After the victory at lsandlwana about 4 000 impis pushed forward to take possession of the British camp at the drift, which actually was the home of a Swede called Otto Witt. Lord Chelmsford needed a field hospital as some of his soldiers were showing sympto’f1’fs of fever. The smaller rooms of the house were converted into wards for the sick while the two larger rooms were used for a surgery and a dispensary. Lord Chelmsford established a depot in Witt’s study and filled it with hundreds of heavy boxes that had metal liners and weighed 1 OOlbs each. These were filled with army biscuits, tinned meat and Martini Henry rifles. Outside was a huge stack of 2001b bags of maize meal.
Three hundred members of the Natal Native Contingent fled when the news of the advancing Zulu force broke and seventy men from Dunford’s Edendale Contingent weren’t to stick around either. The 139 men left behind were fresh faced, raw and have never fought in any major battle before. They were mostly Welshmen, of B Company, 2nd battalion, 24th regiment and thirty-five of them were seriously ill.
Having received warning of the approaching Zulu impis and the defeat at lsandlwana, the British set about to defend the camp. The store and hospital were barricaded and the spaces between the buildings were filled up with wagons and bags of maize. An inner wall of biscuit boxes was started but not completed.
From about 16h30 until after midnight desperate assaults were made by the Zulu but were repulsed by the garrison. At 04h00 on 23 January the Zulu retreated, leaving the British with only 600 rounds of ammunition. They would not have been able to hold out should the Zulu have charged again. The repulse of 4 000 Zulu by a hundred men, entrenched within the slender defences of sacks of corn and boxes of biscuits, is one of the most glorious exploits in the records of the British army.
A total of 11 Victoria crosses were awarded for bravery during the defence of Rorke’s Drift, which is more than that of any other battle.