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Battle of Isandlwana - Impi YaseSandlwana 22 January 1879

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  • Andrew Swan (1834 - 1879)
  • David Doig (1851 - 1914)
    Corporal in the Natal Mounted Police: 104 “ D Doig (escaped from Isandlwana) Excerpt from The Washing Of The Spears: The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Nation'' by Donald R. Morris : Troopers Doig an...
  • Anthony William Durnford (1830 - 1879)
    Brevet Colonel Anthony W. Durnford, Royal Engineers Account written by John Young, Trustee, Anglo-Zulu War Royal Research Trust. Source: William Durnford was born on 24th May, 1830, in Manor Hamilton, ...
  • Joseph Peter Lumley (1857 - 1879)
    Joseph Lumley, Natal Carbineer, d Isandlwana 1879 Zulu WarJoseph LUMLEY was born in Yorkshire at Normanby on the 8th December 1857 and arrived in South Africa in September 1862. He died on the battlefi...


The Battle of Isandlwana on 22 January 1879 was the first major encounter in the Anglo-Zulu War between the British Empire and the Zulu Kingdom, and resulted in a disastrous defeat for the British Army, the worst it ever suffered at the hands of forces with inferior arms. The Anglo-Zulu War was provoked by Sir Henry Bartle Frere who, violating the policy and instructions of the British government, imposed an insulting and unrealizable ultimatum upon King Cetshwayo, who was a British ally and had tried to preserve peace. Frere was, however, pursuing a scheme advanced by Colonial Secretary Lord Carnarvon to consolidate the territories of southern African under British rule, although this was opposed by the local polities in southern Africa, including the Cape government. War against Zululand was opposed also by the British Cabinet, and Sir Michael Hicks-Beach was appointed to replace Lord Carnarvon. Exploiting the slow mail communications, Frere struck before the policy change could be enforced.

The British force during the Anglo-Zulu war was under the command of Lt. Gen Chelmsford, Frere's friend from the days of his command in India and Abyssinia, and a former aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria, who treated Chelmsford as a favorite, and later would shield him from censure for his disastrous decisions at Insandlwana. Frere and Chelmsford collaborated the previous year, 1878, on the defeat of the Gcaleka Kingdom, the paramount chieftancy of the Xhosa peoples, during the Ninth Frontier War, when Frere used a dispute between the Gcaleka and the Mfengu, British allies, as a pretext for war.

{please insert source} "Eleven days after the British commenced their invasion of Zululand in South Africa, a Zulu force of some 20,000 warriors attacked a portion of the British main column consisting of about 1,800 British, colonial and native troops and perhaps 400 civilians.

The Zulus were equipped mainly with the traditional Assegai iron spears, iklwa, and cow-hide shields, but also had a number of muskets and old rifles though they were not formally trained in their use. The British and colonial troops were armed with the state-of-the-art Martini-Henry breech-loading rifle and two 7 pounder artillery pieces as well as a rocket battery. Despite a vast disadvantage in weapons technology, the numerically superior Zulus ultimately overwhelmed the poorly led and badly deployed British, killing over 1,300 troops, including all those out on the forward firing line. The Zulu army suffered around a thousand killed.

The battle was a crushing victory for the Zulus and caused the defeat of the first British invasion of Zululand.The British army had suffered its worst defeat against a technologically inferior indigenous force. However, Isandlwana resulted in the British taking a much more aggressive approach in the Anglo-Zulu War, leading to a heavily reinforced second invasion and the destruction of King Cetshwayo's hopes of a negotiated peace.

The defeat of Isandlwana led the House of Commons to demand Frere's recall but Lord Beaconsfield protected him. A compromise was reached: he was censured but remained in place

Casualties at the Battle of Isandlwana:
52 British officers and 806 non-commissioned ranks were killed. Around 60 Europeans survived the battle. 471 Africans died fighting for the British.

Zulu casualties have to be estimated and are set at around 2,000 dead, either on the field or from wounds.


