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9th May 2004Rorke's Drift - The Roll
By Peter Ewart
Something rather puzzles me and perhaps someone can help?

I'm assuming the late Norman Holmes' work on the provenance and reliability of the various Chard & Bourne rolls (e.g., "The Noble 24th" pp295-307) plus Julian Whybra's research and compilations, present us with the latest position on this point. The recent discussions on this forum relating to Tapley, Cantwell, Adendorff and Evans, etc., prompted me to wonder why neither the late Norman Holme (nor any other authority that I can see) relies on or even mentions the detailed roll brought back to this country only a few months after the engagement by the wounded Pte Waters (he of the black coat).

He surely didn't compile it himself? Presumably it was ordered or compiled by Chard, Bromhead or even Mabin? (Or on the instructions of Chelmsford, Glyn or the staff hanging about the post afterwards?) It is very similar in layout and detail to "Chard's Roll" but there are differences (the Bromwiches for example) and is therefore obviously quite different to Bourne's rolls and omits many of those included in Julian's roll, no doubt added by subsequent research. It predates by some months Dunbar's roll.

The late Norman Holme acknowledged doubts about the genuine date of Chard's "signature" of 3rd Feb 1879, although if Waters' list very closely resembles it, the date may not be too far out, given that Waters embarked at Durban on 16th March and must therefore have been away from Rorke's Drift by early March or late Feb by the latest and, if he acquired it - or it was entrusted to him - before departing his comrades at Rorke's Drift, his list had already been compiled by then. (Unless he compiled it himself on the passage home aboard the Tamar with the help of Pte Hitch and Cpl Lyons, before they arrived off Spithead on 8th June ?)

I don't have any other detailed rolls or accounts of actual research thereon, other than Tavender (irrelevant for this) Holmes (Silver Wreath & N/24th) Whybra (x2, although latest version lent out at present so can't be checked) Greaves (who follows Holmes). I can find no mention of any attention to Waters' roll in the bibiographies of other reliable accounts.

Hopefully, someone among Julian, JY, Lee Stevenson, Martin Everett etc., can put me out of my misery.

9th May 2004Peter Ewart
For Tapley (para 1) read Parry. Mental slip! And obviously, for Holmes (penultimate para) read Holme.

10th May 2004Martin Everett
Dear Peter,
I am probably not going to achieve a full answer (if there is one) for you in one attempt.
Firstly, we probably know more about RD then many other military actions. I wish that many in WW1 and WW2 were as well documentated. We can, of course, thank the participants who left records and, of course, the numerous latter day researchers, Norman Holme, Julian Whybra, Lee Stevenson to name a few.
Norman was only interested in soldiers of the 24th - were he found surviving soldier's documents the words 'defender at Rorke's Drift' were often recorded. However the field becomes mudded by the subsequent claims of soldiers of 2/24th who said they were at RD - which they all were - but not on 22/23 January.

Now we come to the problem of the spelling soldiers names and aliases etc., and the natural mistakes and difficult to read writting of army clerks.

Now we come to the Rolls of who was present at RD on 22/23 January. I think we have a tremedous amount of detail about this 12 hour action considering the obsticles - fog of war, documents go missing etc. For example, I do not know the names of men of 2nd Bn who landed at Gallipoli on 25 Apr 1915 nor those who landed in France on D-Day on 6 Jun 1944. Both significant actions with worldwide interest.

1. Where is the Roll attched to Chard's Report? Is it hidden in some archive? Chard only arrived at RD shortly before the action - he would not have known the men personally. Who helped compile the roll - Colour Sergeant Bourne, Lt Bromhead.
2. A list of defenders was published in the local Natal press - was this taken from the so-called Chard roll? There were a number of errors.
3. Then there is the Dunbar list. Dunbar was then commanding 2/24th. This should be definitive - but was it hastely put together on the day in January 1880 for the Mayor of Durban.
4. Now we come to CSgt Bourne - why was he asked to put together a Roll as late as October 1910 - and this was from memory 30 years later - and it was later amended. How accurate is it?
5. Finally Cantwell's Roll, or what is usually referred to today as the 'Chard Roll'. This appeared in 1935 - expertly laid out - but is probably a re-draft of an earlier document. Where is this earlier document. As Cantwell was in SA - that has to be the starting point for a search.

The earliest published roll (ignoring the local press in Natal) for RD was the list in the brochure (published in March 1880) for the showing of de Neuville's painting of the famous action. Where did the Fine Arts Society obtain the list of names? Incidentally, Bourne is shown as 'Browne' on this list. Transcription errors always creep in!

Are we ever going to achieve a 'definitive roll'? I have my doubts - I do wish however that some the energy, enthusism and expertise to could be devoted to other actions. The Defence of Rorke's Drfit must be the most researched, most written about action. We should be grateful that the participants left as much information as they did. The claim by Pte Waters is new one on me - did return with a copy of the Natal Witness?
10th May 2004Peter Ewart
Very many thanks Martin - I'm grateful for such a full response. I've just finished a very lengthy reply to Lee, who has also provided help & advice; now I've just read your response late at night, so will devour it later. It's probably rather unfair of me to expect a distillation of the results of many years of combined efforts by a nucleus of experts in a few short paras!

The possibility that Waters simply returned with a copy of the Witness is certainly very plausible and one I've just ruminated on with Lee.


P.S. I can see your point about the comparison with the work being done on a single one of "QV's little war's" when there are huge campaigns not, perhaps, attracting the same level of research. Perhaps because the 24th won 7 VCs before breakfast at RD, eclipsing the mob who won only six before breakfast at Gallipoli???
11th May 2004Julian Whybra
Peter, sorry to take so long to reply but I needed to check my notes which were stashed away. I had a conversation with norman about this once about 1990ish, i think.
He thought that Waters Roll added nothing new to the existing body of knowledge and was a part-copy of an existing roll (without saying which one). He certainly didn't use it or refer to it in his works. It would seem that the Natal Witness list (which also adds nothing new) is the most likely candidate. For the same reasons, I haven't referred to it in England's Sons since it's simply replicating known facts.