More stories showing the human side of the Anglo-Zulu war.

Graham Charles Lear
11 min readJan 26, 2022


We all know the battle at Rorkes Drift. However, after the battles men talk, and Officers have to write reports, some have diaries that they record the things see, and they all hear things that sometimes make them laugh and sometimes cry, and it shows the human side of war.

One such recollection concerned three soldiers who were awarded the VC and it shows how well the men knew each other and how in a very fraught moment when they thought they might die they could calmly just talk to each other in a way that can be considered quite funny.

The first two concern a lowly Private who went by the name of Hitch and Lieutenant Bromhead

Now it happened that both Bromhead and Hitch found themselves standing next to each other fighting the Zulus that were trying to get at the men over the barricade of mealy bags and the boxes that the defenders had erected. Hitch had been fighting on the roof of the hospital and had now come down to fight at the barricade. Both were by all accounts doing quite well.

When any Zulu tried to get over he was met by 24 inches of steel attached to Hitches Martini-Henry rifle. You can use your imagination to what that did to them, Hitch after battle said it seemed as if bullets did not frighten them at all, but the sharp end of the bayonet was another matter.

While Hitch was using his rifle to good effect Bromhead did not have a rifle as an officer he had the trusty Revolver that he used with good effect, pop pop one less Zulu pop pop there goes another one, now and again Hitch would load his rifle lean over the top and down would go another one.

As the battle progressed Hitch was grappling with one Zulu when out of the corner of his eye he saw another one aim his rifle, as he was to say later, there was nothing he could do as he was dealing with the one he was grappling with. Suddenly, Hitch gasped out in pain, he had been hit in the shoulder by a Zulu bullet that shattered the bone, he slid to the ground clutching his wound, his face white with shock and in absolute agony.

Now, Bromhead an upper-class Victorian well-educated man, whose grandfather had fought in the American War of Independence and father who had fought in the battle of Waterloo looked down and seeing Hitch ashen-faced, said and I quote, I say old mate are you hurt, Hitch with blood pumping out of the wound, looked up at Bromhead and through gritted teeth, said course I am bloody hurt, look at my arm and the blood. Oh, dear said Bromhead go to the rear and get it seen too. Hitch looked up and said I have a better idea, what's that said Bromhead, well you give me your Revolver and you take my Rifle and let's carry on. That's what they did they swapped weapons and carried on shooting and stabbing the Zulu. Stopping only for Bromhead to reload the Revolver for Hitch.

Now, look at the words spoken between them both, first Bromhead. Who would have thought an upper-class officer in Victorian Britain would say, mate to a lowly private? Yet that is what he said, mate as if he was his best buddy, which of course he wasn't. Now look what Hitch said back, course I am bloody hurt, look at my arm and the blood, a comment like that uttered to an officer is tantamount to insubordination. Yet that is what was said according to Bromhead. Then we have Hitch ordering an officer around. I have a better idea he tells Bromhead, well you give me your Revolver and you take my Rifle and let’s carry on.

It shows both men were comfortable in the presence of each other and the midst of a battle, rank did not matter that much. They were just two human beings fighting for their lives.

Now one of the men seeing Hitch with blood all over him goes over and says to Hitch, that looks bad, let me see what I can do, Hitch without looking at him, says hang on a moment let me deal with this dark bugger first and pop down goes another one. Then he says can you carry on a while, nudging Bromhead while he patches me up, oh do carry on old mate, says Bromhead.

So he rips open Hitches tunic and pushes a wad of bandage into the hole to try and stem the blood. There you go says off you go all mended, Ta very much says Hitch gets up and says right I'm back and carry on popping away at the Zulus as if it was a normal day at the firing range.

Later through loss of blood Hitch did have to abandon Bromhead's side, he was faint from the loss of blood, but that did not stop him crawling around and dragging a box of ammunition behind him until that got too much for him. He found Private Jones who had been helping to evacuate the hospital, both had been wounded so they sat down together. Jones turns to Hitch and says I feel a bit better now I am going to join the others. Now Hitch is in no fit state to crawl let alone join in the fighting at the barricade, so he says you go on and leave me here, I will be alright, well says Jones, if you say so, would you like me to put one in your head so those dark buggers don't get at you while you are alive?

At this point in the story, it looks like both men and indeed all the men had known, that the Zulu if they got to a man who was wounded first cut his throat and then ripped open his stomach spilling the guts. Oh no says, Hitch just leave me here and If they break through, I will take a few with me might as well let them finish me off. Hitch was indeed badly wounded and probably thought he was going to die anyway, he had lost quite a lot of blood. Just how bad his wound was became known after the battle and the surgeons took 36 pieces of shattered bone out of his shoulder. The bullet that had done the damage had come from a Martini-Henry rifle that had the stopping power of taking down an Elephant and it had come from a Zulu just a few feet away, he was lucky that it had not taken off his arm. If you can call it luck.

Private Fredric Hitch VC

A little background on both Men

Private Fredric Hitch was a character in every sense of the word. He could not read or write and throughout his life was always dogged by bad luck. He joined the Army at the age of 22 to get stability in his life. It was his bad luck that the moment he joined the Regiment he was ordered to go to South Africa.

Hitch found himself stationed at Rorke’s Drift. It was here that Hitch with Allen opened up the communication line to the hospital and kept it open fighting off dozens of Zulus. Before he joined Bromhead at the wall.

