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John Rouse Merriott Chard
John Rouse Merriott Chard was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
On 22 and 23 January 1879 at Rorke's Drift, Natal, South Africa, Lieutenant Chard shared the command of the defenders of the post with an officer of the 2nd/24th Regiment of Foot Gonville Bromhead, setting a fine example and conducting himself with great gallantry in most trying circumstances.
He was born at Boxhill, near Plymouth and had two brothers and four sisters. He joined the Royal Engineers in 1868 and was in command of the supply depot at Rorkes Drift when it was attacked by Zulus during the Anglo-Zulu War, having previously served in Bermuda and Malta. After the battle he was immediately promoted to captain and then brevet major. He commanded the Royal Engineers detachment at Singapore as a lieutenant colonel from 1892 until 1896 and was made a colonel in 1897 when he was due to be posted to Perth, Scotland. However he became ill with cancer of the tongue and died at Hatch-Beauchamp , near Taunton.
VC from Rorke's Drift shows its true metal
One of the most famous of Victoria Crosses, long thought lost to the nation, is believed to have been rediscovered.
It was won by Lt John Rouse Merriott Chard, Royal Engineers, who commanded the garrison of Rorke's Drift against attack by a Zulu impi in January, 1879. Rorke's Drift, a mission station near Isandhlwana converted into a temporary hospital, was garrisoned by 131 men, mainly from the 2nd/24th Foot, later the South Wales Borderers.
For 12 hours the Zulus, King Cetywayo's Ulundi Corps , 3,500 strong, made repeated assaults, before suddenly retreating at 4am. When the garrison came out to survey the scene, they found the bodies of 350 Zulu dead strewn around the perimeter. Many others had been wounded. Astonishingly only 15 of the garrison had been killed and 12 wounded.
Eleven VCs were awarded, the largest number ever given for a single action by the British Army. Chard and Lt Gonville Bromhead, senior officer present from the 24th Foot, became national heroes. The regiment was awarded the unique honour of a wreath of immortelles to wear on its colour.
In 1964 the epic was turned into a film, Zulu, in which Michael Caine starred as Lt Bromhead and Stanley Baker as Chard. When a group of Chard's medals was offered for sale by a London auction house in 1972, Baker made a successful bid of £2,700.
He acquired the campaign medal for Zululand and what was advertised in the catalogue as a "cast copy" of the VC. Copies of VCs are often made, because of the danger of the loss of the valuable original. On Baker's death the copy changed hands three times and is now owned by a purchaser who cannot be identified. It is currently lodged with Spink and Son , the London medal dealers. They decided to have it subjected to the X-ray fluorescence process at the Royal Armouries, Leeds, where its metallic characteristics were analysed by the medal expert, Dr Brian Gilmour. All VCs are struck from the same block of bronze, which is keep under security solely for that purpose.
It is believed that the metal was cut from a Russian gun captured at Sebastapol in 1854 during the Crimean War. The tests revealed that the copy of the Chard VC is identical in metallic character to all authentic Victoria Crosses. The Armouries and Spink's are therefore satisfied that Baker succeeded in buying not a copy but Chard's real Victoria Cross, made from the mother block.
What happened to the VC between its award to Chard and its re-appearance remains a mystery. Chard died as a colonel in 1897 and is buried at Hatch Beauchamp , Somerset. Baker died without knowing the value of his acquisition.
The market value is a matter for speculation. The last of the seven VCs awarded to soldiers of the South Wales Borderers still in private hands, that of Pte Robert Jones, was sold on Monday for £88,000. Such is the interest in the Rorke's Drift story that it was widely expected to break the record of £132,000 paid for a VC.
If Chard's now authenticated VC were ever offered for sale it might command an even higher price. John Hayward, of Spink, who has dealt with 160 VC sales, yesterday described the story of the Chard VC re-discovery as "the most extraordinary" in his experience.
please update if you know where his medal is publicly displayed
- Monuments To Courage (David Harvey, 1999)
- The Register of the Victoria Cross (This England, 1997)
- The Sapper VCs (Gerald Napier, 1998)
- Lt. John Rouse Merriott Chard (detailed biography, photos, memorial details)
- Location of grave and VC medal (Somerset)
- News Item (his last resting place)
- Rorke's Drift (information within Frederick Hitch site)
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