This may not be the story of a hero but it is certainly a story of great courage,
fortitude and survival in the face of what must have seemed like insurmountable odds.
David Jenkins was a private in the British Army during the Zulu Wars. Ordered to
look after prisoners at a small mission outpost, known as Rorke's Drift, he was left
behind by his regiment who marched into Zulu territory and made camp in the shadow
of a strangely shaped rock outcrop called Isandlwana.
There, on the morning of 22nd January, 1879, David's fellow men were surprised and
massacred by the massed Zulu army. Only a handful of soldiers are said to have survived.
Even two officers who rode off with the regimental colours were run down by Zulu
warriors and killed.
David wrote home to reassure his family that he had survived that appalling day and
his letter was published in 'The Merthyr Express' of Saturday 22nd March 1879 :
Just a few lines to let you know that I am one of the ten that escaped out of five
companies. The remainder were cut to pieces, - in fact cut in bits - with those savages.
About 15,000 of them came on the camp when the column was out. All in the camp were
killed - 495 of our regiment and about 300 of different corps. Oh I never saw such
a sight. Please pray to God to continue to save my life. There are only 240 men remaining
in our regiment. So no more. I shall write again soon if alive.
Dear Father, please go personally or write a letter to Isaac Lewis and tell him that
his son-in-law, Sgt. Chambers is killed.His son Thomas is alive but still in hospital
with fever. He had a narrow escape. He crept on his hands and knees and came from
the hospital to the fort through all the firing .Please give my love to all and write
Your affectionate son.
P.S. I think we will go down to the colony to get refitted, as we have lost everything.
On the afternoon of 22nd January, the mission and hospital at Rorke's Drift was surrounded
by over 4000 Zulu warriors. They attacked the besieged soldiers with almost incessant
ferocity over a period of fourteen hours. Miraculously, the redcoats managed to repel
wave after wave of their attackers who, stunned by their horrific losses, gradually
Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded for this famous conflict but, like many of the
ranks, David Jenkins received only a standard Zulu Wars medal. His name was omitted
from the official roll of honour and he remained unrecognised even by his own regimental
museum as a defender of Rorke's Drift possibly because he had been a member of a
different division of the Regiment to the other soldiers at the mission. Although
he was introduced to King Edward VII on his royal visit to Swansea in 1904 and despite
overwhelming evidence of his presence at Rorke's Drift , he became the forgotten
man, forgotten by history and historians.
Forgotten, that is, until five years ago when one of David's descendants discovered
a Bible which had been awarded only to those who had survived that bloody day and
conclusive proof of his claim to be a Rorke's Drift Hero. David Jenkins died in 1912
and is buried in Cwmgelli Cemetery, Treboeth.... But his memory now lives on with
his own special display in a cabinet at the South Wales Borderers' Museum in Brecon.
'If you would like to speculate on what David looked like at the battle, he was one
of a handful of soldiers in 1879 to be asked to act as models for Lady Butler's famous
painting The Defence of Rorke's Drift. Her depiction of the battle, a favourite of
Queen Victoria's, now hangs in St. James' Palace in London.
The above information was kindly provided by Geoff Rees, Great Grandson of David