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The Account of Private Frederick Hitch, V.C.
Kindly supplied by John Young.

"We 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.

About 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.

With 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.

We 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 non-commissioned officers.

While 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.

My 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. 

They 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. 

Soon 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, Williams, Hook, 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."

Chums dated 11th March, 1908.