Account of Private Frederick Hitch, V.C.
Kindly supplied by John Young.
did not expect any fighting that day, and were occupied in our
usual duties, little thinking that a horde of Zulus - the pick
of the Zulu Army, in fact - were marching on us, determined to
kill every man at our little post.
one o'clock two men galloped to the Drift, bringing the news that
the Zulus had annihilated our force at Isandhlwana,
and that they were now marching on to attack our post at Rorke's
Drift. Lieutenant Bromhead, who
was in charge of the post, and Commissioner Dalton
at once held a conference. The position was a difficult one: our
little force only consisted of a handful of men, whilst the approaching
Zulus, mad with success, must have numbered at least four thousand.
And many of them, moreover, were armed. At first it was thought
the better part of valour to desert the post, but fortunately
this decision was altered. We were to defend the post, and hold
it at all costs.
us were four hundred friendly natives, and these men we at once
set to work carrying mealie (corn) bags and boxes of stores, which
we placed in position as barricades, making an enclosure or laager
of which the mission house, used as a hospital, and some out-buildings
formed a part. Just before the barricades had been completed the
friendly niggers began to funk it, and as soon as they found out
that the Zulus were really coming down upon us in great force
they commenced to sneak away.
tried to rally them, but it was of no use. Then their captain
went after them with the intention of bringing them back; but
he disappeared too. Just to show these back gentleman what we
thought of their conduct, some of us, including myself, sent a
few shots after them, which brought down dead one of their white
the men were still barricading the place, Lieutenant Bromhead
asked me to climb to the top of a building, which I believe had
been used as a church, and keep a look-out for the enemy. Having
got to the top of the building I could plainly see the Zulus forming
up just over the brow of a hill.
"They are ready to attack, sir," I called out
to Lieutenant Bromhead, "and I
think there are about four thousand of them." A little fellow named Morris, who heard me, remarked: "Oh,
if that's all there are, we can manage that lot all right!" Presently I saw a Zulu, evidently one of their
chiefs, who was standing on the summit of a hill, gave the signal
by extending his arms, and immediately the whole force commenced
to advance on us. They seemed to work on a pivot, the pivot being
only about three hundred yards distant, when the final advance
began; so that, in order to attack us on all sides at once, the
other end of their line had come on at a tremendous pace.
position on the housetop was a pretty good target for them, but
none of their shots hit me. As soon as I saw them on the move,
I dropped down into the laager and fixed my bayonet. I was only
just in time, which will give you some idea of the rapidity of
their movements. On they came with a rush. With one had the warriors
held their shields, and in the other hand they carried their deadly
assegais. A few were armed with rifles, just taken from the poor
fellows whom they had annihilated at Isandlwana. We volleyed into the mass as they advanced,
but there was little hesitation.
Our bullets accounted for many, but there were hundreds
to fill their places.
still came on right up to the barricades, and were only turned
by the good cold steel of our bayonets, for which they had far
more respect than for bullets. Then it was load and fire and bayonet
just as fast as we could. The niggers would retire and come on
again in rushes, each rush being announced by a short war cry.
This war cry, by the way, was very useful to us: we knew what
to expect. Even when darkness came upon us they continued to use
their war shout, which was not altogether wise on their part,
because it at once put us on the alert. However, we didn't complain
on that score. Fortunately those of the Zulus who had rifles knew
very little about their weapons or how to use them. Their shots
appeared to go either much too high or too low. I suppose they
did not understand the sighting. Had there been a few marksmen
amongst them I fear myself and many more would have gone under
at Rorke's Drift.
it was discovered that it was impossible to defend the laager
which we had made, so Major Chard (ed
- note that Chard was given
a brevet Majority after Rorke's
Drift.) gave an
order to make a second line of barricades, inside the outer one.
This work was carried out under great difficulties and under heavy
fire from a cave close by, where a few Zulus had taken cover.
Had the four hundred friendly native troops not bolted, the larger
laager would have been none too roomy. This second line of barricades
proved a great success, as it meant that we had less ground to
cover. There was a certain space of about nine yards where the
barricading was uncompleted. It was, of course, the weakest link
in the chain, and the Zulus were not long in discovering this
fact. In this position eight of us - Bromhead,
Nicholls, Fagan, Cole, Dalton, Schiess,
Williams, ands myself - made a stand, and it was here, I think,
that the hardest work was done. Though the situation was so uncomfortable,
there was no bungling. Each man in a businesslike manner singled
out the nigger who was nearest him, and dealt out death if he
could. In one of these nasty rushes three Zulus were making for
me; they seemed to have specially marked me out. The first fellow
I shot; the second man I bayoneted; the third man got right into
the laager, but he declined to stand up against me. With a leap
he jumped over the barricade, and made off. A few yards from the
barricade lay a wounded Zulu. We knew he was there, and that he
had only been wounded, and so wanted watching. At the moment we
were far too busy with the more active members to find time to
put him right out. Presently I saw him, with rifle in hand, taking
aim at one of my comrades. It was too late to stop him; he fired,
and poor Nicholls fell dead, shot through the head.
