you are currently viewing: Discussion Forum


The Rorke's Drift VC Discussion Forum
(View Discussion Rules)


PLEASE NOTE: This forum is now inactive and is provided for reference purposes only. The live forum is available at

(Back To Topic List)

DateOriginal Topic
4th April 2005The Victoria Cross
By Stephen Keane
When I saw the Jeremy Clarkson programme on the V.C. a few months ago he said that now it is virtually impossible for anyone to get the V.C. He also said that at Rourke's Drift they were 11 but none at Isandalwana, and more or less implied tht they were awarded to compensate for the huge losses suffered by the column at Isandalwana. I believe the Ddefenders of Rourk's Drift derserved their V.C.'s anyone else?
4th April 2005Glenn Wade
Everybody who uses this forum is of the opinion that those awarded the VC at Rorke's Drift were fully deserving. I did see Jeremy Clarkson's programme and he does have a point, the VC is a very difficult award to win at this point in time. Wars are not the same as it was in 1854 or even 1914. Technology has improved and men are not in as much 'hand-to-hand' combat. From the details I have read though, the recent VC recipient in Iraq, private Johnson Beharry, is a very brave young man and a credit to the British Army.
As for Isandlwana, Private Sam Wassall of the 80th (attatched to the MI) was awarded the VC and Melvill and Coghill had theirs postumously awarded in 1907.
All the best
4th April 2005Chris
Im sure many who died at Isandlwana were worthy of that award ... but It just so happens that we dont really have any witnesses.
5th April 2005Peter.Harman
Melvill & Coghill in my opinion should not have received the VC.
I agree with Wosley these men should have remained on the Battle Field along with the others.
5th April 2005Glenn Wade
Peter, You are of course entitled to your opinion but you must remember that Coghill was awarded the VC for turning back into the river to assist Melvill, not for saving the colour. Under the circumstances, the river in a raging torrent, spears and bullets flying everywhere and the fact his mount was shot from underhim, I think that is a feat of tremendous courage.
Melvill had carried the colour, a very heavy item, all the way to the river from the camp at Isandlwana. Again, under those hazardous conditions and the near impossible nature of the terrain, that too is a feat worthy of reward. He could have left the colour in the camp, but he didn't!
Wolsey longed for a VC and was never awarded one, all his comments made about Melvill, Coghill, Bromhead and Chard etc are made out of pure jealousy.
You are right Chris but sadly none of these deeds will ever be known.
5th April 2005Julian whybra
It's also worth mentioning that Melvill seems to have been ordered to try to save the colour -a thankless task surely. I for one would not want to be fleeing for my life carrying a ruddy great flagpole.
It is too easy to condemn others in poor hindsight.
5th April 2005Alan Critchley
If Melvill had been fleeing only to save his own skin, he's hardly likely to burden himself with the Colour's case. He would have ditched it as soon as he was far enough away. He could have explained that by saying 'Sorry, I dropped it!'
On the other hand, I always wonder about Coghill. He did return into the river to help Melvill, but wouldn't that be expected of a friend or fellow officer? It's probably been covered previously but how did Coghill get to be ahead of Melvill? Did he leave Isandhlwana before him? Did he overtake him? If the latter, that's not cricket! Didn't Smith-Dorrien have something to say on this (John?).

8th April 2005mark
i think that its the duty of an officer to share the fate of his men , the more dire the fate , the more dire that duty becomes

so perhaps melville could have fled to "save" the colours but coghill's flight was a little cowardly !
8th April 2005Coll
Although there was an urgency to escape the camp when the situation became worse, I'm unsure why the flag was not removed from the pole and secured in a protective bag or something similar, for practical purposes more than anything, if the event arose (as it did) when it had to be carried out of danger, to save it from falling into the enemy's hands.

I know there was a lot going on at the time, but the very fact somebody did remember to try and save the flag showed that it wasn't exactly forgotten about, even in the closing stages of the battle, that using initiative may have saved the Colour and Melvill maybe would have had less of a struggle on the Fugitives' Trail, without having the flagpole to deal with.

Additonally, regarding Coghill, who had a bad knee injury, would not really have been much help in camp if he had not be on his horse, although if he had been mounted maybe he could have tried to rally soldiers around him, but he probably thought it no use to try amidst the confusion in the camp, with the Zulus everywhere.

