Visiting the battlefields of the Anglo Zulu War today is always an awe-inspiring event; and not just for me, but for many of my guests as well. Over the last few months I’ve been so blesses to show not only visiting professional historian the sites of Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift, but also visiting professional soldiers, in one such case members of the same regiment Lt.Chard of Rorkes Drift fame belonged to!
Visiting the Battlefields of the Anglo-Zulu War
Like so many conflicts in Southern Africa (and Africa even) land has been the root of all trouble (or rather perhaps the lack of land). In the 1800’s land in South Africa seemed limitless, but as we are all too familiar with, good things have to end and so it was with the land.
Hard to imagine today both there were major swathes of land that were uninhabitable thanks to fever (malaria) as well as Ngama. Fact is with a growing population of Zulus, Boers and of the English, land was bound to run out at some point and conflict just had to arise.
I think visiting the past on these tours does give one a little perspective about our modern day troubles, though it is sometimes quite startling to realise that some of the problems we have haven’t changed in the last few hundred years.
On one of my more recent tours I had an opportunity to explore the battlefield with a bit more time than usual as my clients were running about 30 minutes late. I always wanted to get to the little cave where one of Capt. Younghusband’s men (probably at least) secreted himself with a handful of shells and a rifle and then proceeded to snipe at the Zulu solders below.
This may not sound like much, but if one considers the fact that not only was he the last defender left alive at Isadlwna, but be sniping at the enemy he gave away his position (which he full well knew would happen) and was ultimately killed by the Zulu’s; “Hawu” the Zulu’s exclaim, “he was a lion and we were sorry we had to kill him!“.
Like lions they fought and like stone they fell…
Rorkes Drift today is such a peaceful place. There’s a local school nearby and the sounds of the children chattering and playing wash over the site. There’s the constant soundtrack of goats and Nguni cattle interspersed with the chorus’s of Zulu people greeting one.
Hard to imagine then the horror of 10 hours of ferocious battle between Zulu and British on the 22/23 January 1879. What a terrible place this must have been then, the uplifting laughter of children replaced by the screams, moans and battle sounds of some 4000 men.
One can barely imagine it. I think the painting entitled “Defense of Rorkes Drift” by De Neuville probably comes closest to the sight we would have expected to see on this fateful day. We often chat about the bravery of the British solders who defended themselves, like “rates in a hole”, but lets not forget about the those brave Zulu solders who threw themselves tirelessly at those rats over and over again.
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