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Memories of Forty-Eight Years Service
Chapter 1d - The Zulu War

They were not only a moral but a sober and honest race, and remained so until civilisation touched them. When the war was over and peace declared, so far from showing any bitterness, they were cordiality and hospitality itself, in many cases giving of their milk and food and refusing to take payment. The only spot in Zululand I know of where this high morality did not obtain was at a Christian mission station called Kamagwassa St. Paul's and over the border where the white men ruled.

They were, too, very simple and truthful, and loved to speak in metaphor. They made no attempt to minimise their own losses at Isandhlwana, and when I add that our own killed amounted to 52 officers, 806 white N.C.O.s and men, in addition to 200 or 300 native troops, some idea of the desperate nature of the fighting can be formed. To quote from the speech made by General Sir Reginald Hart, V.C., K.C.B., K.C.V.O., when he unveiled the 24th obelisk at Isandhlwana in March 1914: " The terrible disaster that overwhelmed the old 24th Regiment will always be remembered, not so much as a disaster, but as an example of heroism like that of Leonidas and the three hundred Spartans who fell at the pass of Thermopylae."

The next few days after the battle, St. Matthew's simile, " Wheresoever the carcase is, there will the eagles be gathered together," was fully illustrated, for literally the sky was darkened at times by continuous streams of " Aasvogels " heading from all directions to the battlefield marked by that precipitous and conspicuous crag, like a lion couchant, " Isandhlwana " where nearly 900 British and 2,000 or 3,000 natives, friend and foe, had breathed their last on the fatal 22nd.

Meanwhile Lord Chelmsford had withdrawn all troops from the enemy's country, had given orders that the border-line should be guarded by a series of small fortified posts, and had gone with his staff to Maritzburg to await reinforcements from home.

My fate was Helpmakaar. There the Commandant constructed a fort with a huge ditch, revetting the parapet with sacks full of mealies. The wet season came on, the grain went rotten, and the ditch filled up with putrid water, the smell of which was appalling, and out of thirty-two officers all but one were down within a couple of months with fever, mostly typhoid. I got it, and was carted in a mule-wagon via Dundee down to Ladysmith some seventy miles, where a General Hospital had been formed in the Dutch Church. Hospital comforts were conspicuous by their absence in those days. Straw on the stone floor formed our beds, and there I lay for two months, hovering between life and death. The hospital was full, as far as I recollect, almost all typhoid cases, and dead were carried out every day.

At last I was convalescent, and could get about with two sticks when I was told I was to start the following morning in a sick-convoy to Durban and thence to England.

It was the middle of May. The reinforcements had all come out, the new centre column was forming at Dundee (forty-five miles off), and it was expected would start against the enemy in a fortnight's time. I was very feeble, but the last place I wanted to go to was England until we had defeated the Zulus.

Luckily I had a splendid old soldier-servant, Private Elks of the 24th, and also three horses. I told Elks to

have the horses ready at the corner of the churchyard at midnight, one saddled for myself to ride, one with my pack-saddle and valise strapped on, and the third barebacked. All went according to plan; Elks lifted me into the saddle and off I went. Mercifully there were no telegraphs in those days, so I was lost to all intents and purposes, and the convoy started without me. I fetched up at Dundee all right, and when I was helped off and supported into the tent of my boss. Major Essex of the Gordons and Chief Transport Officer, he nearly had a fit, for he thought I was a walking corpse. I am full of gratitude to this day to him, for he acceded to my request that I should lie low in a tent, trusting to nature to pull me round sufficiently to do duty by the time the advance commenced. It was glorious weather, clear and bright with frost every night, and I picked up every day, and by the time the doctors traced where I had gone to I was well into Zululand.

We had crossed the Blood River at Landsman's Drift, near Kopje Allein, on the 1st June, and it was soon after this I first became acquainted with that fine old soldier, now General Sir Charles Tucker, then Major C. Tucker of the 80th, commanding the fort at Kopje Allein.

Our first day's march was productive of a tragic incident which touched the heart of every man in the force and marred the joy of being on the move again against the enemy. H.I.H. the Prince Imperial of France, previously a Cadet at Woolwich, and wearing the undress uniform of the Royal Artillery, had been allowed to accompany the expedition attached to the C.-in-C.'s Staff. He had endeared himself to all with whom he came into touch and had been especially friendly to myself. He took deep interest in the organisation of every branch of our force, and was in my tent up to 11 p.m. the night before extracting from me a promise to write him a treatise on bullock transport. We had moved forward a day's march, and on reaching the next camp rumours (which were soon confirmed) came in that the Prince had been killed ; and next morning, when we halted for the day at Itelezi Hill camp, the body with sixteen assegai wounds was brought in on a stretcher formed of lances and a blanket. The brief account of this lamentable event which I am about to give is based on the stories given by those who were present, and by the story of Zulus, as told in their naive and truthful way by themselves after peace had been declared.

