Sunday, 9 February 2020

KwaJim “Jim’s Place” Rorke’s Drift, January 22-23, 1879

“You will be in charge, although of course nothing will happen.”

- Maj. Spalding to Lt. Chard

In a smoky cinema in Gloucester, I saw the film Zulu and was bitten. Back then, in the 60’s, the selection of model figures was lamentably small, but from a distance, an Airfix WW1 German Infantryman with his pickle halbe painted white, and his tunic painted red just about passed as a redcoat – but Zulus?

Later, I came across Edward Suren’s diorama of Rorke’s Drift in the National Army Museum (where’s that gone, now?) and my first ‘proper’ toy soldiers came from his shop in Lower Sloane Street and they were of course, a Redcoat and a Zulu. 

When Nathan said he was putting on the Rorke’s Drift scenario at the club, I jumped at the chance. He has an enviable Anglo Zulu War collection and it was a real pleasure to be able to play with it.

In the scenario, the British have thirty-two regular infantrymen made up of six companies of eight figures. In addition, they have Surgeon Reynolds and his hospital corps, who can patch up the wounded and send them back to the barricades, a number of non-combatants, who can carry the wounded to the hospital corps, and of course, character figures including among others, Colour Sergeant Bourne, Sergeant Williams and Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead, not forgetting Pip, the dog.

The Zulu forces consisted of four amabutho (regiments), the iNdluyengwe, uDloko, uThulwana and iNdlondo, made up of between three and five izigaba (a division or group of related companies) making a total of – well, Fousands of em'...

Rorke’s Drift comprised of two compounds. To the East, the Storehouse compound with a small
cattle kraal, and to the West, the Hospital compound. To the North of the compounds ran a ledge
from West to East surmounted by a barricade made up of mealie bags, biscuit boxes and wagons. To
the south, the two buildings were connected by a similar barricade. The two compounds were
divided by a barricade of biscuit boxes running North to South. 

The British deployed two companies along the northern barricade and one company manning the
southern barricade. One company occupied the hospital and the two remaining companies were
tasked with building a redoubt in the Storehouse compound leaving the storehouse lightly defended
as there were no openings to the south, and therefore inaccessible from Zulu attack from that
direction – or that was the thinking.

The hospital posed a problem; although it had several rooms with openings to the south, there was only one internal door. If the regulars were attacked, there would be no means of escape and they would be lost. However, if it wasn’t occupied, there would be nothing to stop the Zulus coming round the southwest corner of the compound unmolested.

Lieutenant Chard took command of the Hospital compound while Lieutenant Bromhead took care of the Storehouse compound. It all looked rather sparsely held.

The first Zulus appeared to the south of the mission. They were warriors of the iNdluyengwe ibutho
with the unenviable task of testing the fire power of the defenders. They bounded forward, crossing
the ground at speed, but were met with a hail of lead erupting from the windows and loopholes of
the hospital and the barricade. Two izigaba were blown away and the third isigaba was stopped in its
tracks and went prone. The Martini-Henry was doing its job.

 Just then a cry went up.
“’Ere they come, black as hell and thick as grass!”

Zulu forces were seen massing both to the north and the south. The Zulu onslaught was about to
begin in earnest. Zulu warriors advanced on the northwest corner of the compound but their
progress was slowed by the terrain and the ledge which gave the defenders time to deliver several
telling volleys into their ranks, forcing them to withdraw or go prone.

The Zulus attacking the southern defences were not hindered by the terrain but nevertheless, their charge was stopped midway and they too were forced to go prone. 

However, two izigaba reached the walls of the storehouse and with a blatant disregard of the rules in the scenario stating ‘the roofs of the buildings are not used. They may not be deployed upon or moved onto’ they clambered onto the storehouse roof. No game this, then – this is for real. One isigaba started to make holes in the roof, while the other attempted to set fire to it. Quite how they proposed to do this was a bit of a mystery. Rub two assegies together?

A third isigaba advanced around the southeast corner of the storehouse to have its way blocked by the cattle kraal. They were eventually allowed to pass, despite some of the herd recognising their relatives on the shields of the warriors.

“Why me, Serg?”
“’Coz your ‘ ere, son.”

A cry rang out from the northern barricade. The defenders had suffered their first casualty. Private
Williams, (or was it Jones,) had been hit by a Zulu sharpshooter who was skulking in the rocks
overlooking the northern compound. There was some scoffing at the name ‘sharpshooters’ and a
suggestion that ‘bluntshooters’ would be more appropriate. However, as they accounted for a
defender every time they fired, this assessment of their ability had to be called into question.

