The Rorke's Drift VC
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|25th April 2005||Orders|
By Andrew Holliday
Did Bromhead/Chard recieve an order from Isandhlwana telling them to defend the post?
I'm curious because in some books and documentaries it says they did and in others there is no mention of it
|25th April 2005||Julian whybra|
Lieut Andrews and Pte Evans were sent 'by their captain' to warn the Drift according to Col Bray. Certainly, Evans went on to RD afterwards in the company of Pte Whelan and Evans's arrival is witnessed by many defenders. The 'captain' may of course be Gardner acting on his own initiative.
|26th April 2005||Mike Snook|
Gardner sent a note from Fugitive's Drift which he entrusted to a native horseman, almost certainly, in my view, a member of the Edendale Troop. Its verbatim text is lost to history but as I understand it, included an instruction to fortify for defence.
|26th April 2005||Mike Snook|
Sorry ...to take that a stage further...Bromhead did recieve a note which arrived before Chard came up to the mission from the river (as prompted by Adendorff's arrival from that direction). Bromhead in turn wrote a very short note to the officer commanding the 1st/24th at Helpmekaar ((Upcher) alerting him to the disaster upcountry. Curiously none of the sources mentions a black galloper arrriving at the drift, but I'm pretty sure he must have done - only other explanation is that he handed the note over to one of the named European fugitives between Fugitive's Drift and the mission. This seems unlikely to me. Much more likely that he didn't stay long, nobody knew who he was anyway , and so he was lost to history in the minor detail.
|26th April 2005||Peter Weedon|
Holme lists two Privates by that name, both KIA at Isandhlwana. Which Whelan do you have in mind?
|26th April 2005||John Young|
Private 1985 Daniel Whelan, 1st Battalion, 13th (1st Somersetshire) Prince Albert's Light Infantry, attached to 1st Squadron Mounted Infantry.
|26th April 2005||Peter Weedon|
|27th April 2005||Julian Whybra|
The note that Bromhead received was brought by Evans (and Whelan).
John beat me to it!
|27th April 2005||Julian Whybra|
Evans, of course, was Pte. Edward Evans 2/3rd (IMI) - not Frederick Evans 2/24th as Holme states.
|28th April 2005||Mike Snook|
Which source would you commend for that? Is it Bray and Bray only, or is there another corrobatory one? Do you think this is Gardner's note or another? (As I read it, Evans and Whelan were not together but separated by an interval of at least a few minutes.) Dunne (I think it is) who gives a reasonably detailed account of Evan's arrival (first of the pair to arrive - the man in the shirtsleeves) - and from memory doesn't mention a note. I'll check when I go home tonight but I thought Evans delivered a verbal message (of his own) only.
|29th April 2005||Peter Ewart|
Once Gardner had sent a message via a mounted Basuto to R/Drift to fortify and "hold the house", he proceeded to Helpmakaar himself. Helpmakaar was the safer place of the two at that time and, given its elevated position, he would have guessed it was so. Might he - should he? - have tried to ride to R/Drift himself, rather than entrust the task to a mounted Basuto?
I'm not for one moment re-casting the aspersions which were unkindly suggested about Gardner's actions in the days that followed, as they were soon properly and effectively dismissed. However, is there any military reason why he could/should not have tried to reach R/Drift himself? (I ask the question as a "civvy").
Secondly, after Gardner directly accused the Basutos of funk on the night of the 22nd for refusing to try to get a vital message through to Wood, he enlisted the assistance of a German who offered to show him a circuitous route to Utrecht & they set off the same night.
Has the German been identified? Had he, too, been a fugitive or might he have been a civilian of the column who simply found himself at Helpmakaar that night? I realise Gardner doesn't identify him but wonder if anyone else has?
|30th April 2005||Graham Alexander|
Dugald Macphail, the quarter-master of the Buffalo Border Guard stated in a interview when he was nearly 90 years old that :-
At the top of the hill, I overtook a Captain Gardner ......... He wanted to go to Colonel Wood's Column over at Utrecht. I got a man named Milward to take him to Colonel Wood's Column.
