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New RD defender?
Alan
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Joined: 30 Aug 2005
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Martin Everett has supplied the following information regarding a RD defender not previously listed. We would welcome any comments.

Rorke's Drift Defender: Lost and Found
by Martin Everett

It was a quite day in the Regimental Museum in the Watton. Mrs Sonia Gittoes from Swansea decided to brave the winter elements and pay the famous Brecon museum at visit. It transpired that one of her family was David Jenkins of Defynnog who had served in the 24th Regiment at the time of the Zulu war. Following the disaster at Isandlwana on 22 January 1879, when a number of local Brecon men had been slaughtered by the massed Zulu army, David had written home to reassure his family that he had survived that appalling day. His letter was published in The Merthyr Express of Saturday 22 March 1879:

Letter from a Welsh Survivor of Isandula

The following letter has been received from Zululand, written by David Jenkins, son of Mr Thomas Jenkins, tailor and draper, Tanner's Arms at Davynock, and nephew of Mr W Davies, saddler of Aberdare, in which town the writer was well known:


Zululand
January 26, 1879

Dear Father,
Just a few lines to let you know that I am one of the ten that escaped out of five companies. The remainder were cut to pieces, - in fact cut in bits - with those savages. About 15,000 of them came on the camp when the column was out. All in camp were killed - 495 of our regiment and about 300 of different corps. Oh I never saw such a sight. Please to pray to God to continue to save my life. There are only 240 men remaining in our regiment. So no more. I shall write again soon if alive.

Dear Father, please go personally or write a letter to Isaac Lewis, Pendra, Brecon and tell him that his son in law, Sgt. Chambers is killed. His son Thomas is alive but still in hospital with fever. He had a very narrow escape. He crept on his hands and knees and came from the hospital to the fort through all the firing. Please give my love to all, and write soon
Your affectionate son.

D Jenkins
P.S. I think we will go down to the colony to get re-fitted, as we have lost everything.


The letter mentions the deaths of Sergeant Instructor of Musketry George Chambers who married Elizabeth, daughter of Isaac Lewis of Brecon, in January 1877 and her brother Gunner Thomas Lewis of Royal Artillery, who was involved in the fighting at Rorke's Drift which took place some 12 hours after the disaster at Isandlwana. George Chambers's name is remembered to this day on his father-in-law's headstone in Brecon Cemetery and in the Regimental Museum where a coalport mug given to George and Elizabeth as wedding present is on display.

David Jenkin's letter suggests that he was one of the fortunate survivors of Isandlwana. However, only 10 men out of nearly 600 men of the regiment escaped and their handwritten accounts prepared, but not used, in the subsequent Court of Enquiry, are held in the regimental archives. There is no report from 295 Pte. David Jenkins of Defynnog. Furthermore, we know that David Jenkins was in G (Rainforth's) Company 1/24th which was held in reserve at stores depot at Helpmekaar, some 20 miles from Isandlwana. The actual whereabouts of David Jenkins during the period on 22/23 January 1879 was not clear.

After 127 years, Mrs Gittoes was able to solve the mystery with tangible evidence - a Rorke's Drift Testimonial Bible presented to each of the gallant defenders by the ladies of Durban. The name of soldier is inscribed in the flyleaf of each bible. This bible containing David Jenkins's name was identical to others held by the Regimental Museum; there was no doubt over its authenticity.

We knew of the possibility of two soldiers named 'Jenkins' from 1/24th being at Rorke's Drift and the various rolls were not able to shed light on the matter. A soldier named 841 Pte James Jenkins was a patient at Rorke's Drift but had killed by the Zulus as they plundered through the hospital building and his name appears on the memorial at Rorke's Drift; Colour Sergeant Bourne, the redoubtable senior NCO, at Rorke's Drift mentions 1083 Pte M Jenkins but he was killed at Isandlwana. This prompted a search through the Regimental Archives and we were able to find a reference to Pte David Jenkins 1/24th being at Rorke's Drift in the handwritten ledger containing the records of the 1st Battalion. So with some confidence, we were able to add David Jenkins's name to the roll of Rorke's Drift defenders. Interestingly, in his letter David had quite naturally concentrated on telling his family of his lucky survival from Isandlwana when many local men had been killed - Rorke's Drift on the other hand was not yet news as the announcement of the award of Victoria Crosses to the eleven defenders was published much later.