The Prince had gone ahead of the force that morning with a small reconnaissance party consisting of a Staff Officer and a few (six, I think) mounted men. At about 8 p.m. they had ridden into a kraal and off-saddled for a short time to feed men and horses. The outlook, if kept, was indifferent, and unbeknown to them a few Zulus crept up through the crops and long grass and fired a volley at close range as the party was in the act of mounting. No one appeared to have been hit then, but the horses were frightened and the party galloped away, doubtless thinking H.I.H. was with them. Two men were left in the kraal, and one of them, on mounting, was hit and knocked off his horse. Their bodies were found next day. The Prince's horse, however, was exceedingly restive, and he came out of the kraal on foot, endeavouring to mount, but at last the horse broke loose. By this time the remainder of the party were some little way off, and the Zulus, seeing the Prince alone on foot, rushed in and killed him.

The Zulus described that, being only six or eight in number, they had no intention of fighting the whole party, but seeing one man alone, took courage and attacked him. They had no idea that he was a person of the highest importance, and that the deed performed by them that day would affect very materially European politics for years.

The Staff Officer was tried by court-martial and sentenced to be shot, and was only saved at the request of the Prince's mother, the Empress Eugenie. The officer died a few years later of fever in India.

Lord Chelmsford's plan for our column, the one with which he was marching, was to establish food depots along our line of advance at intervals, building forts for the purpose. The column consisted of a Cavalry Brigade, the King's Dragoon Guards and 17th Lancers, under Major-General Fred Marshall; the 2nd Division, under Major-General Newdigate, of two Brigades, the first formed by the 2/21st

R.S. Fusiliers and the 58th under Colonel Glynn, and the second by the l/24th and the 94th under Colonel Collingwood ; Batteries, R.E. etc.

The first depot was at Kopje Allein, where half a Battalion of the 80th were left under Major C. Tucker. The next place selected was near the River Nondweni, twenty-five miles from Kopje Allein, and was called Fort Newdigate, after the 2nd Divisional Commander.

From Fort Newdigate I accompanied Wood's Flying Column to the frontier to escort 240 empty wagons to be refilled at Landsman's Drift. It was the 17th June before we got back to Fort Newdigate again, and then with some 600 loaded wagons, having picked up some 400 extra at Landsman's Drift. Meanwhile, some of the force had been moved on, and Fort Marshall, sixteen miles farther on, was being commenced. On arriving at the spot where Fort Newdigate was to be constructed on the 6th June, our camp was laid out as usual in the shape of a great rectangle; the wagons formed the wall, and about 200 yards outside it the new fort was commenced. By sundown the walls had begun to rise. Piquets were posted all round at some distance from the laager. It was a moonlight night and clouds were flitting across the moon, and a shadow from one of these was mistaken for an advancing body of Zulus. The piquet gave the alarm and the men manned the sides of the laager. Unfortunately some of the piquets, in falling back, took refuge in this partially constructed fort. I was asleep in a tent outside the laager. The order was for all tents outside the laager to be lowered when the alarm sounded. My stable companion, Alexander of the 21st R.S. Fusiliers, had some difficulty in awakening me, and before I could get out of the tent firing had commenced from the laager, so, striking the tent as best we could, we rushed into the laager. Undoubtedly the men's nerves were in a bad state, owing, I consider, to the fact that they were young soldiers and that the Staff never missed an opportunity of instilling into their minds the fierceness of the enemy and their love of night attacks. In a few minutes every face of the laager was blazing away and a battery in action at one corner was firing " grape." It was a long time before the firing could be stopped, and then it was found to be a false alarm, but a disastrous one for there were four casualties, three of them in the embryonic Fort, where the walls were not high enough to give cover from fire from the laager. It was found afterwards that there was no enemy within fifteen miles. Our expenditure of ammunition was heavy, 50,000 rounds it was said at the time. This place was more generally known after this as " Fort Funk." We had several more false alarms before we fought the battle of Ulundi, but these I will not describe here.

So far I have only been referring to the column to which I belonged, but there were two other forces operating, the one assembled at Eshowe, some seventy miles south-south-east of Landsman's Drift and about forty miles south of Ulundi, the 1st Division under General Hope Crealock; the other to the north-west under Colonel Evelyn Wood, V.C. Both these columns had had their share of fighting. Before General Crealock assumed command, a force under Colonel Pearson of the Buffs drove off an attack at the River Inyezane on the 22nd January, the same day as the battle of Isandhlwana, and later on had been besieged at Eshowe, but had been relieved on the 4th April by a force under the C.-in-C. by the battle of Ginginlovo, fought two days previously.


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