THIS week, historian Mark Muller reveals Pembrokeshire’s link with Africa – and Hollywood – as he tells the story of the Battle of Rorke’s Drift.

After gaining, and then relinquishing, control of Africa’s Cape Colony in the early part of the 19th century, the ever expanding British Empire took charge once again just a few years later.

A policy of expansion north and east, especially after the discovery of diamonds in 1867, led inevitably to arguments and clashes with both the residue of Dutch farmers, the Boers, and the indigenous African tribes - most militaristic of these being the Zulus.

Excuses to invade Zululand were found in late 1878 and in December of that year the Zulu king Cetshwayo was given an ultimatum to disband his army of Zulu warriors.

His refusal was used as the convenient final straw and Lord Chelmsford set off on the January 11, 1879 with a force of 15,000 which he divided into three columns.

On January 20, Chelmsford divided his centre column again and left 1,500 men in a camp at Isandlwana.

Two days later, this camp was attacked by 20,000 Zulus who inflicted the worst defeat on the British army by any native warrior force; almost all of the British and auxiliary troops were killed.

The same day, about 4,000 Zulus attacked the Mission Station at Rorke’s Drift garrisoned by 122 men of B Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot (two years later renamed The South Wales Borderers).

A few dozen ancillary military personnel took the number of defenders up to 151.

Remarkably, throughout the ten hour battle that followed, the defenders were successful in repulsing the repeated Zulus attacks.

Of the defenders, 17 were killed and 10 wounded.

Zulu casualties are thought to have been more 500.

For their action, 11 Victoria Crosses were awarded, seven to members of B Company, the most received by any one regiment in a single day.

In addition, four Distinguished Conduct Medals were also awarded.

One of the most senior British Army generals of the time, Sir Garnet Wolseley (who took over from Chelmsford in South Africa) loudly proclaimed that VCs should not have been awarded to men who had no option other than to act as they did and whose bravery was displayed only through their attempts to stay alive.

But this isn’t an opinion generally accepted.

This action achieved worldwide fame through the 1964 film Zulu starring Stanley Baker and Michael Caine.

It remains tremendously popular but has in the past been criticised for romanticising and fictionalising parts of it and for attempting to paint B Company and the 24th Regiment of Foot as being almost wholly Welsh... which sadly it was not.

The consequences for the Zulus were unsurprisingly catastrophic.

Huge reinforcements were sent to South Africa and the Zulu kingdom was eventually broken at the Battle of Ulundi on July 4, 1879.

Zulu king Cetshwayo was captured in August and brought to London where he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for three years before being allowed to return to Africa.

A less well known fact is that one of our own, a Pembrokeshire man from Camrose, was one of the defenders at Rorke’s Drift.

In 2008 a memorial stone to his memory was erected at the old Camrose School on the St David’s Road.

It reads: “In Proud Memory of 25B/1396 Private Thomas Collins, B Company 2nd Battalion 24th Regiment Of Foot, from Camrose Haverfordwest.

“He was the sole Pembrokeshire representative at the Battle of Rorkes Drift on 22/23 January 1879, when 151 men defended the Mission Station against over 4,000 Zulu warriors.

“Private Collins later served in Malta, Burma and India and was invalided out of the army in June 1891.”

The Collins family have more than a participant in the battle of Rorke’s Drift to be proud of.