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Lee Stevenson


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
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Hi

Just to clarify then - 25B/295 Private David Jenkins was serving in 'G' Company when he wrote the letter home....and may well have been serving with that company all the time - but is it not also possible therefore that he had been serving with another company up to 22nd-23rd January 1879 and that once they were all wiped out at Isandlwana he was taken into one of the surviving companies?

A "Private Jenkins" is also listed amongst several Rorke's Drift men of the 1st Battalion who arrived home aboard the S.S. Egypt in early October 1879. (from an original report in the Times)

Of course we still can't explain just how he came to at Rorke's Drift. However this same report from the Times states that these men had been "...to the rear with prisoners, but who had returned in time to join the with B Company of the 2nd Battalion in the defence of Rorke's Drift..."

Might there also be room for speculation that the 'prisoners' were in fact some of the men of the 1/24th being escorted back down the line of communication from No. 3 column, for detention either at Rorke's Drift or to Helpmakaar perhaps? At least one of the 1st battalion men who later fought at Rorke's Drift had received a fine for being drunk, (one of many in his short army career), on the 19th January 1879.

One interesting thought on the discovery of Jenkins' Rorke's Drift bible - (which we know to be inscribed correctly to him)...so as he was not listed on the 'Chard' roll - How did the Ladies Testimonial Fund know that he had been at Rorke's Drift? Does this mean that there was/is another roll of defenders still out there.....!

Lee
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Julian whybra


Joined: 03 Sep 2005
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Martin, as I've told you already, but may be useful to the general public, Jenkins's letter is actually dated the 28th January.
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Martin Everett


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
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Julian,

There is also a reference to David Jenkins being at RD in letter written by 1289 CSgt Wm Edwards - killed Isandlwana.

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Martin Everett
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diagralex


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 208
Location: Broomfield, Essex
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I must admit that I am still somewhat confused if Private Davis Jenkins is to be accepted as an additional Rorke's drift defender. His Rorke's drift testimonial bible seems irrefutable proof that he was indeed a defender, but there are also other several other factors to consider.
His letter states that " I never saw such a sight " - concerning Isandlwana. This implies that he was present during the battle, yet no other Isandlwana survivor mentions him. It seems strange that a survivor from Isandlwana arriving at Rorke's drift and then defending it, is not mentioned by any of the other defenders.
His "G" company muster roll places more confusion about his whereabouts.
Lee Stevenson's mention of prisoner escort is a possibility, but where were the prisoners taken to ? There is no mention of men being held in detention at either Rorke's drift or Helpmekaar.
Finally there is C.Sgt Edwards report of Jenkins being at Rorke's drift. If he was with "G" company then he should never have been sighted there.
Is there any more evidence to make a conclusive decision ?

Graham
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Martin Everett


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
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Dear Graham,

We know from various rolls that there were two soldiers named 'Jenkins' from 1st Battalion at RD.

This prompted a search through the Regimental Archives and we were able to find a reference to Pte David Jenkins 1/24th being at Rorke's Drift in the handwritten ledger containing the historic records of the 1st Battalion. Along with CSgt Edwards' reference - we have three pieces of evidence.

There were a number of letters written home by survivors (but NOT present) - there seem to follow the 'party line' or what we might call 'the press release' today - might had the help of an officer in the composition. The author's key message was to tell his family that he was OK (and survived the disaster) - the family read it as he escaped. This why you have to take soldier's letters with a pinch of salt - often they were not in a position to know the bigger picture. You could, of course, question how Jenkins knew about 458 Bdr Lewis if he was not at RD.


Last edited by Martin Everett on Mon Apr 03, 2006 2:28 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Martin Everett
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mike snook 2


Joined: 04 Jan 2006
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Wasn't Lewis a Bombardier?

Mike Question
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Martin Everett


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
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Mike

I have corrected the reference - also Julian Whybra says the date of Jenkins' letter was 28th January 1879. As I do not have a copy I was quoting from RDBTWWT by Lee Stevenson.

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Martin Everett
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Lee Stevenson


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
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To date no-one has been able to produce a definitive list of those men who were present at the defence of Rorke's Drift, so we are all left to speculate on many things. The 'discovery' of Pte Jenkins' Rorke's Drift bible clearly demonstrates just what additional information is still be waiting to be found.

