“The series of 19th-century wars waged by the British in South Africa were inspired by three great historical motivators: gold, diamonds, and greed. The Boer farmers were the natural enemies of the British, but there was another military power ranged against them—the Zulus. …”
—Stephen Cashmore, Zulu—the Caithness Connection
Africa, 1879. Zulu Chief Sirayo’s (Cetshwayo) wife, Umhlana, left him—ultimately hiding in British territory. Zulu troops crossed the border and kidnapped and executed her. Claiming a violation of borders, England declared war against the Zulus. Thus began what is now called the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.
Few wars have started over smaller circumstances. And this one was to have a profound effect on the island kingdom of Britain. Unknown to the Western world at that time, the structure and method of warfare of the most formidable of African regiments had been conceived and welded together by the great chief, Shaka Zulu. So great were his tactics that his family name was applied to Africa’s most efficient and deadly fighting force of the early 19th century—the Zulus. By 1879, Cetshwayo ruled the Zulus. Their territory covered 20,000 miles and was increasing. Their fighting force totaled 22,000 men, perfectly disciplined in their regiments. Their battle cry was, “Conquer or die.” The Zulus gave no quarter and expected none.
After the “border incident” of 1879, the British sent a force of some 16,000 men into Zulu territory under the command of a Lord Chelmsford. It was composed of only 5,400 British soldiers—the rest were Natal natives.
The total force was divided into several columns. On January 22, at about 10:30 a.m., a rocket battery under the command of a Colonel Durnford arrived at a place called Islandhlwana (is-lon‘-dul-wah-na). One thousand eight hundred troops were camped there.
A group of Zulus was spotted in the distance, and although Durnford was in charge of the Islandhlwana camp, he chose to ride out with the rocket battery to pursue the warriors.
Durnford’s men chased the Zulus to a ridge where the warriors disappeared. As the British commander topped the ridge, he saw a sight that would freeze a man’s blood. Below, in the surrounding ravines, 20,000 Zulus squatted in silence.
His primary concern now was to warn the camp. Immediately, he turned his small troop to withdraw, but as he did, the Zulus swarmed after them. Soon the rocket battery was embroiled in a desperate hand-to-hand struggle.
From the camp, the rest of Durnford’s force dashed out to join the fight, but the British soldiers were quickly overwhelmed by sheer numbers. What followed was the most disastrous defeat ever inflicted on an army of the British empire. Within minutes, about 1,600 British and Natal troops with “Brown Bess” muzzle-loading rifles were slaughtered by Zulus, armed mostly with spears and cow-hide shields.
The few who survived, including Durnford’s party, fled. They were pursued by the victorious Zulus for about four miles. The troop became split up; some lost their bearings and were later killed, some hid, and a few made their way toward Rorke’s Drift, a British post on the Buffalo River.
Rorke’s Drift was really a farm converted into little more than a field hospital. Having no walls, it certainly wasn’t designed for defense. It contained a garrison of 124 soldiers—34 of whom were in-hospital. In addition, there was a company of African infantry.
When the few survivors from Islandhlwana arrived, news of the disaster spread quickly. The African infantry, well acquainted with the ferocity of the Zulu regiments, immediately fled. The few British regulars were now to face the coming terror alone.
The small detachment at Rorke’s Drift could not be considered an effective unit. As it so happened, a lieutenant of the Royal Engineers, 31-year-old John Chard, was ranking officer. He was not an experienced field officer; he was a specialist—an engineer—his job was to build a bridge. Second in command, and equally youthful and inexperienced, was Lt. Gomville Bromhead. The ranking sergeant, Color Sergeant Bourne, was only 23 years old. The rank and file of the men were also inexperienced in warfare.
These two officers, with a few other men, held a hasty council. They knew the Zulus could actually outrun mounted troops, let alone foot soldiers burdened with sick. The decision was made; there was nothing to do but stand their ground.
They began throwing together anything that would act as barricades: wagons, bags of flour—whatever they could find. And then that force of about 140 men, 34 of whom were in-hospital, waited.
They had a defensive perimeter of 300 meters to maintain. That amounted to one fit man for every 10 feet. They wouldn’t have to wait very long.
Late in the afternoon that 22nd of January, fresh from the massacre of Islandhlwana, carrying the muskets and ammunition taken from the already fallen British regulars, 4,000 Zulus smashed into the hastily constructed defenses at Rorke’s Drift.
