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

A strong naval contingent, formed from the crews of H.M. ships Shah, Tenedos, and Boadicea, took part in this battle, and with it a brother of mine, now a retired Admiral. This force was destined never to reach Ulundi, for it was so long in starting, because according to an amusing but probably utterly untrue report which was circulated, the G.O.C. would not move without his full month's supply of pepper; it was still in the neighbourhood of Port Durnford when the battle of Ulundi was fought.

Evelyn Wood, however, with Buller commanding the mounted troops, was not likely to be out of it. They had had quite a lot of fighting. For months past they had been busy with bold reconnaissances twenty miles and more into Zululand. A minor disaster had befallen them on the 12th March, when a camp on the Intombie River of a company of the 80th Regiment, under Captain Moriarty, was surprised, he being killed in his pyjamas, and sixty-one others out of a total of 106 also being slain.

Wood had made his camp at Kambula in February, and it was from there that the big operation on the rugged " Inhlsobana " Mountain eighteen to twenty miles distant was made, when Colonel Weatherby, Captain Ronny Campbell, Captain Barton, and nine other officers were amongst the killed, with eighty other Europeans out of a total of 400. This action was followed next day by the famous battle of Kambula, when a Zulu Army attacked Wood's Camp, resulting in a loss to the Zulus of about 2,000, the British casualties only amounting to eighty-three. When the final advance into the Zulu country which I am now describing was arranged, it was planned for the three columns gradually to draw together so as to concentrate in front of Ulundi.

I have already told how the right column dropped behind, but Evelyn Wood actually camped opposite us on the bank of the Ityotyosi River on the 4th June. His force was known as Wood's flying column, always marching and camping a short distance ahead of us until we reached the Entonganeni heights on the 28th June, when we camped together. From there we could see the King's Kraal Ulundi, some fifteen miles away, and the valley of the White Umvolosi between it and ourselves. It had taken us twenty-eight days to do about sixty-five miles, which to the ordinary mind would appear somewhat slow, but it was really a creditable performance, for the difficulties of the country were enormous—very little flat ground, no roads, deep valleys and precipitous hills—many of them covered with rocks and boulders—to climb, muddy river-beds, and we with 600 to 1,000 wagons each drawn by sixteen oxen. Occasionally we did ten miles a day, but generally far less; once, for instance, we were thirty-six hours doing one mile.

I have only mentioned the principal forts, to which should be added Fort Evelyn, constructed on the 23rd June. Other intermediate ones, at which troops had to be left, were gradually made for the safety of the lines of communication. In this way one of our Infantry Brigades under Colonel Collingwood, consisting of the l/24th and the 94th, was used up and never reached Ulundi. It must be remembered that very little of the country was really open, and much of it covered with bush, and therefore a long straggling column would have been vulnerable and difficult to guard. This accounts for slow movements, the head of the column never being very far from the tail, and long marches being only possible over open country when wagons could move twenty abreast, as we did on one or two occasions over rolling veldt covered with rich luxuriant grass, and then it was a very fine sight. Most of it was ideal country for ambushes and sharpshooters, and I lost a great friend on the 11th or 12th June, when the Adjutant of the 17th Lancers, « Frith " was killed from some rocky caves on the face of Ezunganyan Hill.

On the 30th June the order was given for the force to move from the heights down to the valley of the White Umvolosi and whilst on the move we could see across the valley some ten miles distant the Zulu Army manoeuvring in mass formation. It appeared very large and imposing and to be carrying out complicated movements with the greatest accuracy. Suddenly the Staff of the 2nd Division became alarmed and ordered laager to be formed on the leading wagons. This - though unnecessary with the enemy ten miles off, and in view of the fact that the Flying Column, quite undismayed, was proceeding calmly on its way in front of us - was quite simple to carry out if the matter had been left to the Transport officers, who had a regular drill for "laagering up" on the march. Jumpy staff officers, however, were flying round issuing wild orders themselves to wagon section with the result that they were outspanned in the most chaotic formations, two or three wagons here, half a dozen there, and, night coming on, we had to put up with an utterly indefensible wagon fort.

To make things worse, they proceeded to post a circle of native contingent piquets right round, and when the Field officer visited these piquets, an excited native shot at him, others let off their rifles, and the natives, who were friendly Swazis dressed like Zulus with shields and assegais and skin coverings, came running in. I, feeling sure it was one of our false alarms, remained dozing under my wagon, when I found half-naked savages crawling over me. Luckily I couldn't find my revolver. Wood's column, comfortably camped a mile away, were not in the least alarmed, for they knew too well the peculiarity of our column. Next day, however, we courageously moved forward and dumped down alongside the Flying Column.