So, and putting aside, if I may, whether Pte David Jenkins' letter is actually dated 26th or 28th January 1879, surely there is now evidence enough to add his name to the list of defenders though - or not ??

Martin, perhaps this was just temporary lapse on your part, so this just a reminder then, but "Rorke's Drift - by those who were there" was actually co-authored by myself and Alan Baynham Jones.
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Martin Everett


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
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Dear Lee,

Sorry for omitting ABJ - he has been very helpful in this research on David Jenkins. It was Julian Whybra who was taking me to task over the actual date on the letter. I only have the published version not the original newspaper report, so I have go by yours and ABJ version.

In the last few days, we had discovered the family story about Pte George Hudd - about him being greeted personally at Waterloo Station by Queen Victoria on his return to UK. We have concluded that he was wounded in the leg as reported in the newspaper report of his death in 1923. But he probably was sent home early with the other wounded soldiers and was in fact at Netley on 12 August 1879 when the Queen visited the hospital.

Such is life.

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Martin Everett
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Paul Bryant-Quinn
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In support of what Julian says, the Welsh-language version of 25B/295 Private David Jenkins' letter is also dated 28 January 1879.

Best wishes,

Paul
Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
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I've come to this thread a bit late as I've been offline for a week (laboriously trying to persuade a BT employee in India to arrange for the repair of a fault on a telegraph pole just across the meadow here - progress!!!) Anyway, I am fascinated by the discovery of this particular presentation Bible and the possibilities it raises.

Looking at it all objectively (as I'm sure Martin, Julian, Lee and Alan etc already have!) I think it is interesting to consider what each of the "sources" tell us independently and how reliable they can be considered.

Taking the published letter alone (assuming the original no longer survives anywhere) it seems to me that the most likely assumption from that source would be that he was one of Chelmsford's party and therefore not present at the battle of Isandlwana. He describes himself as a survivor of the disaster, one of the very few (10) from "five companies", but that would be the case even if he was out with Chelmsford (although possibly needing to be attached to the "wrong" battalion that day, admittedly).

He doesn't mention any detail of the battle (he needn't have done, I admit, and space was clearly short) but he does refer to never having seen "such a sight." This very strongly suggests to me the comments of someone who'd snatched a look at the scene on the night of the bivouac, or surreptitiously in the half-light of dawn before moving off - the bodies cut to bits, as it were. The men who wrote about these aspects were primarily among those who came through the site on the 22nd/23rd and ended up at R/Drift, or those at the post who heard the stories from the returning half-column in the long weeks stuck at RD following.

His anxiety to tell his family that he was among the safe was no different to many other "survivors" of the day who were not actually at the battle. (Imagine their relief at mere chance having dictated their movements that day! They had "escaped" the disaster). His knowledge of the escape from the hospital of men whom he knew well was the same knowledge gained by all of the returning half-column who arrived at RD on 23rd and remained there for weeks, gathering details from their friends who had served during the defence.

So, from the letter alone, I'd say he was almost certainly out with Chelmsford - or just possibly "not yet to be conclusively excluded" from the Isandlwana survivors.

From Martin's regimental records, which apparently indicate this particular Jenkins was at the defence of R/Drift, it would depend (for me) on the record itself, its provenance and on who wrote the remark or entry, and when. Can you enlighten us a little on that point, please Martin? Assuming his name, initial and number don't appear on the Chard & Bourne rolls etc., what exactly is the regimental record which indicates he was there? Why exactly was the entry or remark made - and when? Is it a note in the margin, a later annotation, or what? Is it consistent with other examples? (Not teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here, just fishing for extra detail!)

Finally, the bible and its inscription, about which there is apparently no doubt at all, among those who have handled some of the others, as regards its authenticity - which is fine. If we accept that this bible was awarded to Jenkins by those famous "ladies of Durban" then we must accept that Mrs Gittoes has a genuine artefact which has come down through the family from someone who was honoured along with up to about 150 others.

