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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 January, 2004, 10:30 GMT
Rorke's Drift 125 year anniversary
An 1882 'Illustrated London News' drawing of the aftermath of the Battle of Rorke's Drift
Rorke's Drift was defended by 145 men against thousands of Zulus
The 125th anniversary of one of the most celebrated moments in Welsh military history is being marked on a distant battlefield.

Just 145 soldiers from the 24th Foot, which two years later became the South Wales Borderers, held off an army of thousands of Zulu warriors at the battle of Rorke's Drift during South Africa's Anglo-Zulu War in 1879.

The losses of the British garrison were reported as 17 dead and 10 wounded, with the Zulus losing 450 men before retreating.

Ex-soldiers in the Borderers, which has since merged with other regiments to form the modern-day Royal Regiment of Wales, have flown to Africa to join Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan, Zulu chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and British High Commissioner in South Africa, Ann Grant, in remembrance of their heroic predecessors on Friday.

Rorke's Drift was always regarded as significant in south Wales, but the film Zulu really helped fire the imagination
Rodney Ashwood

The defenders of Rorke's Drift were awarded seven Victoria Crosses - the largest number awarded to a regiment for a single action - for the defence of Rorke's Drift, which was later given cinematic treatment in the 1964 classic film Zulu, starring Michael Caine, Stanley Baker and Ivor Emmanuel.

Four other Victoria Crosses were awarded to other regiments for their role in the two battles.

Links between the Zulu nation and Wales have been forged since the legendary battle and a largely Zulu regiment in the modern-day South African army awards a bravery medal named after Rorke's Drift soldier John Chard - the character played by Rhondda actor Baker in the film.

Retired Royal Regiment of Wales soldier Rodney Ashwood, from Brecon, said the battle of Rorke's Drift had always had a prominent place in the folklore of Welsh troops, but the film had made the stand famous to the wider public.

Re-enactment of the Zulu Wars
Rhodri Morgan will attend a staging of the Battle of Isandlwana

Mr Ashwood, who is a trustee of the Regiment's museum, in Brecon, said: "There are records of Rorke's Drift being commemorated in the 1920s and 1930s with re-enactments taking place.

"It was always regarded as significant in south Wales, but the film Zulu really helped fire the imagination.

"Zulu is a wonderful film, but historically there are a number of errors.

"The film takes place in daylight, whereas in reality, the battle began at 4.30pm and went on throughout the night.

"In the film, Private Henry Hook is a drunk, but in real life, he was quite the opposite.

"It is also inaccurate that the Zulu army stopped on top of the hill and sang to the Welsh soldiers.

"In reality, they had been on the march for four or five days and simply withdrew when they started sustaining casualties."

Victoria Cross
Eleven Victoria Cross medals were awarded after Rorke's Drift

The 125th anniversary service in Kwa-Zulu Natal province will feature a re-enactment of the battle of Isandlwana in which 1,500 soldiers from the Borderers were killed by Zulu forces, who then marched on the isolated border post of Rorke's Drift, defended by a much smaller force from the same regiment.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan flew out on Thursday to take part in the commemorative events.

"The battles of Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift have a particular significance for the people of Wales and the Zulu nation," he said.

"The South Wales Borderers (24th Foot) was one of the most famous and distinguished regiments in Wales.

"Their heroism at Rorke's Drift was recognised with the largest number of Victoria Crosses awarded to a single regiment for any one action.

"The supreme bravery of those 145 men who beat thousands of attacking Zulu warriors into retreat has now passed into the realms of popular folklore and been forever immortalised in the film Zulu.

"The Zulu victory at Isandlwana, immediately before Rorke's Drift, was one of the British army's worst and bloodiest defeats."

Mr Morgan will be presenting a commemorative sword to local dignitary Chief Mangasuto Buthelese.

His visit will also include a visit to a school twinned with Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Llanharri.


SEE ALSO:
Recognition for 'Zulu' graves
12 Nov 03  |  Nottinghamshire
Zulu treasure in garage
13 Jan 03  |  England
Rorke's Drift medals on show
07 Dec 99  |  Wales


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