Note: At this period British Army Medical Officers bought their own equipment and instruments. Other than his travelling sets, Reynolds would have had a main Capital Set of instruments and equipment which travelled with the transport.
V.C. London Gazette 17.6.1879 'For the conspicuous bravery during the attack at Rorke's Drift on the 22 and 23 January 1879, which he exhibited in his constant attention to the wounded under fire, and in his voluntarily conveying ammunition from the store to the defenders of the hospital, whereby he exposed himself to cross-fire from the enemy both in going and returning'.
Brigade Surgeon Lieutenant-Colonel James Henry Reynolds, V.C., was born at Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire), County Dublin, Ireland on 3.2.1844, son of Laurence Reynolds, J.P. of Dalyston House, Granard, County Longford. He was educated at Castle Knock and later at Trinity College Dublin, from where he graduated B.A., M.B., Ch.B. in 1867.
In March of the following year he was commissioned Assistant Surgeon, Medical Staff Corps and was then appointed Medical Officer to the 36th Regiment on 24.3.1869. While serving in India with that Regiment Reynolds received a Commendation from the Commander-in-Chief, General, Lord Sandhurst, for his efficient service in dealing with an outbreak of cholera.
On 7.12.1870, Reynolds was appointed to the Staff and in 1873 was advanced to Surgeon. He sailed to South Africa with the 1st Battalion, 24th Regiment and served in the Griqualand Campaign during 1875, which formed part of the continuing British efforts to secure, consolidate and even expand their position there during the second half of the nineteenth century. However, Reynold's skill, fortitude and courage were to receive greater tests in pursuance of these interests in South Africa during the 1877-79 conflicts.
First he was present at the engagement with the Galekas at Impetu where the garrison of the 24th Regiment was besieged for several weeks before relief arrived in January 1878. Subsequently he was appointed for further service at the commencement of the Zulu War 1879.
The British annexation of the South African Republic led them into inevitable conflict with the Zulus whence they came up against the might of Cetewayo and the formidable skill and bravery of this nation's warriors. Cetewayo's response to British demands for a virtual protectorate over Zululand was inevitably one of dismissal. To force the issue, at the beginning of 1879 General Thesiger, Lord Chelmsford, led a combined Army of Imperial and native troops into Zululand. The central column of almost 3000 established a camp at Isandhlwana, but Chelmsford moved about half his troops out of camp to try to intercept an enemy force believed to be just a few hours march away. In his absence a huge Zulu Army mounted a surprise attack on the camp in the early morning of 22 January, with devastating results, the British sustaining over 1300 casualties.
The Defence of the Mission Station at Rorke's Drift
At the time of the British disaster at Isandhlwana, Reynolds was in charge of the Field Hospital at Rorke's Drift, the post which guarded a crossing on the Buffalo River in Natal. As events unfolded during the day, this became a pivotal position.
At the commencement of his push into Zululand which began on 11.1.1879, Chelmsford had left a handful of Companies of the 24th Regiment at strategic points en route to carry out vital tasks. 'B' Company of the 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, together with a few additional personnel from other units remained at the mission station at Rorke's Drift to maintain stores and to set up a Field Hospital whilst, on 20 January, the main column carried on to Isandhlwana. Surgeon Reynolds organised his hospital in the missionary house to care for, at that stage, a couple of dozen patients.
Reynolds' own report, later officially published, takes up the story from being alerted to the fighting at Isandhlwana and describes in considerable detail the unfolding of events at Rorke's Drift on that fateful day:
'On 22nd January at about 12.30 p.m. we were surprised at Rorke's Drift by hearing big guns in our neighbourhood and almost immediately I commenced climbing up the hill of Oscarberg in company with the Missionary Mr. Met and Mr. Smith, Army Chaplain. We expected to get a view of what was happening, but on looking across the Buffalo River from the top we discovered that Isandhlwana Mountain (five miles away) shut from our view the scene of action. The reports of three more big guns were distinctly audible after we completed the ascent, there being, I should say, a quarter of an hour's interval between each of them.
At 1.30 a large body of natives marched over the slope of Isandhlwana in our direction, their purpose evidently being to examine ravines and ruined kraals for hiding fugitives.
These men we took for our own Native Contingent. Soon afterwards appeared four horsemen on the Natal side of the river galloping in the direction of our post, one of them was a regular soldier, and feeling they might possibly be messengers for additional medical assistance I hurried down to the hospital and got there as they rode up. They looked awfully scared and I was at once startled to find one of them riding Surgeon-Major Shepard's pony. They shouted frantically, "The camp at Isandhlwana has been taken by the enemy and all our men in it massacred, that no power could stand against the enormous number of Zulus, and the only chance for us all was by immediate flight." Lieutenant Bromhead, Acting Commissary Dalton, and myself forthwith consulted together, Lieutenant Chard not having as yet joined us from the pontoon, and we quickly decided that with barricades well placed around our present position, a stand could best be made where we were.
In other words, removing the sick and wounded would have been embarrassing to our movement, and desertion of them was never thought of.