However, does this source alone (despite its undoubted provenance) prove that Jenkins was a RD defender? As Lee has intimated, there must have been at least one rudimentary list drawn up and on which the ladies relied. Did they go by the original (Chard's?) list in the local press? (Haven't checked the Red Book for this just now). But whether they did or didn't, by the time the ladies had the idea and handed out the bibles, many of the defenders had dispersed from the original group and were far away - and others who weren't part of the defence were no doubt by now serving with or alongside the company when they arrived in Pinetown or Durban. The original defenders did not move around as a group but were separated and mixed up right from the 23rd onwards. (Remember the story of Dalton in the crowd as B Coy marched past).

Is it not true, therefore, that there is ample scope for ambiguity, confusion, error and vagueness in working out who should have a bible, especially many months later? Is the Chard roll complete and perfect? We know that it isn't. The Bourne roll? No. Can the list relied upon by the ladies be considered 100% reliable? Of course not.

I accept that it was probably easier for a real defender to miss out on receiving a bible than it was for someone who wasn't there to receive one, but I have little doubt that there were examples of both. So - can the possession of a genuinely inscribed bible be considered absolute proof of a man's involvement at the Defence of Rorke's Drift? Apparently not (even though, all things being equal, it is highly likely that any given recipient was there). When the other known evidence from independent sources already suggests (to me) that he was at either Isandlwana or out with Chelmsford, is the likelihood reduced somewhat?

It is a great discovery and I do hope that he was there - and I also hope these musings are not seen merely as the pedantic doubts of an awful sourpuss! However, I do wonder if it is quite an open-and-shut case yet - and I daresay Martin, Julian, Lee, Alan and others have gone into all this in much more detail already.

Peter
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Martin Everett


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
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Peter,

This exercise with David Jenkins was useful and raised a number of points

1. Letters home from soldiers - some researchers seem to place more reliance on the content than they should. 'I survived' was the message they conveyed rather 'I was there and I survived' Often families read them as 'I was there and I survived' and this was carried through in family folkfore. I believe officers helped soldiers composed their letters home - I cannot believe that private soldiers would have had accurate data as to what happened, number of casualties, companies involved without this help.

2. CSgt Bourne knew his B Company men well - but would not have known those in another companies of 2/24th or 1st Battalion men. Bourne's roll was not compiled until many years later. About 1909?

3. Norman Holme did not have access (or rather he was not aware of the vitial information contained regimental records in the museum archives). He thought the two Jenkins at RD were 25B/841 and 1083. The regimental records confirms that it was 25B/841 and 25B/295.

4. We do know from letters written by 1-24/1289 CSgt Edwards that 25B/295 Jenkins was on prisoner escort duty at RD. There is no doubt that 295 was there.

5. What is truly amazing about the AZW is that we know so much - and here we are picking over the detail - it would be great if someone had a list of those of 2/24th (2/SWB) who landed at Cape Helles on 25 Apr 1915 (Anzac day) and later on D-Day 6 Jun 1944. I think everyone is very lucky that so much has survived from what in military terms is a short campaign. I am sure we shall continue to find more information at AZW to test what we already know. We shall be thankful for the efforts put in by Norman and Julian Whybra for others just to make use of. Research is time consuming when done properly. I am working on 2/24th at Tsingtao in 1914 - lots of wrong regimental numbers and spelling of surnames - luckly the lists are typed - all of which have to be resolved somehow.

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Martin Everett
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scarletto7


Joined: 07 Mar 2006
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Quite correct, to put it sadly, my Regiment can list who served in India at Aliwal, can list who fought in France in WW1, yet doesn't have a list of those who served in the Boer War or WW2, i know from research, that one famous regiment didn't have a list of those who fell in Northern Ireland correctly named, from research I've been able to locate so far 24 men who are not on the official army list of those who fell in Northern Ireland, all from the early years, very sad indeed.
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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
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Martin

Yes, that's certainly a good point and we're very lucky that items keep surfacing from 1879. Given how tiny the AZW was compared with the SWB's involvement in both world wars, it would be interesting to know roughly what percentage of enquiries coming in to your museum relates to 1879. (Don't worry - not suggesting you start counting, but I'm sure you've noticed a huge proportional imbalance over the years!)

I wonder if this is repeated in reverse for the curator of the museum covering the successor regiments of the Lancs Fusiliers simply because of their famous "6 VCs before breakfast" at "W" beach on 25 April 1915? I suppose they would be the equivalent, attention wise, of the seven VCs the 24th collected before breakfast on 23 Jan 1879.

Peter
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New RD defender?
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