Could this be the man, although the name does not sound very German ?
|1st May 2005||Miike Snook|
I would say, theoreticaly speaking, that there would be an onus on a regular officer to rally on the nearest formed body of troops. Gardner should really have gone to RD, from where he could have sent fresh gallopers on to Helpmekaar, and to Wood in the north. Of course he would have been in a state of shock and absolutely terrified, so his lapse is eminently understandable. Moving to RD involved parallellng the river - and hence remaining exposed and vulnerable, whereas going to Helpmekaar was to move in diametrically the opposite direction to the threat. Essex, Cochrane, Curling and Smith-Dorrien all made the same decision. I think this gives us an interesting insight into just how badly frightened the surviving fugitives were.
It's interesting that Bromhead did not share the same immediate concern to warn Wood, when he recieved the warning note - his thoughts were for Helpmekaar only. Was Garnder's self-appointed errand entirely spurious therefore?
|1st May 2005||Peter Ewart|
Yes, I suppose it could be, if one could conjure up a suitable corruption of the surname. Or Gardner may have been mistaken as to the man's nationality, although he was writing only a very short time after the battle.
I believe it was MacPhail, was it not, who later (much later) scoffed at Gardner's excitability that night? I think a high proportion of reminscences related at such a distance in time from the event must be treated with caution for many sound reasons. It is also often the case that titbits offered many years later by dwindling survivors tend to be latched onto as "gospel" by the listener, whereas in reality it is the survivor's rarity value which is so attractive. The fact that their opinion may be only one in a thousand of those present who have not survived so long is often overlooked. (As are all the usual caveats about oral testimony years after the event). Would you agree? I think Macphail's revelations were in 1929, weren't they? Certainly Gardner was highly indignant at the accusations.
Many thanks for that. As someone with no military experience, I find it helpful. As you say, what cannot be under-stated is the shock, fatigue, fear and stress of the moment. I also note - as I understand it - your doubts as to Gardner's need for the ride; or, at least, his sense of priorities. 140 miles in 36 hours on the same horse is some endurance feat - either a selfless act or the result of his fear that Helpmekaar might be over-run that night or tomorrow?
Another thing occurs to me with regard to Gardner, Essex, Cochrane, Smith-Dorrien, Curling & the others. How sure were they of their bearings when at, and just past, Fugitives' Drift? How many of them had actually seen or studied a map? None were on the Staff. Were they all certain of the directions they had travelled since 11th Jan, and especially that afternoon on the flight? They obviously knew they were down-river from R/Drift and might have been able to calculate a rough distance from R/Drift, as well as possibly have seen the setting sun. Crucially, the peaks of both Isandlwana & Shiyane had also been in their sights from all directions for a fortnight or more and so were familiar, so I suppose they could work out their approximate position. I've been to Fugitives' Drift but can't recall whether, once gaining the high ground on the Natal side, the Biggarseberg was visible immediately to the fugitive. So I do sometimes wonder whether it was an easy direction to follow, or even whether any of them even considered R/Drift might have been a better destination, both for being nearer and because I find it difficult to accept that they would all have guessed the danger that place, unless some of them had seen any of the right horn moving off in that direction or crossing further up.
|1st May 2005||Mike McCabe|
I thinkm that Dougal McPhail might justifiably go down in history as one of the AZW's most proficient survivors and long time wiseacre for many years afterwards. I have never found his remarks on contemporary professional soldiers or bettlefield events the least bit persuasive.
|2nd May 2005||Graham Alexander|
Interesting point about rallying to Rorke's Drift. The problem was that Zulus had got between the fugitives and the drift itself.To try to get there would surely have just resulted in even more casualties. Many of the fugitives were unarmed and/or low on ammunition.Captain Essex recorded that pursuit by the Zulus continued once they had crossed the river
" Apparently with the view of cutting us of from Rorke's Drift". Helpmekaar was the prudent choice made by all the officers concerned after a conference. Essex also stated that "Someone said that another company had just arrived (at Helpmekaar)" , so the fugitives did fall back to a formed body of men. Smith-Dorrien also came to the same conclusion despite being detached from the main body of survivors, that Rorke's drift was not a safe place to try and get to.
My comments to Mike indicate that both destinations were considered and the fact that Zulus were attempting to cut them off, really only left Helpmekaar as an alternative.