( ) 

==Overall commander of the Zulus:==

Subordinate commandersof the Zulus:

Mkhosana Kamvundla Biyela

 -The great ZULU warrior who sacrificed his own life at ISANDLWANA

One unsung hero who comes to mind is Mkhosana Biyela of the Biyela clan, the son of Mvundlana Biyela

When the British were firing their Martini-Henry rifles, the Zulu army became shaky, with most warriors already pinned down on their bellies to escape the bullets, almost as though they were ready to surrender. Something remarkable happed at that very moment! uMkhosana kaMvundlana stood up like a Colossus in front of his men. Turning his back on the British, he shouted “Yeyinina Laphaya Ningabaleki”, followed by the reciting of the king’s praises: “Isilo Uhlamvana Bhulumlilo Kashonga Njalo”—”Don’t Run, Don’t Run, The Little Branches of trees that extinguish the Great Fires gave us no such order”, He had barely uttered those words then the British shot him right through the head. He died instantly. As the brave warrior fell on the ground, after this selfless act, not a single warrior moved back an inch: they all rallied forward, more determined than ever to annihilate the British army. By sheer numbers and force of attack, the Zulu regiments won the Battle of Isandlwana. King Cetshwayo celebrated this victory. Had Mkhosana not intervened at the time he did, something could have gone seriously amiss, and today we would be living a different story!

Mkhosana was buried by his brother; weeks later his family went to Isandlwana to fetch his body so they could afford him a proper burial. However, the vultures had eaten his body, leaving only his traditional regalia —so the family buried his traditional regalia. He made the nation, the king, his commander, and his warriors proud. Ukhandampevu, (his regiment) was then known as “Ukhandampevu olwenqaka amatshe ezulu”, meaning the Ukhandampevu regiment which caught the hailstones…hailstones being the bullets!

Reference and more :

Overall commander of the British:

Subordinate commanders of the British:

  • Bvt. Lt-Col. Henry Pulleine †
  • Bvt. Col. Anthony Durnford †

' Natal Native Contingent - NNC and Natal Native Horse -NNH



' In November 1878, as war clouds gathered over Natal and Zululand, Durnford, now promoted Lt Colonel, was asked to raise a force of up to 7 000 Natal Natives for service in the imminent Zulu War. Those recruited for the various regiments of the Natal Native Contingents – many of whom proved to be totally unreliable and were soon disbanded – were Infantry. There were, however, a few mounted groups who gave useful service. The most successful of all was the contingent from Edendale, which formed the Natal Native Horse – the only black unit to serve faithfully throughout the war.

When the Government asked the Elders of Edendale to raise a mounted troop, there was no hesitation. ‘We all know the cruelty and the power of the Zulu King’, they told their people, ‘and if he should subdue the Queen’s soldiers and overrun this land he will wipe out all the native people who have dwelt so long in safety under the shadow of the Great White Queen. Shall we not gladly obey her, when she calls for the services of her dark children?’

The Natal Native Contingent was a large force of auxiliary soldiers in British South Africa, forming a substantial portion of the defence forces of the British colony of Natal. The Contingent saw action during the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War. The Natal Mounted Police was created in 1873 to bolster the defenses of Natal. It enlisted European officers, NCOs and natives. The infantry was created in 1878. Most enlisted troops were drawn from the Basuto and Mponso tribes, which had had long experience fighting the Zulus.

While the bulk of the NNC consisted of infantrymen, the Natal Native Horse added a cavalry force. Formed of six troops of approximately fifty men each, the NNH was largely recruited from the amaNgwane, a Natal tribe traditionally hostile to the Zulus, and other tribes, as well as black Christians from Edendale Mission. The NNH were much better-equipped than their infantry counterparts; they wore tan-colored European uniforms, rode horses with full equipment, and bore a rifled carbine in addition to traditional spears. Units of the NNH were led by European officers dressed in conspicuous sky-blue uniforms.