Things had also taken a turn for the worse on the southern perimeter. The Zulus had braved the fire
and had closed to contact. The troops manning the barricade, despite the presence of Colour
Sergeant Bourne, were forced to fall back, losing several men. The hospital saw bitter hand to hand
fighting but as the men had no means of escape, they were all slaughtered, their bellies slit open and
the walls covered in their blood. Only two men manged to escape the carnage. No Victoria Cross for
Gloucester born Private Hook this time round. One unknown Private, probably another Jones or a
Williams – or a Steve, tenaciously defended a broom cupboard.

He beat off several ferocious attacks but inevitably his luck ran out and he succumbed to one last
desperate assegai lunge. Meanwhile the isigaba on the roof of the storehouse had given up lighting a
fire and had joined the other isigaba hacking holes in the roof. They quickly gained entry. In the
compound below, Bromhead received a report from the KwaZulu Natal Environment Agency
informing him he had ‘Zulus in the loft.’ He was forced to detail some of the men who were building
the redoubt to go and sort the problem out.

In the northwest corner the Zulus, by sheer weight of numbers had reached the barricade and had
driven the defenders back. Sergeant Wilson was last seen standing on a wagon surrounded by Zulus.
With Zulus now in the Hospital compound, Surgeon Reynolds and his hospital corps were forced to
move towards the relative safety of the Storehouse compound. He and his team continued to do
sterling work patching up the wounded but things were starting to look desperate. With both the
southern and northern barricades breached, Chard formed a firing line with his back to the northern
barricade facing what seemed like thousands of charging Zulus.

It was then he received the report from Bromhead that the sharpshooters had been neutralised. That was the least of his problems. Some well-directed volleys kept the Zulus at bay long enough to cover the retreat of the men from the northwest barricade. However, the Zulus who had been taking cover behind the southern barricade had grown in numbers and hurled themselves across the intervening space.

“Steady, lads, steady. Fire at will!”

Whether it was because Colour Sergeant Bourne had failed to give the command to aim or there was
no one in the Zulu ranks called Will is not known, but not a single shot hit its target and the Zulus
came on unchecked. Fortunately, the firing line was saved by some well-directed fire from the
biscuit box barricade and the Zulus were once again forced to ground, giving the remaining
defenders in the Hospital enclosure time to cross into the Storeroom enclosure and form a double
line, back to back. There being no room for Surgeon Reynolds and his hospital corps he was turfed
over the barricade onto the ledge to take his chances. Room was, however, found for Pip, the dog.

The Zulus in the loft proved to be an insurmountable problem and despite a prolonged hand to hand
fight and the roof space catching fire, the Zulus were victorious and poured down into the
Storehouse compound together with the Zulus from the cattle kraal – to be confronted by a redoubt
bristling with bayonets and spewing out lead. Despite throwing themselves against this bulwark,
they were unable to dislodge the defenders.

Who won? Well, it didn’t really matter as it had been such a terrific game. The British lost almost half
their force but managed in the end to establish a strong defensive position. There were still ‘Fousands’ of Zulus left and given time they might well have worn down the defences but at what
cost? A meat grinding type of game is not that satisfying to play so we finished it there. It also spared
us from bursting in to a spontaneous rendition of ‘Men of Harlech.’

The rules we played were Chris Pagano’s ‘THE BOYS From Isandhlwana’ and are really excellent,
particularly the way morale is dealt with. The Zulus are only subject to morale when they receive
fire, so it is hard for them to get into contact. Once in melee, however, they take no morale tests, so
their sheer numbers grind the defenders down. Any British within two inches of a Zulu is in melee and therefore cannot fire, which means you really have to think at least one move ahead in order not to get sucked into a hand to hand fight which you are likely to lose eventually.

In the end though, you run out of space and you have to face the music. None of us had played these rules before but they were quick to pick up and the game bowled along with minimum explanation required from Nathan, whose umpiring decisions did much to enhance the game. Imagine what we would have missed if the Zulus had followed the rules and stayed off the roofs. No ‘Zulus in the loft, Sir.’

My thanks to Mike and JJ for throwing themselves so selflessly at the barricades (it is for real, right?)
and to my fellow defender Ian, who kept the stores in order, got rid of the sharpshooters and saved
our bacon by getting the redoubt built. But most of all, a huge thank you to Nathan for giving us the
opportunity to replay ‘Zulu’ with his beautiful Anglo Zulu War collection.

1 comment:

  1. The Boys from Isandhlwana can be found for a small free at

    They do look pretty nice to run a Rorke's Drift scenario, thanks for pointing them out.