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27th February 2004Press Correspondence, 1879
By Peter Ewart
In "The Times" of this morning, on p29 under the "Past Letters to the Editor" feature, two letters have been re-published on the anniversary of their original date:


"Sir, - Without in the least wishing to underrate the gallant conduct of Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, 24th Regiment, is it not just possible that the successful defence of the post at Rorke's Drift may have depended in great measure on the breastworks extemporized by Lieutenant Chard, R.E., the senior officer, and who as yet appears to be totally ignored?

Yours obediently,

"Sir - In justice to Lieutenant Bromhead, who I feel sure would be the last to wish his name to be brought unduly before the public in connexion with the glorious defence of Rorke's Drift, I beg permission to state that Lieutenant Chard, R.E., being the senior officer, ought to get the lion's share of credit for that gallant action. Being an Engineer, he no doubt planned the hastily-executed cover for our troops which proved so efficient through that awful night.

F.W.B. " 27 Feb 1879.

I think I've read one of them fairly recently somewhere & they are very similar to examples found in The Guardian during Feb., March & April 1879. They are also a reminder of how astonishingly quickly the lobbying and jostling for position started, with letters being knocked off almost as soon as the news arrived in England (when some of the accounts of the events of 22/23 Jan were still coming in and were full of inaccuracies).

Presumably R.E. officers were behind both attempts, especially given that the writers appear not to have dared divulge their identities - the paper certainly wouldn't publish an anonymous letter today! By late Feb there had just been time for officers over here to have received hurried letters from officers in Natal who might have suggested a friend in England goes into print. However, without being able to admit that they'd been "tapped", their letters are reduced to resembling appeals from someone who gives the appearance of simply guessing what might have happened thousands of miles away.

Or they simply may have been reacting in a natural natural without any prompting, believing that "their" man was getting less credit than he should have. The ironic thing is that both Chard & Bromhead subsequently revealed themselves to be modest men and almost certainly did no lobbying on their own behalf (notwithstanding the necessary contents of Chard's reports) and that - had the correspondents held their fire a little longer - another man altogether would have been given considerable credit for what they claimed for Chard.

Any comments?

29th February 2004Julian whybra
I think the answer is that Dalton didn't get the credit he deserved (initially)!
29th February 2004Peter Ewart
Yes, that's whom I had in mind. Posterity has - even if a well known film hasn't - done him justice.

The above correspondents were confident that all the organisation and preparations for the defence works would have been ordered by Chard, whereas he readily acknowledged Dalton's contribution and Reynolds states that the decision to stay had been made and the initial preparations already begun by Dalton before Chard arrived on the scene, but that the latter then made several useful suggestions.

I very often wonder whether Chard's "quiet" behaviour immediately afterwards, observed by his officers and men, was a reflection of his concern that Dalton was apparently not yet in line for anything, whereas he and Bromhead were being lauded, and that all those who'd been present had known who was responsible for much of the preparations. If Dalton didn't get something, there were plenty of witnesses who "knew where the bodies were buried," as it were. (Not, perhaps, the best phrase to use, given the circumstances, but you know what I mean).

Or it could just have been his reticent & unambitious nature, after all.