Five troops of the NNH were present at Isandlwana. Three formed the Zikhali Horse squadron, named after their chief. The troopers fought well against the Zulus and were dismissed late in the battle by Colonel Durnford who was eager to save as many of his men as possible from the chaotic battle. The mounted NNH soldiers escaped quickly from the battlefield, and many black NNH troopers are credited with stopping to give rides to native and British soldiers struggling to escape the battlefield on foot. Most notably, Horace Smith-Dorrien was rescued and ridden to safety by an NNH trooper

Lieutenant J A Roberts * - Natal Native Horse, 1878-1879

Lieut. Roberts, Natal Native Contingent. Killed at Isandhlwana Jan 22nd 1879. Roberts was an officer in Sikali's Horse, part of the Natal Native Horse, a unit distinct from the Natal Native Contingent, and which emerged from the Anglo-Zulu War with a respectable fighting record

Troop Sergeant Major Simeon Kambuila , DCM*

Simeon knew the country, and avoiding as best he could Zulus in force, made, by paths known to himself, to what afterwards became known as “The Fugitive’s Drift”. It is a ford over the Blood River [sic. should read ‘Buffalo River’]. Before they reached the Drift, they heard the yells of men, the neighing of horses, and the bellowing of cattle. When they arrived upon the banks above the Drift they found it choked with men and beasts. On every rock stood two or three Zulus, stabbing every man they could reach, while on the Natal bank of the river a large body of Zulus waited to dispatch every man who escaped from the river.

Simeon dismounted his men. They were all good shots. Short and sharp he gave his orders. A volley was sent into the centre of the Zulu line on the opposite bank of the river. They closed in, and with wild yells, hurled a cloud of assegais, which, however, did but little harm, as the distance was too great. Three times the Edendale men fired their deadly volleys across the river, and then the Zulus broke and fled. Instantly Simeon rode down to the Drift.’

Reference :


Lord Chelmsford, the Commander-in-Chief of British forces during the war, initially planned a five-pronged invasion of Zululand composed of over 15,000 troops in five columns and designed to encircle the Zulu army and force it to fight as he was concerned that the Zulus would avoid battle. In the event Lord Chelmsford settled on three invading columns with the main center column, now consisting of some 7800 men comprising the previously called No. 3 Column and Durnford's No.2 Column, under his direct command. He moved his troops from Pietermaritzburg to a forward camp at Helpmekaar, past Greytown. On 9 January 1879 they moved to Rorke's Drift, and early on 11 January commenced crossing the Buffalo River into Zululand.

The backbone of the British force under Lord Chelmsford consisted of twelve regular infantry companies: six each of the 1st and 2nd battalions, 24th Regiment of Foot (2nd Warwickshire Regiment), which were hardened and reliable troops. In addition, there were approximately 2,500 local African auxiliaries of the Natal Native Contingent, led by European officers but considered generally of poor quality; some irregular cavalry units, and a detachment of artillery consisting of two field guns and several Congreve rockets. Adding on wagon drivers, camp followers and servants, there were more than 4,000 men in the Number 3 Column, not including Durnford's Number 2 Column. Because of the urgency required to accomplish their scheme, Bartle Frere and Chelmsford began the invasion during the rainy season. This had the consequence of slowing the British advance to a crawl.

The Zulu army, while a product of a warrior culture, was essentially a militia force which could be called out in time of national danger. It had a very limited logistical capacity and could only stay in the field a few weeks before the troops would be obliged to return to their civilian duties. Zulu warriors were armed primarily with Assegai thrusting spears, known in Zulu as iklwa, clubs, some throwing spears and shields made of cowhide. The Zulu warrior, his regiment and the army drilled in the personal and tactical use and coordination of this weapons system. Some Zulus also had old muskets and antiquated rifles stockpiled, a relatively few of which were carried by Zulu impi. However, their marksmanship was very poor, quality and supply of powder and shot dreadful, maintenance non-existent and attitude towards firearms summed up in the observation that: "The generality of Zulu warriors, however, would not have firearms – the arms of a coward, as they said, for they enable the poltroon to kill the brave without awaiting his attack." The British had timed the invasion to coincide with the harvest, intending to catch the Zulu warriors dispersed. Fortuitously, the Zulu army had already begun to assemble at Ulundi, as it did every year for the First Fruits ceremony when all warriors were duty-bound to report to their regimental barracks near Ulundi. Cetshwayo sent the 24,000 strong main Zulu impi from near present-day Ulundi, on 17 January, across the White Umfolozi River with the following command to his warriors:

"March slowly, attack at dawn and eat up the red soldiers."