Just at this period Mr. Dalton's energies were invaluable. Without the smallest delay, which would have been fatal for us, he called upon the men (all eager for doing) to carry the mealie sacks here and there for defences, and it was charming to find in a short time how comparatively protected we had made ourselves. Lieutenant Chard arrived as this work was in progress and gave many useful orders as regards the lines of defence. He approved also of the hospital being taken in, and between the hospital orderlies, convalescent patients (8 or 10) and myself, we loop-holed the building and made a continuation of the commissariat defence around it. The hospital, however, occupied a wretched position having a garden and shrubbery close by, which afterward proved so favourable to the enemy; but comparing our prospects with that of the Isandhlwana affair we felt that the mealie barriers might afford us a moderately fair chance. The patients, I must mention, were retained in the hospital although situated at our weak end, as every part of the commissariat house was crowded with stores and we did not consider either building would be taken unless with the fall of the whole place.
When our plans of temporary defence were nearly complete, I was relieved by seeing Mr. Met and Mr. Smith safely inside the laager. They had just then returned from the hill where they remained up to a late moment continuing to believe that the natives I before alluded to were our own men, instead of which they were the very Zulus who fought against us later on at Rorke's Drift. Mr. Smith was at this time looking for his horse and told me afterwards he should have to remain as his Kaffir groom had bolted, and apparently taken with him the horse.
Mr. Met was making preparations to ride away.
About 3.30 p.m. the enemy made their first appearance in a large crowd on the hospital side of our post, coming on in skirmishing order at a slow slinging run. We opened fire on them from the hospital at 600 yards, and although the bullets ploughed through their midst and knocked over many there was no check or alteration made in their approach. They seemed quite regardless of the danger, and what struck me as most strange they had no war cry, nor did they at this time fire a single shot in return.
As they got nearer they became more scattered, but the large bulk of them rushed for the hospital and the garden in front of it. My attention being altogether directed for a while to these points I cannot state with authority whether the Zulus whom I shortly afterwards saw in a large number on the opposite or north side of our fort got there by extending this body or if they came independently from the other direction, thereby carrying out their reputed mode of attack in a bull's horn fashion.
However it was, we found ourselves quickly surrounded by the enemy with their strong force holding the garden and shrubbery. From all sides, but especially the latter places, they poured on us a continuous fire, to which our men replied as quickly as they could reload their rifles; again and again the Zulus pressed forward, and retreated, until at last they forced themselves so daringly and in such numbers as to climb over the mealie sacks in front of the hospital, and drove the defenders from there behind an entrenchment of biscuit boxes, hastily formed with much judgement and forethought by Lieutenant Chard, R.E. I discovered afterwards that this Officer when planning our defences reckoned on the assistance of the Basutos who deserted at the last moment.
It followed from this that our men at first had to be distributed over so large an area in proportion to our numbers as dangerously to weaken any one point and render it unequal to repel a determined rush. I am convinced but for this entrenchment our fort could not have held out five minutes longer.
A heavy fire from behind it was resumed with renewed confidence and with little confusion or delay, checking successfully the natives, and permitting a semi-flank fire from another part of the laager to play on them destructively. At this time too the loopholes in the hospital were made great use of, so that the combined fire had the desired effect of keeping the Zulus at bay. It was, however, only temporary as after a short respite they came on again with redoubled vigour. Some of them gained the hospital verandah and there got hand to hand with our men defending the doors. Once they were driven back from here, to find shelter again in the garden, but others soon pressed forward in their stead, and having occupied the verandah in larger numbers than before pushed their way right into the hospital where confusion on our side naturally followed. Everyone tried to escape as best he could, and owing to the rooms not communicating with one another the difficulties were insurmountable. Private Hook, 2/24th Regiment, who was acting hospital cook, and Private Connolly, 2/24th Regiment, a patient in hospital, made their way into the open at the back of [the] hospital, by breaking a hole in the wall with a pickaxe and them climbing over the sacks into the curtailed laager. Most of the patients escaped through the small window looking into what may be styled the neutral ground. Those who madly tried to get off by leaving the front of the hospital were all killed with the exception of Gunner Howard. He gained with most extraordinary luck a detached area without being noticed by the enemy, and after dusk, the Zulus still being close about him, he left his retreat to hide himself in the long grass 400 or 500 yards away. He did not rejoin us until daylight the following morning when it was no longer dangerous to move about.
Private Hunter, Natal Mounted Police, was the only one killed of those who made an escape through the small window. He was shot dead while crossing over to the biscuit boxes after his exit through the window, by a fire from the enemy from behind the mealie sacks.
