Statuette of Lieutenant Chard RE who took command of the defence of Rorkes Drift during the Zulu Wars. His calm and excellent tactical ability saved the day and earned him a well deserved Victoria Cross.
John Rouse Merriott Chard was born the second son of Mr William Chard and Jane Brimacote and was aged 32 when he won his Victoria Cross at Rorke’s Drift. He was educated at Plymouth Grammar School and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and had seen service in Bermuda and Malta before his posting to the 5th Field Company in Natal.
Chard arrived at Rorke’s Drift on the 19th January to build ponts across the river just below the settlement. He watched Chelmsford’s force depart into Zululand and followed the force with his engineers on the 21st. On the morning of the 22nd Chard rode to Rorke’s Drift. To his disgust he had been ordered back to wait at the crossing. About mid-day sounds of battle could be heard in the distance and in the early afternoon Major Spalding, the officer in charge of the drift decided to ride over to Helpmakaar, a few miles away to hasten reinforcements. His final words, as left were, “I see you are senior, so you will be in charge, although, of course, nothing will happen, and I shall be back this evening early”.
Very soon after, fugitives started to arrive back at the crossing with the story of the disaster at Isandlwana and the startling news that a large force of Zulu’s were on their way. Lt Chard, Lt Bromhead, Acting Commissary Dalton and about 150 men urgently set about building defences with mealie bags and biscuit boxes around the small settlement. Before they were finished the first elements of the Zulu Army were upon them.
The heroic defence of the settlement is well documented and is a remarkable story. What is also remarkable however, is how well Lt. Chard commanded his small, rather dissolute detachment. He did not know the men, and had never seen them in action. Indeed the main part of his force was primarily made up of men under the direct command of Lt Bromhead. The remainder were hospital patients, and a few assorted personnel who had duties in the camp.
Lt Chard displayed immense personal gallantry and leadership throughout the battle, constantly placing himself in exposed positions where he could see and deal with what was happening around his perimeter. He coolly gave clear incisive orders, even when personally involved in hand to hand combat. In every way he displayed the character of a first class field officer of the British Army.
The little force gave extraordinary account of themselves and in the early hours of the 23rd were relieved to discover that the Zulus had withdrawn. They were relieved a few hours later and feted as heroes. After the battle 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded, the names of Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead were added by Lord Chelmsford himself.
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