On the 18th, some 4,000 warriors were detached from the main body to attack Pearson's column near Eshowe. The remaining 20,000 Zulus camped at the isiPhezi ikhanda. On the 19th the main force arrived and camped near Babanango mountain, then moved the next day to a camp near Isiphezi Hill. Finally, on the 21st they moved into the Ngwebeni valley, from where they planned to attack the British on the 23rd, remaining concealed until their discovery by a scouting party on 22 January. Under the command of Ntshigwayo kaMahole the Zulu army had reached its position in easy stages. It marched in two columns within sight of each other but few miles apart to prevent a surprise attack. They were preceded by a screening force of mounted scouts supported by parties of warriors 200–400 strong tasked with preventing the main columns from being sighted. The speed of the Zulu advance compared to the British is marked. The Zulu impi had advanced over 80 km (50 mi) in five days while Chelmsford had only advanced slightly over 16 km (9.9 mi) in 10 days.[41]

The British under Chelmsford pitched camp at Isandlwana on 20 January, but did not follow standing orders to entrench. No laager (circling of the wagons) was formed. Chelmsford did not see the need for the laager, stating, "It would take a week to make." But the chief reason for the failure to take defensive precautions appears to have been that the British command severely underestimated the Zulu capabilities. The experience of numerous colonial wars fought in Africa was that the massed firepower of relatively small bodies of professional European troops armed with modern firearms and artillery, and supplemented by local allies and levies, would march out to meet the natives whose ragged, badly equipped armies would put up a brave struggle, but in the end would succumb. Chelmsford believed that a force of over 4,000, including 1,000 British infantry armed with Martini-Henry rifles, as well as artillery, had more than sufficient firepower to overwhelm any attack by Zulus armed only with spears, cowhide shields and a few firearms such as Brown Bess muskets. Indeed, with a British force of this size, it was the logistical arrangements which occupied Chelmsford's thoughts. Rather than any fear that the camp might be attacked, his main concern was managing the huge number of wagons and oxen required to support his forward advance.

Once he had established the camp at Isandlwana, Chelmsford sent out two battalions of the Natal Native Contingent to scout ahead. They skirmished with elements of a Zulu force which Chelmsford believed to be the vanguard of the main enemy army. Such was the over-confidence in British military training and firepower that he divided his force, taking about 2,500 men, including half of the British infantry contingent, and set out to find the main Zulu force with the intention of bringing them to battle, so as to achieve a decisive victory. It never occurred to Chelmsford that the Zulus he saw were diverting him from their main force. Chelmsford left behind five companies, around 70–80 fighting men in each, of the 1st battalion and one stronger company of around 150 men from the 2nd battalion of the 24th to guard the camp, under the command of Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pulleine. Pulleine's orders were to defend the camp and wait for further instructions to support the general as and when called upon. Pulleine also had around 500 men of the Natal Native Contingent and approximately 200 local mounted irregulars. He also had two artillery pieces, with around 70 men of the Royal Artillery. In total, some 1300 men and two guns were left to defend the camp Pulleine, left in command of a rear position, was an administrator with no experience of front-line command on a campaign. Nevertheless, he commanded a strong force, particularly the six veteran regular infantry companies, which were experienced at colonial combat. The mounted vedettes, cavalry scouts, patrolling some 11 km (6.8 mi) from camp reported at 7 a.m. that groups of Zulus, numbering around 4,000 men, could be seen. Further reports arrived to Pulleine during the early morning, each reporting movements, both large and small, of Zulus. There was speculation among the officers as to whether these troops were intending to march against Chelmsford's rear or towards the camp itself. Around 10:30 a.m., Colonel Anthony Durnford arrived from Rorke's Drift with five troops of the Natal Native horse and a rocket battery. This put the issue of command to the fore because Durnford was senior and by tradition would have assumed command. However, he did not over-rule Pulleine's dispositions and after lunch he quickly decided to take to the initiative and move forward to engage a Zulu force which Pulleine and Durnford judged to be moving against Chelmsford's rear. Durnford asked for a company of the 24th, but Pulleine was reluctant to agree since his orders had been specifically to defend the camp. Chelmsford had underestimated the disciplined, well-led, well-motivated and confident Zulu. The failure to secure an effective defensive position, the poor intelligence on the location of the main Zulu army, Chelmsford's decision to split his force in half, and the Zulus' tactical exploitation of the terrain and the weaknesses in the British formation, all combined to prove catastrophic for the troops at Isandlwana. In contrast, the Zulus responded to the unexpected discovery of their camp with an immediate and spontaneous advance. Even though the indunas would lose control over the advance, the training instilled in the warriors allowed the Zulu troops to form their standard attack formation on the run, their battle line deployed in reverse of its intended order.


