On the 22nd of January in 1879, a unprepared British force of about 1600 men were surprised and over-run by a force of 25,000 Zulu warriors. The British were an invading force, and the Zulu’s were defending their homelands. The battle was short and sharp, and by the end of the battle about 3500 British and Zulu warriors lay dead on the side of the hill called “Isandlwana”.
Walking the Battlefield of Isandlwana
It’s interesting that even today this battle, in the middle of nowhere, on some insignificant hill still draws so many from so far. Some come because they read about the battle, or perhaps simply watched the Zulu and Zulu Dawn in their youth and their imaginations were immediately fired up and captured.
Some visitors visit because they had descendents that participated in the battle, or perhaps are members of one of the regiments or companies that took part. I guess it doesn’t matter at the end of the day why people visit, just that they do.
The 7 Pounders at Isandlwana
A few days ago I had the privilege of taking some retired gents out to the battlefield that were at one stage members of an artillery regiment in the UK. Naturally they were curious about what happened with the artillery companies at Isandlwana, and were really quite moved when I walked them to the spot it’s believe the artillery pieces stood in the early stages of the battle.
We stood at the memorial at the site of where the 7-pounders were placed. I relayed the story to them, the same story told to me by Ken Gillings just weeks before his untimely death; the story of how he and three other members of his reservist artillery unit walked the field and agreed among themselves on the spot the artillery pieces most likely stood.
The gentleman I walked about with on my tour all agreed that yes, the spot the memorial marked was the very same spot they would of chosen had they been in command on the day.
The Curling Letters
We spent a great deal of time chatting about the letters of Henry Curling who was the only line officer to survive at Isandlwana, and who was a Lieutenant of N Battery, 5th Brigade.
We spoke of Brevet Major Smith who had very nearly missed the battle of Isandlwana but at the last minute returned to the field under orders, who survived the initial onslaught of the Zulu attack only to be killed with so many others along “Fugitive’s Trail”.
And finally we spoke about the recovery of the guns and what that meant to men of artillery batteries.
We walked the slopes of Isandlwana, each man in silence as he imagined that fateful day when the line broke and the Zulu’s streamed through the men hacking and slashing as they did; walking the same sloped ground that Curling fled over in an attempt to save his guns and his life.
The slopes of Isandlwana today are dotted by the stone cairns that make the resting place of British soldier and Zulu warrior alike. Among the cairns cattle and goat graze, and sometime Zebra. In the distance the sounds of a school bell rings and the Zulu people go about their day with a smile.
I forget that this ground that seems so peaceful and idyllic was once a killing ground. I’m pleased though that we get to visit this hill and that I get to share the stories of isandlwana that fascinated me so with others. And I hope that these retired artillery officers felt the same way.
Battle of Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift Day Tour
This day tour tothe battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift can be booked by simply using the form below or sending us and email via our contact page.
Country and Coastal Touring
Country and Coastal Touring CC are registered tour guides and operators based in the city of Durban, South Africa.
We run a variety of day tours, overnight tours and extended tours to the battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal, viewing the Anglo Zulu Battles as well as the South African War battle sites.