A "County Times" representative had a chat with the veteran ex-soldier, Sergeant F. Care, 31, John-street, the Watton, Brecon, on Wednesday last week, which was the 34th anniversary of the battles of Rorke's Drift and Isandhlwana. As was briefly stated last week the ex-soldier has seen 29 years service in the British Army with the "gallant" 24th Regiment (S.W.B.), and is now in his 62nd year. He is a native of Northampton and joined the 2nd Battalion S.W.B. at Sheffield on January 7th, 1867, and took his discharge from the 3rd Battalion in September, 1896. Four years after he joined, the 2nd Battalion was ordered out to India to assist Lord Roberts in the Afghanistan campaign, but fortunately or otherwise, they found by the time they landed in India that peace had been declared. Instead of returning to England they proceeded to Madras, and were stationed there for two years. Subsequently they joined in the grand manoeuvres carried out by Lord Roberts at Bangalore.
From here on February 2nd, 1877, they were ordered to the old colony of South Africa; and "it was 34 years this morning" added the soldier with eyes kindling and cheeks burning, "that the grand column under General Thesiger, were ordered to leave Isandhlwana to march against the Zulu king's column. We were only 800 strong, whilst the Zulus were estimated to be between seventeen and eighteen thousand strong. We marched between 16 and 17 miles from Isandhlwana to a place near Ulundi. After bivouacking, we received sad news. Two gallopers came up to the Commanding Officer and informed him that our camp was on fire, and General Thesiger ordered us to make all speed back to Isandhlwana.
When we got within three miles of our camp we could see it in flames, and found afterwards that our comrades had met a terrible fate. We got ready for the attack and eventually had to take Isandhlwana off the Zulus at the point of the bayonet. It was a grim fight. I shall never forget it and don't want a similar engagement again. After re-capturing our camp we had to hold it against the Zulus until 3 o'clock in the morning. In the meantime we could see Rorke's Drift, three miles away, in flames, and surrounded by Zulus. As we were ourselves attacked we could not leave our camp to help; but at length a column was sent to their aid at Rorke's Drift and there we found our comrades severely cut up and their ammunition all gone. When General Thesiger reached those who had so gallantly held Rorke's Drift he warmly shook hands with the men, and was overcome with emotion. We did not stay long there as we had no food; it had all to come up from Capetown, but we helped to bury the dead. We waited for relief and eventually we left South Africa for Gibraltar. There we had new Colours sent, and Lord Napier, in the name of the Queen, presented them. From Gibraltar we were again ordered out to Afghanistan, but on landing at Bombay it was found that peace had again been declared and from here we went to Poona. Next we went to Secunderabad, where we were stationed for over three years. Then the Regiment was brought home to England and I was selected to act on the permanent staff of the 3rd Battalion S.W.B. stationed at Brecon. I was sergeant here for about 13 years and then took my discharge in 1896.
General Thesiger will, perhaps, be better remembered by the younger generation as Lord Chelmsford.
Thank you for posting an interesting account of the events at Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift.
There are people who would be enraged at the use of 'South Wales Borderers' in relation to these battles, since at the time it was the 24th (Warwickshire) Regiment. For those purists it was then a English regiment that only later had its headquarters moved to Wales and had its name changed accordingly. To them it was the film 'Zulu', which was riddled with historical inaccuracies, that was responsible for prematurely turning the 24th into a Welsh regiment. In the film the singing of a Welsh anthem by the soldiers as the Zulus departed may have been very moving, but some see it as the final insult to the English Redcoats who had actually fought in the battles.
Perhaps understandably, the role played by Sergeant Care and his unit at Isandlwana is exaggerated. The day before the battle, a patrol of mounted Colonials was sent out in search of the Zulu army, and, believing that they had found it, sent a message to Lord Chelmsford asking for reinforcements. Chelmsford himself responded and he led the reinforcements that included the 2nd Battalion of the 24th Regiment (with Sgt Care). Care's account of their return to what had become the battlefield at Isandlwana is correct, except that by the time the camp was reached the Zulus had already departed, so there was no need for the fixed bayonets and no battle to retake the camp by force. Cave, like all the other men on the patrol who missed the actions at Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift, may have been embarrassed by his good fortune, so, like politicians in later years, he "sexed up" his recollections.
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Brett, you're right about men sometimes exaggerating their roles in war; I've come across several court cases, post-1902, where ex-soldiers seem to have tried to use their service in the Second South Africa War to get a lesser sentence, or to 'get off.' It often seemed to work too.