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The Welshmen at Rorke’s Drift

We’ve all seen the marvellous movie, where the heroic Welsh garrison at Rorke’s Drift match the awesome Zulu war-chants with a stirring rendition of Men of Harlech. Come on Ivor, sing something they know … Well, it wasn’t quite like that. In fact, the county designation of the 24th Regiment in 1879 was the 2nd Warwickshires; they didn’t change their title to the South Wales Borderers until 1st July 1881 - almost exactly two years after the war had ended. True, the Regimental Depot had been established at Brecon, in South Wales, in 1873, and from that point there was a small but significant increase in Welsh recruits in the ranks. But if the regiment was just at the beginning of its long and distinguished association with Wales, in the late 1870s recruits for the 24th - like every other battalion in the British army - were signed on at recruiting depots across the country. The fact is that both battalions of the 24th during the Anglo-Zulu War consisted of men from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. The most that can be said is that the Welsh connection had, by 1879, led to a rather higher proportion of Welshman in the ranks than was common elsewhere. Nevertheless, even the most optimistic search of the regimental roll can find only 19 men of B Company, 2/24th - the company that defended Rorke's Drift - with any sort of Welsh connection out of a total strength of more than 80. Of course, there were detachments of numerous other units - including Colonial Volunteers - present at the battle, making a total garrison of about 145. So the Welsh contingent comprised no more than 15% of the total. And no-one, I’m sorry to say, sang Men of Harlech; not only was the regimental march in 1879 The Warwickshire Lads but after several hours of fighting everyone on both sides, British or Zulu, was far too exhausted to sing anything at all ...