I practised a little ruse upon a Zulu at which I had to
smile even at the time. This particular Zulu had got through the
barricades into the laager, and was in the act of throwing an
assegai at Lieutenant Bromhead, whose
attention was directed elsewhere. At that moment my rifle was
unloaded, and there was no time to reload. I shouted to the Zulu,
and brought my rifle up to my shoulder as if to fire. My Zulu
soldier didn't wait. With a duck of the head and a mighty leap
he bounded over the barricades and made off in a manner worthy
of any eminent acrobat. In one of the many rushes a nigger, who
had missed our bullets, came full tilt at me, and seized my bayonet
with both his hands. This was quite a new experience for me. There
was no time to lose: I had to settle up with him quickly or not
at all. For a few seconds we struggled for possession of the rifle;
then I managed to point the barrel at his stomach, and fired whilst
he still clutched the bayonet. He was a brave fellow.
Parson Smith, our
chaplain, kept us well supplied with ammunition. Now and then
he would ask our men not to swear so much. But the men continued
to swear, and fight the harder.
Now the Zulus had set fire to the roof, which was of thatch,
and the patients had to be taken away. In order to reach the laager
the patients and their defenders had to cross an undefended space,
which was swept by the enemy's fire.
We knew that the poor fellows in the hospital
were fighting against great odds for their lives, but we could
not see what was going on there. Jones,
and their comrades had kept the enemy off for some time, but bullets.
One by one the poor fellows scrambled out of the burning building,
and ran the gauntlet. We covered them as much as we could, but
many of them went under. When
the Zulus set fire to the hospital the
other company of the battalion, for which we had been so anxiously
waiting, appeared in sight. But they didn't march to our rescue.
Seeing the hospital on fire, they came to the conclusion that
we had all been annihilated, and with drooping spirits we saw
our comrades turn back and retire. It was at this time that the
Zulus made one of their most desperate charges, and Rorke's
Drift was all but lost. Lieutenant Bromhead
encouraged the men. "Don't lose heart," he called out;
"Our men will return as soon as they find we are holding
out." The hospital
fire became more fierce. This fire turned out to be our salvation,
for as darkness came on it lit up the ground on all sides of the
laager, and enabled us to see the Zulus whenever they approached
the barricades. The fighting went on desperately. Rush after rush
had been repelled. Of the eight who held the unbarricaded position
only two of us were left, Lieutenant Bromhead
and myself. Nicholls, Fagan, and
Cole were killed, whilst Dalton
and Williams were wounded. So Bromhead and I went on together
for about an hour, and a rough time we had too. More than once
the Zulus got inside the laager, but were beaten back or killed.
We were both very busy with Zulus in front when one of
the niggers managed to pass us and get inside. I knew he was there.
I was just about to shoot down a Zulu in front, when the Zulu
inside shot me through the right shoulder, carrying away the scapula.
Turning round quickly, Bromhead
at once shot down the man who had wounded me. I got up again,
and attempted to use my rifle, but it was no use; my right arm
wouldn't work, so I strapped it into my waist belt to keep it
out of the way. Then Bromhead
gave me his revolver to use, and with this I think I did as much
execution as I had done before I was wounded. Seeing how badly wounded I was, one of my comrades,
a man named Deacon, asked me whether he should "put me out"
when it came to the finish. He could see that my strength was
fast failing, and that if the devils got through I would be quite
unable to strike a blow for myself.
"No, I don't think I want any," I said, I had
no desire to have my life ended, but it was kind of my friend
Deacon to think of me in this way.
It was about ten o'clock. Four hours I had been bleeding
from the wound in my back, and I was getting very faint from loss
of blood. I knew that I was losing consciousness, the last of
my recollection being that Bromhead
still held his post. Then I went down where I had been fighting
for seven hours. I was told that later on they dragged me inside
the inner laager. It was not till the next morning that I came
to, when I found we had just been relieved by a column under Lord
Chelmsford. My chum was one of the relieving force. He, good chap,
came and changed my shirt, which was saturated with blood, and
did what he could for me. Later on in the day towards evening Lord Chelmsford
himself came to me, and, bending down beside me, said: "Mr. Bromhead has given me an account
of your excellent services. I will recommend you for the V.C.,
and, if you only survive, you may be sure I will do everything
that lies in my power for you."
dated 11th March, 1908.