Rorkes Drift Survivers. What Happened To Them?

Graham Charles Lear
13 min readMay 6, 2022

They would face 4,000 terrifying Zulu warriors who had seen their fellow warriors slaughter 1700 British and Natal soldiers just a few hours before they reached the Rorkes Drift outpost where they knew more soldiers were working.

They fought their battle and survived the onslaught, eleven would receive the Victoria Cross. The ones who were wounded badly would stay in Natal until such time as they got better and see no further action. The others would go on to see more action in battles then they would go home. Some would carry on in the army others would be discharged. Men like

Sergeant Joseph Lenford Windridge

William Tasker.

Privates Robert Cole.

Samuel Parry.

Joseph and Charles Bromwich Brothers

William Jones.

Robert Jones no relation.

These were Eight of the soldiers came from the Birmingham area in Midlands England.

William Tasker, born in 1846, joined the army as a 20-year-old. was wounded by a spear but fought on. After the battle, he left the Army and returned to Birmingham. He married and raised a family. At the age of 42, William Tasker died.

Joseph Lenford Windridge also left the army. He became a clerk and he also married. He had eleven children, six died of the disease tuberculosis. He lived a quiet life. Then in 1886, he suffered a stroke, He died at the age of 60 in 1902

Joseph Bromwich also left the army he had been married to Betty before his exploits in South Africa and he returned to her and they opened a shoe repair shop in the Aston area of Birmingham in 1916 two years into world war 1, he died at the age of 60. There is no record of what his brother Charles did or when he died.

Robert Cole was one of the men in the hospital wing at the Mission when the Zulus attacked. He was suffering from a high fever, we don’t know what the fever was but Malaria could have been the cause of it. He managed to get out alive but was wounded slightly by a spear. He returned home and settled again in Aston. He died in 1888 at the age of 40.

We don’t know what happened to the rest of the eight unfortunately perhaps one day someone will uncover what they did after they returned to England.

We do know what happened to a few others as there were 11 Victoria Crosses awarded.

We will start with Lieutenant John Chard VC

Chard was thought to be a dull-witted man by all accounts. However, at Rorke’s Drift, he took command of the situation admirably. It was down to him that they made the last stand fortifications that they could retreat to when the Zulus broke through the Western end of the Mission.

He took part in one-two other actions in the war and in one incident he and the men he was leading began to receive friendly fire two or the of his men received wounds non-fatal as they took cover among the rocks.

Chard like many soldiers had smoked all his life at the age of 49 he died from tongue cancer. Chard had never married so it fell to his brother the Reverand Chard who lived at the rectory at Hatch Beauchamp, Somerset to look after him. I find Chard much-maligned he was undoubtedly a dull man a slow man even, however, his bravery at the Drift cannot be questioned but that’s what happened. For years after the battle, Colonel Evelyn Wood could be seen and heard spreading rumours that Chard had exaggerated what he had done at the Drift. All nonsense of course but Chard did not help the case when Queen Vitoria invited him for an audience with her only for him to forget to go. All it did was prove to many that he was indeed a dull-witted idiot. The Queen as the saying goes was not amused and he was never again asked to attend court.

Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead VC

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 himself had actually 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 Hitches rifle, 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.

Corporal William Willson Allan VC

Allan was one of those characters that anyone who has served knows only too well. A soldier who reached the rank of Sergeant then threw it all away by being a troublemaker and a drunkard. A hard man in every respect, a fighter who would pick a fight in an empty room if given the chance. He had been made up to Corporal while in South Africa so he must have been a competent soldier when he was not fighting other soldiers when drunk. It was Allen that opened up a communication line to the hospital when it was surrounded and being attacked by the Zulus. Then if that was not enough when the last soldier in the hospital had been evacuated he stayed behind covering their evacuation to safety even though he had been severely wounded. Even then when he could no longer fight men saw him crawling around handing out ammunition. Allan managed to avoid any more combat for the rest of his life although he did manage to get his Sergeant stripes back. He was sent back to England as an Army instructor. He died in Monmouth, Wales, in 1890 losing his last battle to Influenza. Allen, when he died, had not yet reached fifty years of age.

Private Fredric Hitch VC

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. Like Allen, he was wounded. and he demanded a revolver and to be propped up so he could continue to shoot Zulus as his life ebbed away. 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 becomes 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 driver's remains is still awarded today.

Private Henry Hook VC

Hook was actually a cook, the last person you would think who would be awarded the VC. He too was found in the hospital when the Zulus attacked. Despite finding himself alone with Private Williams he and Williams fought a brutal hand to hand battle with the Zulus. By all accounts, there were so many dead Zulus in the vicinity where both these men fought that the room was awash with blood. He was discharged from Army life and came back to England only to find his wife thinking he had died had married again. The only work he could find was as a servant eventually he found better work at the London Museum. He died in 1905 of the disease tuberculosis. Alfred won his Victoria Cross while defending Rorkes Drift with his company (B Company) 2nd Battalion, 24th Foot and for heroic actions while inside the burning hospital at Rorkes Drift, 7 pm January 1879. During the desperate struggle which took place in the hospital at about 6 pm, the Zulus first forced their way into the hospital building where some thirty patients were defended by a handful of able-bodied men. A running fight ensued as the patients were evacuated from room to room, a desperate struggle made all the more terrible when the Zulus set fire to the thatched roof. Private Alfred Henry Hook held many Zulus of the uThulwana regiment at bay whilst Private John Williams and other able-bodied soldiers help the less able wounded to escape. Hook received a head wound when a spear struck off his helmet.

