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The Forgotten Man

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 :

Dear Father

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 soon.

Your affectionate son.

 

David

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 withdrew.

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 Jenkins.