Hitch did not die but was so badly wounded that his short time in the Army came to an end. He was invalided out of the Army and given a £10 a year pension. He found he could not exist on that money so he took up various jobs as a handyman. Unfortunately, that did not last long he fell off a ladder and was injured and taken to hospital he woke to find his VC that he always wore had been stolen. He asked the Army to supply him with another one which they did but they made him pay for it. Eventually, he moved to London where he managed to buy two horses and a carriage and he became a taxi driver. He traded them in and bought a Motor. However, it did not last long. In 1913 he died at his home at the age of 59

He was buried with full military honours near his home in Chiswick. Many London cabbies attended his funeral, and the Fred Hitch Gallantry Award for cab drivers remains is still awarded today.

Lieutenant Bromhead was different He came from a long line of family soldiers who had fought in the American War of Independence, his father had fought at Waterloo and he had been part of the Ninth Cape Frontier War. We don't know if he had fought in that war though. Bromhead was actually in command of the 2nd Battalion 24th Regiment of Foot at the Drift before Major Henry Spalding put Chard in command because of seniority. Bromhead though was in the thick of the fighting. He was seen using a rifle, probably Hitche’s and his Revolver and was seen in hand-to-hand combat a true warrior in every sense of the word. He survived the breaching of the perimeter by the Zulus where many of his men were wounded and it's this action that might have contributed to his battle lethargy after the battle was over. Bromhead went on to serve in India and Burma and took part in a few more battles where he was promoted to Major. Finally, in India, he lost his last battle. Typhoid did what scores of Zulus could not do he died from it in 1891 at the young age of 45.

There is one more man I have to show you, this man was not even British but Swiss. Christian Ferdinand Schies.

Schiess was in the same position as Hitch and Bromhead at the left of the picture right in front of the hospital

He was 22 years old, and a corporal in the Natal Native Contingent, South African Forces during the Zulu War. On 22 January 1879, at Rorke’s Drift, Natal, Corporal Schiess, despite having been wounded in the foot a few days previously, displayed great gallantry.

Bromhead in his report mentions that Schiess began to get annoyed at the Zulus, calling them all sorts of names. He then spotted a bit of a dip and on the top were a few bushes concealing a few Zulu who had peeled away from the main force that was attacking the main force of defenders. He was sure they had crept up to the dip and were waiting for more of their Zulu friends to join them as they peeled around from the hospital. In the sketch, you can see the hospital and five formations of Zulus, then the mealie bag wall, in front of that were bits of shrubbery. By the time Hitch had been wounded the Zulu were concentrating more on a frontal attack where you can see the eight formations, the three formations that you can see is were where Bromhead and Hitch Corporal Schiess and others were defending.

As you can see there is a gap that was not being defended properly. Probably by just a few soldiers. Ignore the Zulus where the hospital is they had long gone, and they had by now swung around to join the main assault.

Many people think the Drift was on the flat, it wasn't all around there was a bit of a slope.

You can see what it was like in this modern photo

What you are looking at is the Hospital. The trees that you can see were planted long after the battle so imagine them not being there. Those two trees in the dip are where Corporal Schiess won his VC.

As I mentioned a few Zulus had peeled off from the main formation and had come up unseen to the base of the mealie bags where you can see the rocks or the rock wall. As Bromhead said in his report, Schiess was the only one to spot movement and when he mentioned it Bromhead to a quick look and saw nothing, which is not surprising as the spot where they were hiding is a bit of a blind spot of men were laying down at the base of the dip. It was only by luck that Schiess had spotted movement.

So Schiess decided to take matters into his own hands, he climbs on top of the mealie bags and crawls along then drops down from them cocks his rifle walks to a small gap sees a bunch of them getting ready to jump up to assault the area not defended properly, they see him at the last moment, probably as he took aim and as he shot one. He quickly reloads and shoots another one, as he is reloading for a third shot his hat goes flying in the air as a Zulu bullet goes through it. It lands at the feet of a Zulu, he does not think I had better be careful, he just bends down picks it up, slams it back on his head and shoots another one. He does not have time to reload again because by this time the Zulus are waking up to the fact that a madman has rumbled their plan and is shooting them one by one and now one is coming for him to stab him. Not a problem for Schiess, who promptly knocks aside the Assegai and bayonets him to death. The rest decide it's best if they join the ranks of their mates where there is not a mad Swiss slotting them. At that point, Schiess calmly walks back climbs over mealie bags and carries on the fight with his mates

A little background on Christian Ferdinand Schiess.

Schiess was Swiss and had fought with the French Army until joining the Natal Native Contingent in South Africa. He may have also been a sailor. He became the first foreign national to be awarded the VC. He was 22 years of age and like many others at the Mission was in the hospital with minor injuries to his feet when the Zulus attacked. Nevertheless, he scrambled out of his bed and made his way to the line of mealie bags to fight next to his comrades in close-quarter combat. It was this and the above that he was awarded the VC. However, after he was discharged from the Natal Native Contingent he could not find work and became a Vagrant living on the Streets in Capetown. Living on the streets he became malnourished and was one step from the grave when the Royal Navy who had orders to locate him found him. They asked him if he would like a passage to England and he accepted. However, as they sailed to England Schiess died at the age of just 28 and was buried at sea. A very sad end for a hero.

There are very few of the VC recipients at the Drift that have a happy life once they go home. At a later date after a little more research, I will show you how they all got on in life.



Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.