The only men actually killed in the hospital were three, excluding a Kafir under treatment for compound fracture of the femur. Their names were Sergeant Maxfield, Private Jenkins, both unable to assist in their escape (being debilitated by fever), and Private Adams, who was well able to move about but could not be persuaded to leave his temporary refuge in a small room, and face the danger of an attempt at escape to the laager. During this partial success of the enemy, very heavy firing was being made on our fort from all sides, and it was in this period that we lost a large majority of our killed and wounded. The engagement continued more or less until about 7 o'clock p.m. and then when we were beginning to consider our situation rather hopeless the fire from our opponents appreciably slackened giving us some time for reflection. Lieutenant Chard here again shined in resource. Anticipating the Zulus making one more united dash for the fort and possibly gaining an entrance, he converted an immense stack of mealies standing in the middle of our enclosure and originally cone fashioned, into a comparatively safe place for a last retreat. I would explain that the top of the cone was removed and a number of sacks was taken out from the heart of what remained, forming a sheltered space, sufficient to accommodate about 40 men, and in a position to make good shooting. Mr. Dunne, Commissariat Officer, assisted in this work. Just as it was completed smoke from the hospital appeared and shortly burst into flames. The light given by it, however, proved advantageous to us (it being now nightfall), a matter which the Zulus themselves must have recognised, as no further attack was made from that quarter. During the whole night following desultory firing was carried on by the enemy, and several feigned attacks were made, with much shouting of their war cry, but nothing of a continued or determined effort was again attempted by them. About 6 o'clock a.m. we found, after careful reconnoitring, that all the Zulus, with exception of a couple of stragglers, had left our immediate vicinity, and soon afterwards a large body of men were seen at a distance in Zululand marching towards us. For a long time, and even after redcoats were distinguished through our field-glasses, we believed them to be the enemy, some of them perhaps dressed in the kits of those who had fallen at Isandhlwana. Indeed we could not think otherwise, as the Basuto Officer who escaped with his men from Isandhlwana and retreated on our post the day before reported that the General's party had been broken up into small lots, each trying to get back into the Colony by any route.
Not until the Mounted Infantry, forming an advanced party, crossed the Buffalo drift, about a quarter of mile off, were we convinced of our relief. Then we raised a white flag (for they were not certain of us either, seeing the hospital still smoking) and gave three cheers, really feeling that it was all right for us.
I do not think it possible that men could have behaved better than did the 2/24th and the Army Hospital Corps (three), who were practically forward during the whole attack, as well as odds and ends of other regiments who happened to be present at Rorke's Drift on the occasion. It would be difficult to pick out the heroes from our garrison, but Corporal Schiess of the Natal Native Contingent (a Swede by birth) came under my notice as the most deserving of praise and recommendation'.
Surgeon Reynolds' account of the day's events emphasises the contribution and gallantry of his colleagues but plays down his own part in this epic confrontation when the small garrison of B Company, 2nd/24th and a few others, totalling around 140 men, drove off during the night six Zulu attacks of several thousand warriors. The British suffered casualties of about 17 killed and 10 wounded. In a despatch to Colonel R.T. Glyn C.B., commanding 3rd Column, Lieutenant Chard, Royal Engineers brings to his Commanding Officer's notice several who had particularly distinguished themselves, including 'Surgeon Reynolds, A.M.D., in his constant attention to the wounded under fire where they fell'.
Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded for gallantry displayed at Rorke's Drift, including one to Reynolds. Additionally he was Mentioned in Despatches and given special promotion to Surgeon Major. He also received the South Africa Medal with '1877-8-9' clasp. His Victoria Cross was presented by Lord Wolseley at St. Paul's Zululand on 16.7.1879 at the same occasion as that to Major Chard.
More recognition came from the British Medical Association which presented Reynolds with its Gold Medal for his actions at Rorke's Drift where he would have met one of the award's central criteria of 'having conspicuously raised the character of the medical profession ... by extraordinary professional services'. Furthermore he was elected Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Ireland and made Honorary Doctor of Law, Dublin.
Although Surgeon Major Reynolds remained for a short time at Rorke's Drift, he soon rejoined the main force and was present at the Battle of Ulundi. After the disaster at Isandhlwana, Chelmsford retired to Rorke's Drift on 23 January and fell back through defensive positions. However, determined to achieve the ultimate objective, another push on Ulundi was organised. Here, on 4 July, Chelmsford and his force successfully overcame the Zulu might. Cetewayo fled but was later captured.
After South Africa
Reynolds left South Africa shortly afterwards and arrived back in England on the Troopship Eagle in October 1879. He was promoted Lieutenant Colonel on 1.4.1887, became Brigade Surgeon and Lieutenant Colonel on 25.12.1892, attached to 2nd Battalion, Warwickshire Regiment. Following his retirement in 1896 James Reynolds was employed as Senior Medical Officer at the Royal Army Clothing Factory, Pimlico, London until 1905 when he took full retirement.
In 1880 he married Elizabeth McCormick a doctor's daughter. Always a keen sportsman, he enjoyed riding, rowing, cycling, skating and shooting and was a member of the Army and Navy Club from 1890 until his death. Reynolds is known to have attended the Victoria Cross Dinner, held by the Prince of Wales in the Royal Gallery, at the House of Lords on 9.11.1929.
Reynolds died in London at the Empire Nursing Home on 4.3.1932, aged 88 years, and he is buried in the north east corner of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Kensal Rise, London. He was the longest lived of the Zulu War V.Cs.
His Victoria Cross, South Africa Medal 1877-79 and British Medical Association Gold Medal are now in the Royal Army Medical Corps Museum, Aldershot.