In the film Zulu, he was portrayed as a drunken malingerer who became a reluctant hero. He was nothing of the sort and it was a despicable thing to do in reality Private Hook was a teetotal lay preacher who had been awarded good conduct pay shortly before the battle that led to him winning the Victoria Cross. ‘Henry Hook is an example of how a character was distorted to attract the film-goers when the story was captivating enough

Private Robert Jones VC

Jones was also in the hospital wing and again with another soldier Private William Jones fought the Zulus to a standstill. William broke through the outer wall so that men could escape while Robert fired time and time again at the Zulus trying to get at them. Robert’s body was stabbed four times by spears and he was shot once. Both of them saved six men but Robert was forced to watch as Sgt Maxfield was stabbed to death with spears. Maxfield was the last man they were trying to get out and they failed. It would haunt Robert for the rest of his life. He settled back in England and got a job as a farmhand. Throughout his life after South Africa back in England, he had nightmares and succumbed to depression. One day he could take no more and borrowed his employer's shotgun on the pretence of shooting crows. Instead at the age of 41 leaving behind a wife and five children he shot himself. A tragic end to a life of a hero his grave because he killed himself faces the opposite direction from other graves and his coffin instead of being bought into the graveyard over the wall rather than through the gate.

Private William Jones VC

See Private Robert Jones VC no relation for what he did at the Drift. We take up his story as he is discharged from military life. It’s a story of poverty. He was discharged in 1880 and found work as a jobbing actor even working in the famous Buffalo Bills roadshow. The roadshow even enacted Rorke’s Drift. However, he fell on hard times and resorted to selling his VC. That money did not last long and in 1910 he was forced into one of England’s workhouses. Three years later we find William dead and the body of William Jones VC has been buried in a pauper’s grave an unfitting end for a decorated war hero.

Private John Williams VC

Now, this soldier is a bit of a puzzle or a mystery if you like. He was actually the last of the Rorke Drifts VC holders to die and unlike most of them, he died rather quite old having seen one of his sons killed in World War 1 and with another World War just a few short years away. He died in 1932 at the age of 75. The mystery, however, is that Williams was not his actual name but the name he signed up with. His real name was John Fielding, and no one knows quite why he signed up with the name Williams. All we can do is speculate that he had either committed a crime and was on the run or that he was running away from something else, perhaps from woman trouble with an irate husband trying to catch him. We just don’t know. However, what we do know is that when it came to being brave he was one of the bravest men in the compound fighting with Hook to save men trapped. His funeral was actually filmed in 1932.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIOV0aHpK2Y

Surgeon James Henry Reynolds VC

If Williams was the last to die, Surgeon James Henry Reynolds was the next to the last to die just eight months before Williams in 1932. Reynolds was the oldest 88 years of age when he drew his last breath and because of his age he had seen and been in more wars and battles than most of us could name. He was the Mission head doctor and could be seen running to any soldier wounded to drag him back into the small room he was using so that he could treat the soldier. Time and time again he ran into the thick of the fighting to do this at his side was his faithful fox terrier, Dick. In 1896 he retired and lived out the rest of his life in peace.

Assistant Commissioner James Dalton VC

Now Dalton is an interesting character. Dalton was sent to the weakest defensive position which was the corner of the hospital building. That position was exploited by the Zulu who mass assaulted that corner. Dalton single handily fought off that assault by picking off the Zulus as they attacked with his rifle, as an excellent marksman the Zulus dropped one by one when one did get through unnoticed and was about to spear a soldier Dalton casually picked him off. In the initial report for awards, Dalton was missed off the list. It was only when word got around of his exploits at the Drift that Senior officers took another look. When they looked at and interviewed the soldiers and officers they saw that he indeed was worthy of the VC and one year later with the help of the public he was awarded the medal. Rumours though persisted for years that Dalton who was an enlisted man who through sheer hard work had dragged himself to officer level had been snubbed for the award for actually having the audacity to be an officer when you had to come from the right family and have connections which of course he did not have. Dalton decided to stay in South Africa and try his luck in a gold mine all was going well until the night of the 7th January 1887. He went to bed, went to sleep and never woke up, he died at the age of 53.

Then there was Christian Ferdinand Schiess VC

Schiess was Swiss and had fought with the French Army until joining the Natal Native Contingent in South Africa. 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 when the defence was about to be breached he climbed on top of the mealie bags and killed three of the Zulus who had managed to get on top single handily in close-quarter combat. It was this 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.

You can see the change in him from the last photo taken of him

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Graham Charles Lear

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