Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Anglo-Zulu war - A Lesson Learned?

To mark Remembrance Day 11 Nov 2006. See great blog entry by the Telegraph's Africa Correspondent David Blair 13 Nov 2006 The Anglo-Zulu war - the stuff of legends. In the comments, a reader replies:
"A Lesson Not Learned. The lesson of Islandlwana is that a modern, well armed, military force, if ineptly led, can be defeated, even destroyed, by a motivated, well led, yet primitively armed native force. This lesson was again taught in Viet Nam."
Another comment says:
"Isandlwana was in one respect not an extaordinary battle. The Zulu warrior was superior at close quarters to the British infantryman. This in turn makes the defence of Rorke's Drift an even more amazing achievement. Remembrance Day may be a commemoration of wars fought since 1914 but we do well to remember the soliders of both sides who perished in the Anglo-Zulu Wars."
Note, David Blair's commentary mentions Rorke's Drift. Zulu is one of my favourite films. As a child (and military dependent) I spent three years living in the jungle outside Nairobi during the Mau Mau war. Last year, a Sudan Watch reader (and ex soldier, British Army) emailed me saying, quote:
"In 1983 I drove to Rorke's Drift as I was in [the area] Natal and it changed my life in many ways. I spent a whole day sitting in the camp where it really all took place, a very moving experience. The crickets were singing and the ground crackling as it only can in Africa. Totally deserted and on my own, I walked around and remembered the film, found old cartridge boxes broken and rotten in shallow scrapes in the ground broken down walls and litter. You might imagine no one had been there since it happened, eventually I found the remnants, the building with scraps of rotten linen hanging at window, roofs long since gone, and sat and cried, Ah memories see your perception changes but not with memories as strong as these.

Ten years later I was passing again and wanted to revisit this time with my ex wife and found it turned into a tourist attraction with stuffed dummies with bayonets and a curio shop, and I went ballistic at the sacrilege of destroying something so precious and was thrown out for a raving lunatic Englishman. It still brings a lump to my throat.
Defence of Rorke's Drift

Picture: This Heroic Little Garrison, Defence of Rorke's Drift. By Chris Collingwood. Men of the 24th of foot, or 2nd Warwickshire regiment (later in 1881 to become the South Wales Borderers) repel the massed Zulus attempting to smash through the mealie bag entrenchment. http://www.war-art.com/defence_of_rorkes_drift.htm

Defence of Rorke's Drift

After the British Defeat and the Zulu victory at isandhlwana. Zulu Chief Cetawayo entered northern Natal that night. On a tributary of the Tugela River stood the British garrison of 140 troops under the command of Lt Chard at Rorke's Drift. the Zulu force of 4,000 attacked the garrison repeatedly, using their assagais, (also with Rifles form the hillside, taken form the dead British troops at isandhlwana.) The attacks lasted all night through 22nd into the 23rd. in the morning the Zulu withdrew, but only having lost 400 dead in the fighting. The British suffered 25 casualties. for this achievement of holding rorkes drift a total of 11 Victoria Crosses were received.

"Zulu", Col. John Chard V.C. defender of Rorkes Drift

I need to double check details in below caption. It's difficult to believe Col Chard was so young. Sorry caption does not tell us the location of Col Chard's grave, pictured here - found on internet)

Photo: Lieutenant John Rouse Merlot Chard, VC, Royal Engineers.
Born 21st December 1879, died 1st November 1897.
Col Chard won his Victoria Cross at Rorke's Drift, immortalised in the film "Zulu"
The battle of Rorke's Drift started at 4.20 pm on the 22nd January 1879, and finished at 4.00 am the following morning.
It is recorded that the defenders of Rorke's Drift fired more than 21,000 rounds of ammunition. (Source: Bob Cooper)


The Remembrance Day Poppy & In Flanders Fields Poem

Inspiration for the Poem. On 2 May, 1915, in the second week of fighting during the Second Battle of Ypres Lieutenant Alexis Helmer was killed by a German artillery shell. He was a friend of the Canadian military doctor Major John McCrae. It is believed that John began the draft for his famous poem 'In Flanders Fields' that evening.

In Flanders Fields

John McCrae
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.


The poppy is the recognized symbol of remembrance for war dead. The flower owes its significance to the poem In Flanders Fields, written by Major (later Lieutenant-Colonel) John McCrae, a doctor with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, in the midst of the Second Battle of Ypres, in Belgium, in May 1915.

The poppy references in the first and last stanzas of the most widely read and oft-quoted poem of the war contributed to the flower's status as an emblem of remembrance and a symbol of new growth amidst the devastation of war.

Two minutes of silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month because that was the time (in Britain) when the armistice became effective. The two minutes recall World War I and World War II. Before 1945 the silence was for one minute, and today some ceremonies still only have one minute of silence despite this.

In the United Kingdom, although two minutes' silence is observed on November 11 itself, the main observance is on the second Sunday of November, Remembrance Sunday. - Wikipedia

UPDATE: David Blair, in Robbed of remembrance, tells us:
As far as I know, the dead of the Battle of Isandlwana were never individually identified. There are no headstones for each fallen soldier.

Instead, the bones of the dead – British and Zulu alike - were interred in 269 stone cairns scattered about the battlefield. These cairns were repainted quite recently and looked in good enough condition to me.

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