At the battle of Rorke’s Drift, in the province of Natal in South Africa, on the 22nd and 23rd of January 1879, almost 100 soldiers of the Welsh 24th infantry held a weak defensive position against 4,000 Zulu warriors. In that battle, 11 of the soldiers received the Victoria Cross, the highest award possible for a British soldier to earn: for bravery above and beyond the call of duty, equivalent to the US Congressional Medal of Honour.

On Gold Beach during what is popularly known as D-Day, the 6th of June 1944, the Victoria Cross was received by only one out of approximately 20,000 soldiers: Company Sergeant Major Stan Hollis.

Did bravery become a more common commodity in the 20th century, or are assegais more terrifying than machine guns, and Zulus more fearsome than Germans? Or is mounting a defence behind bags of grain and overturned wagons more fearful a task than attacking concrete bunkers and minefields?

copyright Troy Grisgonelle 2008.

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