Page last updated at 18:23 GMT, Saturday, 17 January 2009

VC honoured at Zulu anniversary

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The parade in Cwmbran was followed by a service of remembrance for the battle's last surviving VC holder, Pte John Williams, who died in 1932.

The 130th anniversary of the battle of Rorke's Drift, when 145 soldiers, many of them Welsh, held off some 4,000 Zulu warriors has been marked with a parade.

The battle, portrayed in the 1964 film Zulu, saw the award of 11 Victoria Crosses (VC), the largest number to a single regiment for any one action.

The parade in Cwmbran was followed by a service of remembrance for the last surviving Rorke's Drift VC holder.

Private John Williams was buried with full military honours in 1932.

He was among the officers and men of the 24th Regiment of Foot, later the South Wales Borderers, whose defence of the supply station in Natal, South Africa, in 1879 was recreated in the film Zulu starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker.

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

Pte Williams, then aged 21, who was born John Fielding, was awarded the VC for fighting off Zulu attackers so that the outlying hospital building could be evacuated of eight patients.

He died in Ty Coch, Cwmbran, and was buried with full military honours in Llantarnam, where Saturday's parade was held.

Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi (right) (picture: Ministry of Defence)
Chief Buthelezi visited the museum at the regiment's Brecon barracks

Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy, who was at the parade, said: "The bravery of the men of the South Wales Borderers forms a prominent place in the folklore of Welsh troops and has been immortalised in the classic film Zulu, ensuring that the heroic efforts of the 145 soldiers are widely recognised by the wider public.

"On the 130th anniversary of the battle it is important that we continue to remember the fallen and I am honoured to have been able to attend the events today to commemorate the famous battle.

"The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for bravery in the face of the enemy and the fact that Rorke's Drift saw the largest number awarded to a single regiment illustrates the overwhelming force these soldiers had to face from Zulu warriors."

The South Wales Borderers later became the The Royal Regiment of Wales before forming the present Royal Welsh battalion in 2006.

In February last year, Zulu royal Chief Buthelezi, who played the part of his ancestor, King Cetywayo, in the film, visited the battalion's Wiltshire headquarters and the barracks at Brecon, Powys, where many of the men at the Rorke's Drift trained.

He was shown spears, clubs, necklaces and other belongings taken as trophies by British troops from the battlefields in the Anglo-Zulu War.

Describing his visit as "touching" and "emotional," he said: "We really treasure the link between the Zulus and the Welsh regiment. It (the war) created a relationship which must never die for us.

"I think it is important to pay tribute to the brave people on both sides. It's very important for us to keep this relationship forever."

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SEE ALSO
County honours Rorke's Drift hero
03 May 06 |  South West Wales
Zulu War hero's sculpture honour
05 Oct 07 |  South East Wales

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