The Zulu Army was commanded by inDunas (Princes) Ntshingwayo kaMahole Khozalo and Mavumengwana kaNdlela Ntuli. The inDuna Dabulamanzi kaMpande, half brother of Cetshwayo, would command the Undi Corps after kaMapitha, the regular inkhosi, or commander, was wounded.

While Chelmsford was in the field seeking them, the entire Zulu army had outmanoeuvred him, moving behind his force with the intention of attacking the British army on the 23rd. They were discovered at around 8 a.m. by men of Lt. Charles Raw's troop of scouts who chased a number of Zulus into a valley, only then seeing some 20,000 men of the main enemy force sitting in total quiet. Having been discovered the Zulu force leapt to the offensive. Raw's men began a fighting retreat back to the camp and a messenger was sent to warn Pulleine. Pulleine observed Zulus on the hills to his left front and sent word to Chelmsford, which was received by the General between 9 and 10 a.m.

The Zulu attack then developed in the traditional horns and chest of the buffalo, with the aim of encircling the British position. From Pulleine's vantage point in the camp, at first only the right horn and then the chest (centre) of the attack seemed to be developing. Pulleine sent out first one, then all six companies of the 24th Foot into an extended firing line, with the aim of meeting the Zulu attack head-on and checking it with firepower. Durnford's men, upon meeting elements of the Zulu centre, had retreated to a donga, a dried-out watercourse, on the British right flank where they formed a defensive line. The Rocket Battery under Durnford's command, which was not mounted and dropped behind the rest of the force, was isolated and overrun very early in the engagement. The two battalions of native troops were in Durnford's line; while all the officers and NCOs carried rifles, only one in 10 in the ranks was armed with a muzzle-loading musket with limited ammunition and many of them started to leave the battlefield at this point.

Pulleine only made one change to the original disposition after about 20 minutes of firing, bringing in the companies in the firing line slightly closer to the camp. For a few hours until noon, the disciplined British volleys pinned down the Zulu centre, inflicting some casualties and causing the advance to stall. Indeed, morale remained high within the British line. The Martini-Henry rifle was a powerful weapon and the men were experienced. Additionally, the cannon fire of the Royal Artillery forced some Zulu regiments to take cover behind the reverse slope of a hill. Nevertheless, the left horn of the Zulu advance was moving to outflank and envelop the British right.

Durnford's men, who had been fighting longest, began to withdraw and their rate of fire diminished. Durnford's withdrawal exposed the right flank of the British regulars, which, with the general threat of the Zulu encirclement, caused Pulleine to order a withdrawal back to the camp. The regulars' retreat was performed with order and discipline and the men of the 24th conducted a fighting withdrawal into the camp. Durnford's retreat, however, exposed the flank of G Company, 2nd/24th, which was overrun relatively quickly.

An officer in advance from Chelmsford's force gave this eyewitness account of the final stage of the battle at about 3 p.m.

"In a few seconds we distinctly saw the guns fired again, one after the other, sharp. This was done several times -a pause, and then a flash – flash! The sun was shining on the camp at the time, and then the camp looked dark, just as if a shadow was passing over it. The guns did not fire after that, and in a few minutes all the tents had disappeared."
The time of the solar eclipse on that day is calculated as 2:29 p.m..