What happened over the next 10 hours is now famous legend—the stuff of which films have been made.
One fact in favor of those British soldiers was that they had newly issued Martini-Henry breech-loading rifles: still single-shot, but much faster and far more accurate at a distance than the muzzle loaders which the Zulus had captured. The Zulu general had put his firepower on the heights to provide plunging fire into the compound while the masses of spear warriors tore into the barricades.
The Zulu army moved as one, directed by their generals from nearby hilltops. It was always the same: first the war songs and chants, then the beating of the shields in staccato rhythm as the fighters whipped themselves into fervor, then with the cry of ZULUuuuu! echoing in the canyons, they charged, one regiment after another.
When the Zulus appeared on the hilltops, the soldiers took up positions on the barricades. As the terror swept toward them at running speed, the British began shooting. Volley after volley of fire, then independent fire, poured from the Martini-Henrys into the ranks of Zulus, but the warriors kept coming. Soon the waves of warriors came faster than the troops could load and fire, and inevitably, hand-to-hand fighting broke out. At that point it was bayonet against stabbing spear.
The Zulus broke into the field hospital and savagely fought the sick and wounded. The hospital caught fire; the sick were dragged out. The battle raged on. The wounded found that they could function in some lesser capacity, carrying water, passing out ammunition, caring for those more seriously wounded. Only the dead stopped fighting.
Through that afternoon and into the night, the attackers came in great human waves—first from one direction, then another, then two directions at once—probing, searching for a weakness, testing resolve. The compound, lighted by the flames from the burning buildings, was constantly under fire from the hills.
It was 4 a.m. the following morning before the waves of attacking warriors stopped. At dawn, only 80 soldiers were fit to man the barricades. Exhausted, the troops had breakfast, rechecked their weapons and waited. Each man felt in his heart that this day’s action would be the finish for the little garrison of valiant redcoats, yet none would surrender.
At 7:30 a.m. the Zulus returned. This time, however, they simply sat on a nearby hill and watched for about an hour before they stood, turned about, and left.
The battle of Rorke’s Drift was over. Of the 20,000 rounds of ammunition initially available to the defenders, about 800 rounds were left—ten shots per man.
The action at Rorke’s Drift still lives in the annals of history as a prime example of British valor. Nine Distinguished Conduct medals were awarded to its defenders. In addition, 11 Victoria Cross medals were awarded—more than in any single battle in British history.
Mr. Flurry has often spoken in terms of battle, and it is certain that God’s focus has been to get us to understand that we are, today, in a war. There are plenty of lessons for us in these two battles: the one in which a superior force of regular soldiers fell, and the other in which a much smaller force stood their ground.
Clearly, the defeat of the 1,600 soldiers at Islandhlwana was predictable. They failed because they were taken by surprise in the open, without a battle plan, and in the end it was every man for himself. The result was a massacre.
The comparisons between these two battles and the battles we face today are frighteningly similar. In the last decade, when more than 140,000 Worldwide Church of God members fell, a superior enemy had overcome the larger force. We, the smaller numbers today, are now met by the enemy. Our success or failure depends on the battle plan we adopt.
Proverbs 24:6 is a scripture we use often. Have you noticed it is spoken within the context of warfare? “For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counselors there is safety.” Wise counsel is necessary when preparing for war. It is all in the planning.
Trust in the Fortress
The first point we need to observe is that the fighting men of Islandhlwana were defeated because they were caught in the open. Obviously, when fighting a stronger enemy, we need the protection of a fortress. Thankfully we have one.
“I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler” (Psalm 91:2-4).
If we forget the true God, we don’t have a fortress. If we give up the truth, we don’t have a shield. Without God and His truth, we’re caught out in the open. The massacred British soldiers at Islandhlwana were caught by surprise out in the open and were quickly overwhelmed by the enemy. That’s exactly what has happened to the Laodiceans.
Mr. Armstrong asked an important question before he died. “You’re going to be tested as you’ve never been tested before,” he said in a sermon. “How much do you love the truth?”
How much do we love the truth today? Mr. Flurry wrote in Malachi’s Message, “The Bible repeatedly warns us to hold fast to traditions: ‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15). The word ‘traditions’ is rendered ‘instructions’ in other translations. So God warns us to hold fast to His past instructions. Our spiritual well-being depends on it! …
“The saints in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 were turning away from God’s truth. They failed to hold fast. Paul gave them the solution to this problem, if only they would accept it.
