Robert Jones, V.C. - A Local Hero in the Golden Valley



Robert Jones, V.C. - A local Hero in the Golden Valley


By Bob Steele


On 11th January 1879 Lord Chelmsford, the General Officer Commanding the British forces in South Africa, commenced operations in what became known as the Zulu War, after the Zulu Chief Cetewayo ignored the British demand to demobilise the Zulu army which was threatening to invade Natal. The Swedish Mission Station at Rorke's Drift on the Zululand/ Natal border was garrisoned by B Company, 2nd Battalion of the 24th Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead. Their job was to secure the ford while the rest of Lord Chelmsford's forces crossed the Tugela river and invaded Zululand early on the morning of 11th January. On 20th January Lord Chelmsford's column reached a camp site at the foot of the conical hill of Isandhlwana, six and a half miles from Rorke's Drift. There he split his force, leaving a detachment of about 1500 behind while he marched the rest in a vain search for the enemy. In his absence the entire detachment at Isandhlwana was encircled and massacred by the Zulus. The only thing standing between Cetewayo's twenty thousand strong army and invasion of British Natal was now the small garrison at Rorke's Drift. The 155 men who remained to make a stand there were attacked on the 22nd January by up to five thousand Zulu warriors. They repulsed a series of assaults from the afternoon until dawn the following morning; it is claimed that they killed or wounded up to a thousand of the attackers before a relief column finally arrived and the remains of the Zulu force withdrew.

Their courage excited considerable public acclaim at the time and was commemorated by, amongst other things, a rather romanticised painting of the scene by Alphonse de Neuville, showing in the background the burning hospital where Robert Jones made his stand.


More tangibly, the action resulted in the award of eleven Victoria Crosses for gallantry to the soldiers who participated, which remains the greatest number ever earned in a single battle. Amongst the recipients was Private Robert Jones who suffered four assegai spear wounds, was struck by a bullet, and incurred minor burns during the fight. Robert Jones was decorated at the same time as his commanding officer Major Bromhead by Lieutenant General Sir Garnet J. Wolseley GCMG, KCB at Utrecht, Natal on 11th September 1879.

The following extract from the book 'Padre George Smith of Rorke's Drift' by Canon William M Lummis MC provides a sketch map of the mission defences and describes Jones’ actions:


Jones 716 Private Robert, 2nd/24th [2nd Warwickshire] Regiment

Jones was born at Raglan Monmouthshire in 19th August 1857. He enlisted in the 24th regiment about August 1875, joining the second battalion at Dover at the end of 1876. At Rorke's Drift he and the much older William Jones barricaded themselves in the hospital and evacuated about six patients through the small window which they enlarged by knocking out the frame with an axe. All the patients reached the enclosure in safety but Sergeant Maxfield who was delirious refused to go. After William Jones had lifted Private Connolly to the window and lowered him to the ground, Robert Jones turned back to find Sergeant Maxfield in the smoke-filled room. But he was too late; the Zulus had broken through and killed him. Jones scrambled out of the window as the roof collapsed behind him and made his way to the enclosure.


Wikipedia records that after leaving the army, Jones settled in Herefordshire’s Golden Valley where he became a farm labourer and married Elizabeth Hopkins with whom he had five children. In 1898 Jones died in Peterchurch from gunshot wounds to the head at the age of 41. He had borrowed his employer's shotgun to go crow-shooting. His death certificate records a verdict of suicide whilst being insane. The coroner heard that he was plagued by recurring nightmares arising from his desperate hand-to-hand combat with Zulus. Due to the stigma of the time about suicide, when Jones was buried his coffin was reputedly taken over the wall instead of being carried through the church gates into the graveyard and his headstone faces away from the church, the only one in the churchyard to do so. His gravestone can still be found today in the graveyard at St Peter’s Church, Peterchurch in the Golden Valley; the inscription reflects the fact that his regiment was renamed ‘The South Wales Borderers’ some two years after their action at Rorke’s Drift.

Robert Jones’ Gravestone at Peterchurch

Gravestone Inscription


It seems probable from the evidence given in the Coroner’s court that he had suffered from what we would recognise today as post-traumatic stress disorder arising from his experiences at Rorke’s Drift, which despite the accolade of his Victoria Cross blighted his life and most likely led to his early death.


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