Rorke's Drift 'forgotten' soldier David Jenkins honoured

Sketch of Private Jenkins by Lady Butler This sketch of a soldier named only as Jenkins, inspired Geoff Rees to ensure recognition for his great-grandfather

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A soldier who fought at the battle of Rorke's Drift during the Anglo-Zulu war but was left off the roll of honour is to be added to the historical record.

Private David Jenkins's great-grandson Geoff Rees campaigned for the inclusion after recognising him in a sketch.

Some 150 British soldiers defended the mission station Rorke's Drift against 4,000 Zulus in 1879.

Pte Jenkins was left off the list of soldiers who fought when it was drawn up by an officer of a separate unit.

He was from Defynnog near Brecon and served in the 1st Battalion, 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot on the south bank of the Buffalo river in South Africa.

Mr Rees, from Swansea, saw a sketch of a soldier at Rorke's Drift used in promotion by the National Army Museum in January this year and recognised his great-grandfather.

"I am very pleased," said Mr Rees. "I took it for granted that he was on the roll of honour."

He added: "I had found his name on a regimental ledger... and my cousin had been handed down a Rorke's Drift Bible, a gift from the ladies of Durban to the survivors of the battle."

He told the museum who the soldier in the sketch was and gave them the supporting evidence, including a reference from the Brecon regimental museum.

A spokesperson for the National Army Museum said "while you can never be 100% certain... everything points to the fact that he was there".

Royal connection

The picture which led to Geoffrey Rees recognising his great-grandfather was a sketch by Lady Butler, who was commissioned by Queen Victoria to record the battle.

She visited the survivors when they returned to the UK in October 1879 and made several sketches, which formed the basis of her work The Defence of Rorke's Drift, exhibited in 1880.

The sketch is captioned only with the name "Jenkins" and it was believed to be of a different soldier, James Edmund Jenkins, who died in the battle.

The events at Rorke's Drift were also recounted in the 1964 film Zulu starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker.

The Battle of Rorke's Drift

  • The battle began on 22 January 1879 and continued until the early morning of the following day
  • It was part of the Anglo-Zulu war which broke out after the British invaded southern Africa
  • The British victory in the war caused the end of the independent Zulu nation
  • The British and colonial forces suffered 18 losses in the battle
  • Zulu losses were estimated at around 600, but more were massacred after the battle by the British relief force
  • Events formed the basis of the Michael Caine film Zulu in 1964

Geoff Rees says that according to his great-grandfather's obituary in the Herald Of Wales he later met Lady Butler's husband, General William Butler, as well as King Edward VII, at an official event for the laying of Swansea docks foundation stone by the King.

The newspaper reported that Lord Butler passed on his wife's regards and mentioned the sketch she had done of him.

Mr Rees has researched his great-grandfather extensively.

Pte Jenkins joined the Army when he was 28 although his service record has his age as 24 as it was the limit for new recruits at the time.

After initially being posted to Gibraltar he was sent to southern Africa in 1874 to fight in the Anglo-Zulu war.

"I don't think he was expecting it to be as it was... it was a bit like the Wild West, he went through quite the time there," said Mr Rees.

Before joining the Army, Pte Jenkins had worked as a currier and then joined the Carmarthen Militia.

According to his great-grandson "his life is like a social history of the time".

From a working class background in west Wales, he went on to meet royalty and have a role in one of Britain's most iconic military victories.

"John Chard [the commander of the British troops at Rorke's Drift] wrote a report for Queen Victoria on the battle which mentions a Jenkins, who ducked Chard's head out of the way of a bullet," said Mr Rees.

"It may be that this refers to David Jenkins."

The National Army Museum believes there could be 15 other soldiers who fought at Rorke's Drift still possibly not included on the roll of honour.

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