all the discussions would be - would it be a bemused shaking of the head or a disgusted sneer? How many buttons, what colour underwear (blue, wasn't it?) only matters to those of us who are hungry to snatch something from the event; they wouldn't have cared less. Put simply, perhaps, what is important is that they fought and died for their epitaph any of us would be proud of.
3rd February 2005Lee Stevenson

In response to your question about the newspaper cutting, the "Death of Swansea man who was at Rorke's Drift" piece can be found in the SWEP c. 27/7/1938.

However I'm not entirely sure now, having read Paul's comment, whether he regards this entire discussion part of the "minutaie" or whether a simple attempt to establish if we should in fact be honouring the name of James Owen, in this instance, as a defender of Rorke's Drift - and therefore one of those who "fought and died for their mates," is that important especially given that this is a site dedicated to the memory of those who took part in the battle.

Would 'they' have cared, well probably not about questions about their pants, or how many watches were sported by Zulu extras in a film - they might have raised an eyebrow about the current bayonet discussion or the one asking did the British have Gatling Guns at Rorke's Drift though !!
Certainly to some of the defenders the names of those who fought with them was highly significant. George Mabin, a man often mentioned on this site, later commented, in reference to the newspaper cutting he kept with him;

"There are a lot of people who say they were a Rorke's Drift during the Zulu War....they probably were months after the battle. But all are names are here."

And if you are looking for a better epitaph how about this from a VC winner from another war

"The gallant fellows who so ably defended Rorke's Drift sent a thrill around the world. Every time I meet a Rorke's Drift hero I raise my hat. All honour to such men. But for such gallant heroes where would England be...
...Everyone has not the honour of being a Rorke's Drift hero, and they and their families ought never to be forgotten...

...Patrick O'Neill DSO, VC late Royal Artillery."

(still hungry and snatching at something from the event after 20 years of interest)

3rd February 2005Robert James Howells
Paul, Lee. Perhaps I should apologise for being too subjective in researching the part played by Great Uncle James Owen at RD. However, I agree completely with you both that it was the sum of the individual efforts of all military personnel present , there, that produced such an " historic " victory immediately after the resounding defeat at Isandlwana. I will, indeed, consult the SWEP article you mentioned.
3rd February 2005Mike Snook
So eloquent a post by Paul Bryant-Quinn makes it uncessary for me to recap the long but infintely less sage stuff I lost in a power outage earlier in the week.

But to develop the point I was getting at earlier - notwithstanding it was Norman Home who developed the oft quoted birthplace statistics, which have little if any relevance, (for example they make Bromhead French!), the outstanding mass of research Norman contributed to this field, makes it abundantly clear that there are grounds to believe that 37 of the 24th men at RD were Welsh or had a Welsh background/upbringing etc. Even on top of this already high figure, there are a further number of men about which we know next to nothing. So it might be an even higher number.

There are in fact many more English characters in Zulu than there are Welsh, so this whole agenda focuses on the singing of Men of Harlech in the cinema - which as I have abundantly clear did not happen in history. It was brilliant cinema. Most Englishmen of my acquaintance think so too and adore it. This bit of cinema is however no good reason for a minority of our English cousins to attempt to right the perceived wrong, by writing the real Welshmen out of history. They were there. And history must honour them - (but not to the exclusion of everybody else). It is quite clear that there were a lot more than 10 of them. By 1879 there was a recognizably Welsh dimension to the 24th - and as I explain in my first book so won't repeat here, this applied to both battalions. So for the unfortunately jaundiced minority who have attempted to 'claim' Rorkes Drift and Isandlwana for the English, (or rather to beliitle the Welsh role), I am afraid you will have to content yourselves with sharing it. Because that's what it was really like. Lots of Englishmen, more Welshmen than some people like to allow, Irishmen, South Africans and some Scots too - but all of them unified under a British flag. That's how the men who fought and died saw it, so that's how we as historians and enthusiasts should respect the memory of it.

And if I am right God will grant his chosen people the victory at Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday as a sign!!

Mike (who is defintely Anglo-Welsh and neutral!!)
3rd February 2005mike snook
Sorry - typo in the late Norman Holme's surname. My apologies.

3rd February 2005Paul Cubbin
Mike - how's this for minutiae! The Arms Park is Cardiff's and Cardiff Blues' club ground. Even what is referred to as 'The Old Arms Park' was actually 'The National Stadium' - I was at one of the last internationals to be played there when Wales were robbed against Australia - David Campese clearly knocked on! (Incidentally I was in the stands and was liberally urinated on by someone several rows up - as were many others. The Milennium Stadium is an improvement in at least this respect).
Paul - it is only unclear not those outside Wales why the Anglo-Welsh wrangling will continue (on and off the rugby pitch). We're stubborn.
3rd February 2005Paul Cubbin
There is a lovely suspicious naivety about some of the older generations in and around Mid and West Wales in particular. Your post actually made me chortle out loud. There was a farmer I knew in Newcastle Emlyn who was over ninety and still bullied the bulls on the farm and pulled calves in the dead of night (I mean assisted in the birth - they're not THAT lonely). He rented out a static caravan on his land to a young lad for £20 a month (he felt a little guilty about charging so much - this was five years ago). I asked how he got on with the bloke, knowing how suspicious of strangers he could be. "Oh," he said, "he's a nice fella, for a black. I've never met one before and I was a bit worried, but he's very nice." I didn't know where to look.
4th February 2005mike snook
I was right about Degacher's use of the word mostly.

Exact text:

Letter to the Brecon Corporation dated 28 Apr 79

'I cannot close this letter without expressing to you the high esteem which I, in common with all the officers of the Regiment, hold the soldier-like qualities of the gallant fellows I have the honour to command, and who are now mostly your countrymen. No officer need wish to lead better...'