However, I prefer to think it was something like in the film Zulu Dawn, that he left the camp the same time as Melvill, and maybe managed to get ahead because Melvill was held back as he struggled with the Colour.

It is yet another incident we can never be sure of.

9th April 2005Paul Cubbin
The colours were wrapped in oilskin and secured to the pole - to remove one from the other would have been awkward and it may have even been easier to hold it by the staff rather than tuck it under the arm or something. As regards officers and their men, junior officers have often been used as messengers since, being mounted, they are convenient and are not generally needed in the front line. Not every officer has a company to command - these are designated 'staff officers' under the direct control of the Colonel and administration - and the duty in this case would be to obey whatever orders Pulleine gave. With Coghill suffering from an injury that excused him from company duty it may well be that he was temporarily attached to staff. If Pulleine was dead or disabled then it is entirely valid, even essential, for a staff officer to get a message through to the nearest base of the disaster.
9th April 2005John Young

Sorry but could you please explain your comment: 'With Coghill suffering from an injury that excused him from company duty it may well be that he was temporarily attached to staff.'?

Only it is my understanding that he was a Staff Officer, he was an extra Aide-de-Camp to the Commander of No. 3 Column - Colonel R.T. Glyn. In fact Coghill had performed no company duties for a number of years. He had previously served as Aide-de-Camp to Sir Arthur Cunynghame. He accompanied Cunynghame on his return to Britain, when Thesiger had replaced Cunynghame.

On his return to South Africa, Coghill was appointed as Aide-de-Camp to the Commander-in-Chief of British Forces, southern Africa, Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere. Frere permitted him leave of absence to rejoin the invasion force, which is how he was performing the task of an extra Aide-de-Camp on the day of his death.

John Y.
10th April 2005Paul Cubbin
John - simple explaination, I'm ignorant. I didn't know he was already a staff officer.
10th April 2005Coll

By protective bag I was meaning either a saddlebag or one which he could sling diagonally over his shoulder, both could mean that he would maybe manage to still have both hands free, to help guide his horse over the rough terrain towards the drift.

I'm sure it would have been a lot better than carrying a flagpole, even if it was still a little awkward.

Additionally, sort of on the subject, I read about at least one incident (not AZW) where a soldier actually removed the flag from the pole and wrapped it around his body, to try and save it from being captured by the enemy, however, sometimes it could not be proven that it happened often, because soldiers were usually buried in mass graves, probably not being searched first by burial parties.

Considering this, am I right in thinking when Melvill's body was found, they opened his jacket to see if he had, indeed, the Colour on him ?.

10th April 2005Paul Cubbin
Coll - I think the incident you may be referring to is the last stand of the 44th at Gandamak in 1842. The evocative painting of the event by William Barnes Wollen depicts the event in question where the colour was torn from its pole and wrapped around the torso of a defender (I don't know his name - no doubt you can find it in an internet search). Yes, it did happen.
10th April 2005John Young
Coll & Paul,

There is also a precedent in the 24th Regiment, at the Battle of Chilianwala, 13th December, 1849. The Queen's Colour (again!) was lost. One account has it that a '...Private Connolly wrapped the Colour around his body to secure it, but he too was killed and presumably buried without the Colour being discovered. ...'

John Y.
10th April 2005Peter Ewart

The details of the saving of the King's Colour by Lt Latham of The Buffs at Albuhera on 16 May 1811 are not dissimilar.

Ensign Thomas was killed after refusing to surrender the Regimental Colour, which was recaptured by a Sgt of the Royal Fusiliers. Ensign Walsh, trying to protect the King's Colour, was wounded and captured but Lt Latham seized the Colour to prevent its loss to the French.

Surrounded, Latham refused to relinquish the Colour when it was demanded and suffered a huge wound to his face & nose from a French sword. Still defiant, he then lost the arm which held the Colour (his left) when it was severed by the next blow. They were clearly made of sterner stuff in those days because he then merely dropped his own sword & grabbed the Colour with his right hand before going down under a rain of further blows and cuts, being trampled on and pierced with lances. The Colour was not taken, however, because the French were at that moment beaten off by British cavalry and Latham used his last strength to tear the Colour from its staff and conceal it on his person, where it was later found - although he was so badly mutilated that it was at first presumed he was Walsh, who had originally had charge of the Colour.