Lord Chelmsford had heard on the 16th that Sir Garnet Wolseley was en route to supersede him. Sir Garnet had been induced to take Port Durnford as his place of landing, and Crealock was there to receive him; but it was a port only in exceptional weather, for heavy surf was the normal condition there. So it proved when Sir Garnet's ship, H.M.S. Shah, came off it, and, after wasting valuable days unable to land, he returned to Durban on the 4th July, the day of the battle of Ulundi. An officer of the ship told me that Sir Garnet might have landed the day of reaching the coast, but the staff delayed to have breakfast, the surf increased, and the opportunity for Wolseley's getting to Ulundi in time to take command at the battle was lost. It was some satisfaction that Lord Chelmsford, who had borne the burden of the campaign, was not relieved in the hour of victory.

This day, the 2nd July, very few Zulus were to be seen. Cetywayo had been offered terms, and from reports he appeared to be wavering ; but as the C.-in-C. could not wait indefinitely, he ordered Buller next day to take his irregular mounted troops, some thousand strong, composed of several small corps (named after their leaders, thus : Baker's Horse, Ferreira's Horse, Beddington's Horse, D'Arcy's Horse), across the river and make a reconnaissance. It was an interesting and picturesque operation in full view of us and supported by Artillery from our side of the river. At one time part of the force nearly fell into an ambush, but the reconnaissance was successful, for it showed where the bulk of the enemy were and was able to withdraw with the loss of two or three killed and a few wounded. It was during this reconnaissance that Lord William Beresford, acting as Staff Officer to Buller, picked up a wounded man from the middle of the Zulus and brought him in safety away, thus earning the V. C.

King Cetywayo had been called on to lay down his arms and appeared to be undecided, but to compel him to make up his mind the whole force moved across the river on Ulundi on the 4th July and, forming in a square, moved towards the Zulu Army, halted and awaited attack. When this was evidently coming, the mounted troops, who till then had been covering the movement, came inside the square, and the Zulu Army advanced with the greatest bravery, but thirty yards was the nearest any of them got to the square. In twenty minutes, weary of being mown down by gun and rifle fire, they fled, pursued by the 17th Lancers. Our casualties, almost all from rifle fire, were 100, twelve of which were killed. It was an utter rout. Pursuit was carried out to the foot of the hills, but the fight was out of the Zulu warriors, and our troops had recrossed the river and got back to their camp of the previous night by 4 p.m. King Cetywayo became a fugitive, and after a skilful and plucky pursuit was run to ground at the end of August by Major Martyr and a squadron of the 1st Dragoon Guards.

Two days after the battle I was ordered down in charge of the transport of a convoy taking back the wounded, escorted by the 21st R. Scots Fusiliers under Colonel Hazlerigg of the same Regiment, a very fine officer.

On reaching Landsman's Drift over the Blood River, which was our destination, a somewhat serious but not unamusing breach of discipline occurred. When the force had halted at Landsman's Drift previous to its advance to Ulundi, a certain Battalion had looted a barrel of rum and buried it, intending to have a " jolly " on their return. They had made great friends with another Regiment and told them the secret of where this rum could be found. Consequently a night or two after our arrival several men of that other Regiment were absent at evening roll-call and the Orderly Corporal was sent to look for them. As he did not return, another dove in the shape of the Orderly Sergeant was sent out of the ark, and when he too failed to return, still another N.C.O. was sent. The latter came flying back to say that behind a kopje just outside the camp he had found an empty barrel of rum with the Orderly Sergeant lying alongside of it with his mouth under the bung-hole, surrounded by twenty-six others all dead to the world. Doctors were hurried out, and opinions expressed that some of these thirsty lads must die, but, by a free use of the stomach pump, luckily all lives were saved. Needless to say, a court-martial followed.

For the next two or three months I worked away passing down troops and stores from the front, and then in November got orders to return to England myself.

The difficulty was how to get down country, for it was 150 miles to Durban and no transport available. Amongst my transport was a light buggy on four spider wheels. I knew that this would soon be seized by some senior officer, so I removed and buried one of the wheels. The inspecting officer arrived, was much taken with the buggy as the very thing he wanted for himself, but agreed it was useless without a fourth wheel. That evening, the inspector having departed, I was lucky enough to find the missing wheel, and next morning, booking in a team of four rather wild ponies, I was tooling away for the port of embarkation.

On arriving at Madeira I heard the sad news that my father had just died—abitter blow. He had been so interested in the war and I had been looking forward above everything else to telling him my adventures.


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