“If we fail to hold on to God’s past instructions, we are easily deceived—as these Christians were.”
Truly, as Mr. Flurry was inspired to write—without the truth, we are deceived. Without the true God and His truth, we are caught out in the open—we have no defense.
Seek the Kingdom
The second aspect we should consider is that the British soldier of 1879 took great strength from the fact that he was British. “Rule Britannia!” In 1879, the sun never set on the British Empire. The word Britannia implies “kingdom of the covenant people.” Just the fact that they were British put steel in the spines of the king’s regiments. There was a connecting strength between the kingdom of the covenant and the covenant peoples.
Do we have a vision of our kingdom? Of our great King?
The first law of success is to have the right goal. Our number one goal has been set for us in Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Our number one goal must be the Kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.
Our potential is to be born into the God Family, receiving total power! We are to be given jurisdiction over the entire universe. Think of that. It will be an eternal life of accomplishment, constantly looking forward to new creative projects and looking back on past accomplishments with happiness and joy. We shall never grow tired and weary. Always alive and full of joyous energy, vitality, exuberant life and strength and power! What a potential!
Don’t let the cares of this life cause you to lose sight of that glorious goal. Losing sight of the Kingdom has resulted in many casualties already, and some are eternally dead. Don’t let this happen to you.
Look to Headquarters
The officers and non-commissioned officers at Rorke’s Drift were young men. The officers were barely 30; the ranking sergeant was 23. The rank and file of their men were not well-known warriors. But even in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds, these men at Rorke’s Drift kept faith in the leadership and followed directions. This is how they executed the seemingly impossible battle plan successfully.
This third point, then, is we must learn to keep our eyes on headquarters. Is Jesus Christ divided? Of course not (1 Corinthians 1:13). We have many proofs that He is only working through the small remnant of the Philadelphia Church of God; but even if we only had one proof, the Work would be enough. Christ said, “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (John 14:11-12).
A greater work was done through God’s Elijah, Herbert W. Armstrong. That great Work continues today through God’s prophet, Gerald Flurry. We must focus our attention on the Work and where it is being done. We must keep our eyes on headquarters—Edmond, Oklahoma. Losing sight of whom God has placed in charge of His Work will cause us to become battle casualties.
Duty and Honor
The fourth important point to observe about the gallant few at Rorke’s Drift is the fact that they didn’t fail in their duty. They stayed together; they refused to give up! Their place in the defending line was not deserted. Even in the face of what seemed to be overwhelming odds, they would not quit!
The same is expected of us. It has to do with being a covenant people. When we were baptized, we entered into a vow—a covenant with God. That covenant plainly means our lives are no longer our own. We have been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We are now soldiers of the King.
Satan would love to see our thoughts turn again to ourselves and our carnal desires to rule our lives again. Then our part of the baptismal vow would be neglected, maybe even forgotten, so that God’s Spirit would no longer fill us. Satan hates us and is jealous of us because we are heirs to the Kingdom of God. We must never lower our defenses against him.
The British soldier of 1879 was thoroughly dedicated to God and country. He served the king. It was his sworn duty. It involved personal honor. We must have a sense of duty and honor today.
When we think of duty and honor, however, we also have a duty to support each other. A large number of the Victoria Crosses awarded at Rorke’s Drift went to men with the rank of private—just common, ordinary foot soldiers who did their duty under fire. Even the wounded found they could still fight in this historic battle; they continued to support their comrades. The Victoria Cross is one of England’s highest honors for bravery, and yet a greater reward than that Victoria Cross awaits those who are brave for God today.
Be willing to serve God, our great King, no matter how menial the task might seem. Exhort and help others; encourage each other in the ways of God. Just as the defenders at Rorke’s Drift gave everything to support each other, we must do more than what is required (Luke 17:10). Bring forth fruit in God’s service.
The constant supporting of each other underscores why these few survived. There is one major truth—no matter how hot the fight became, they stayed together, they encouraged each other, they presented a united front as they steadfastly faced the enemy—together. One cardinal rule of warfare is, Together, we must never turn our backs to the enemy.
Never turn back! Don’t let the trials of this life or the cares of this world separate you from this Work of God. Put the Kingdom of God and the Work first in all things.
There is a great task yet to be done in this Work of God. God is waiting on us. Let’s finish this work as loyal and dedicated soldiers of the King. Our reward is just ahead.