The Prince Regent paid for his surgery, Latham received a gold medal and lived to a great age (marrying a French girl and settling there!) If instances like this and the others above were common knowledge to army officers, it is no surprise that they would risk their lives to prevent a Colour from falling into enemy hands at all costs, and to count their own lives cheap in comparison. If Melvill hadn't ridden off with it just in time - under orders or not - someone else surely would.

With the boot on the other foot, of course, we need look no further than "gallant Sgt Ewart of the Scots Greys" at Waterloo, but ought to spare a thought for the three brave Frenchmen of the 45th who fell in the vain defence of their own Eagle Standard.

11th April 2005Glenn Wade
Did not the same thing occur at Bronkhorstspruit in 1880? When the column of the 94th under Philip Anstruther was ambushed. It was either Conductor Egerton or Segeant Bradley who wrapped a colour around his waist, under his jacket, left the column for Medical Help and so saved the colours from the Boers?
11th April 2005Rafael Waldburg-Zeil
Going back to the original topic set by Stephen Keane, I think none has any doubt that every VC at RorkeĀ“s Drift was fully deserved. Especially as it was not what I call an act of "adrenaline heroism", like spiking an enemy gun under fire, but a firm determination to fight or die during almost 24 hours continuous stress and combat. But it is commonly said that it was easier to get an early VC (Indian Mutiny, for sample) than in newer times. I dont agree to that and want to quote again Glen Wade: Wars are not the same as it was in 1854 or even 1914. Technology has improved and men are not in as much 'hand-to-hand' combat. Thus, its easier to understand that pushing a missile button makes it more difficult to get an VC than dislodging superior numbers of Zulus with the bayonet...
11th May 2005Michael Boyle
Been away for a bit,trying to catch up, have to add my two cents (or perhaps tuppence).

It's easy to forget today, more than a century after colours were carried into battle, just how emotionally important they were for all infantry in the 19th century. Morale often hinged on them as they were a physical representation of the honour of not only those who marched under them but of all those who had gone before (as well as a visual point of reference).Their loss was arguably more devastating to the infantry than the loss of guns to the artillery.

The term 'Color (or Colour) Guard' may seem like nothing more than a parade designation today but it was once an honoured battle posting that was taken so seriously that seemingly insane numbers of troops gave their lives to preserve them even after watching their mates die trying and with no hope of their own survival.

Dieing for that ideal has resulted in many troops recieving their nation's highest honour.

As for Isandhlwana I feel that the possible loss of colours was as far from anyone's mind as the need for extra ammunition and when the realization hit home it was simply too late. Perhaps, once the Zulu victory became obvious, Melvill said to himself "What could possibly be worse than this!" and then thought "They could take our Colours!"(As pointed out by John above, something that had previously happened and was no doubt still a thorn in the side of the 24th).Where upon Melvill,eschewing a heroic but forlorn last stand, realized that the only hope of salvaging some measure of battle honour for the day rested in preventing the opponent from from securing them. Whether he in fact was ordered to 'save the colours' by Pulleine is irrelevant to me as the the attempt was not only heroic but necessary and, in fact, they were not captured.

It should be remembered that other colours were captured that day, never to be seen again.


14th May 2005Michael Boyle
Actually now that I think about it we don't know if the other colours were captured. They were never seen again but one would think that had they been taken as a trophy they would have eventually turned up somewhere.

I've always found it strange that although Chelmsford required the return of the guns and the MHs as conditions prior to Ulundi that no mention seems to have been made regarding the return of the 2/24th's colours as one would think that would take precedence for an infantry officer. They did certainly search for them finding only a broken staff and finial (if that's the right word for the emblem on top of the staff.) Possibly a standard case as well?

It would be interesting to speculate that some unsung hero did perhaps attempt to save those colours (perhaps stuffing them into his tunic) only to meet an unknown fate and his body lost to history.

(Well I suppose his fate is known.)


14th May 2005Coll

I was always of the notion that someone did try to save the colours, but without a horse available, he may have joined one of the larger groups of soldiers, hoping, at the time, that the british may still be able to fight off the Zulu attack, but after the last stands were defeated, the colours were taken.

Or even being the soldier (an officer apparently) who made a last stand from a wagon. While he had been removing the colours from the flagpole, the Zulus had swarmed into the camp killing or pursuing the other soldiers from this area, when suddenly he appeared from the tent, seeing the situation had changed drastically and made a valiant attempt to keep the colours from the Zulus for as long as possible, shooting or using the bayonet to kill any nearby warriors.

Dramatic I know, but a nice thought, I think.