Macphail's recollections were admittedly that of a 90 year old man, but it just seems strange to me that he does mention a specific name, when he could have just said that he told somebody to guide Captain Gardner. Macphail did seem to have a very poor attitude to all the officers he encountered on the day, but maybe he had experienced some of the bias shown by regular soldiers to colonials.
|2nd May 2005||Julian Whybra|
Dugald MacPhail'smemory cannot be relied upon - he refers to a 'Captain Hill' during the flight, yet there was no such individual.
|2nd May 2005||Mike Snook|
You make a very fair point about bearings but navigationally speaking, the river serves as the handrail to Rorke's Drift, and they rode directly away from it.
I have real doubts about Essex the reasons for which will come out in my book in September. I believe his testimony is strongly inclined to self-justification. In the course of my research I gradually arrived at the conclusion that there were four categories of fugitive - if you will - very early, early, barely respectable and skin of the teeth. I put Smith-Dorrien in the skin of the teeth category but Essex in the barely respectable crowd. The way I define these are:
Very early - the men who escaped before the wagon road was cut and had a clean run in the direction of RD. eg Adendorff and his Carbineer chum (I don't accept that Adendorff followed the line of the river on the Zulu bank), Henderson and the Basuto Troop, Bob Hall, the rcoket battery survivors etc
Early - the men who saw the onset of the right horm and diverted along the FT quickly - hence they were not really closely pursued. Its a fine lijne between this category and the next - hence difficult to name names but many were NNC Europeans.
Barely respectable the men who were driven on a left oblique down the FT and were chased along it. You can identify these by their more vivid accounts of their flight along the FT.
Skin of the teeth - the men who left the camp and found Zulus already on the FT ahead of them - they had to cut their way out, or more accurately ride for their lives. There are very few of these - most men riding with them or near them were killed.
Clealry Essex had to create the impression that he was safely in the last category, not in the third category.
It follows that there were no Zulus (or at best very few) on the Natal bank when the barely respectable crowd crossed the river. Gardner I also place in the barely respectable crowd. Smith-Dorrien by contrast had to contend with Zulus all over the shop and refers to them beginning to cross the river. I think Gardner and Essex were safely on the top of the hill on the Natal bank by this stage - where they had been for some minutes - plenty of time to ride away to RD with relatively little risk of interception en route.
I could go on! But buy the book - please!
Regards as ever
|3rd May 2005||Julian Whybra|
It is possible that Evans carried Gardner's note but I err on the side of a verbal message.
MacPhail's original transcript says the man was called Millward.
This should make interesting reading - I hope there are plenty of annotations(!) though I'm not too keen on categories for leaving a sinking ship - 'barely respectable' and so on seem a bit harsh. I suppose it depends on whereabouts the survivors were on the battlefield and what each one witnessed as to what decided the moment of flight. I've only ever been in a comparable situation once (during a protest behind the Iron Curtain) and, for me, it was when the club-wielding wild animals, alias special riot police, charged out of the armoured car into the crowd (I didn't wait to get beaten to a pulp). Sauve qui peut is a matter for individual conscience, don't you think? Honi soit qui mal y pense.
|3rd May 2005||Mike Snook|
I accept entirely your sinking ship allusion and of course I don't use these rather casual labels in the book - fine for conversation with subject matter experts on this forum, but otherwise not appropriate for a more general readership. This whole issue is of course heavily tied in with the ethics of the Victorian officer corps. But by the standards of the day, it would have been distinctly embarassing to be alive as a regular officer - no matter what the circumstances of one's survival were. I think the problem for Essex and the others was precisely that it was not at all a matter of individual conscience - they were expected to die rather than run. But you will see my full argument unfold shortly - I shall be suggesting that the traditional sequencing of the battle is wrong, and that some of the departures may have been a bit more precipitate in their relationship in time and space to other key events than we might have thought.
But fear not - none of this amounts to the sort of harsh judgemental rubbish we have seen in some recent publications. I simply argue that the reaction for the lcuky five must inevitably have been along the lines of :
Hellfire I'm still alive! Didn't expect to be. Now how am I going to explain this to the rest of the army - especially the officers of the 2nd/24th. Better get a bit of an umbrella up here.
You'll see what I mean.
|5th May 2005||Julian Whybra|
Good, I shall look forward to reading it.