The presence of large numbers of bodies grouped together suggests the resistance was more protracted than originally thought and a number of desperate last stands were made. Evidence shows that many of the bodies, today marked by cairns, were found in several large groups around the camp — including one stand of around 150 men. A Zulu account describes a group of the 24th forming a square on the neck of Isandlwana. What is clear is that the slaughter was complete in the area around the camp and back to Natal along the Fugitive's Drift. The fighting had been hand-to-hand combat and no quarter given to the British regulars. The Zulus had been commanded to ignore the civilians in black coats. This meant that many officers, whose patrol dress was dark blue and black at the time, were spared. The British fought back-to-back with bayonet and rifle butt when their ammunition had finally been expended.

Of the 1700-plus force of British troops and African auxiliaries, about 1,300 were killed, most of them Europeans, including field commanders Pulleine and Durnford. Only five Imperial officers survived. The NNC lost some 400 men, and there were 240 lost from one group of 249 African auxiliaries. Amongst those killed was Surgeon Major Peter Shepherd, aged 37, from Leochel Cushnie, Aberdeenshire, who together with Colonel Francis Duncan had established the concept of teaching first-aid skills to civilians and had written the book “Aids for cases of Injuries or Sudden Illness". Some 1,000 Martini-Henry rifles, two cannons, 400,000 rounds of ammunition, most of the 2,000 draft animals and 130 wagons, impedimenta like tinned food, biscuits, beer, overcoats, tents and other supplies were taken by the Zulu. Of the survivors, most were from the auxiliaries. The Zulus had lost around 1,000 killed, with various unconfirmed estimates for their wounded. Wikipedia

A painting by Stuart Liptrot 'Battle of Isandhlwana 22nd January 1879 (Major Figures of the Battle)' shows the last groups of soldiers of the 24th South Wales Borderers at Isandhlwana during the last of the battle as the force consisting of 2 guns and 70 men of N Battery, 5th Brigade, Royal Artillery, 5 companies of 1st Battalion, the 24th Foot, 1 company of 2nd Battalion, the 24th Foot, Mounted volunteers and Natal Police and two companies of the Natal Native Infantry is overrun by superior numbers of Zulu warriors. Surrounding the centre drawing are portraits of some of the main figures. These are from top left :

  • Lieutenant Colonel H B Pulleine 24th Regt,
  • Lieutenant N J A Coghill 1/24th Regt, Quartermaster
  • E Bloomfield 2/24th Regt,
  • Captain R Younghusband 1/24th Regt,
  • Private S Wassall VC 80th Regt,
  • Brevet Major S Smith Royal Artillery,
  • Brevet Colonel A W Durnford Royal Engineers,
  • Lieutenant T Melville VC 1/24th Regt,
  • Lieutenant H Smith-Dorrien 95th Regt and
  • Lieutenant C D Pope 2/24th Regt.

The losses during the battle were 52 British officers and 806 non-commissioned ranks and 471 Africans died fighting for the British. Amongst them was 17 year old William Mendenhall the first Mendenhall to be born in Africa. He belonged to the Natal Carbineers, & pershed with 23 other members on that day.

Zulu warrior dead were around 2,000 dead either on the field or from wounds. There were only around 60 Europeans who survived the battle.


This list appeared in the City Coins catalogue of December 1977



Captain Allan Gardner, 14H
Captain Essax, 76th Foot
Lieut. Smith-Dorrien, RA
Liuet. Cochrane, RA
Lieut. Curling, RA

Private Bickley, 24th Foot
Private Williams, 24th Foot
Private Wilson, 24th Foot
Grant, Rocket detachment supplied by the 80th Foot
Private Johnson, Rocket detachment supplied by the 80th Foot
Private Trimmer, Rocket detachment supplied by the 80th Foot
Private Davis, 80th Mounted Infantry
Private McCann, 80th Mounted Infantry
Private Parry, 80th Mounted Infantry
Private Power, 80th Mounted Infantry
Private Samuel Wassal VC, 80th Mounted Infantry
Sergeant Edwards, N/5 RA
1142 S/Sgt J Stoer, N/5 RA
361 S/Sgt G Townsend, N/5 RA
3919 Gnr A Howard, N/5 RA. Servant to Major Harness
1687 Driver J Baggley, N/5 RA. Deserted 12 October 1879. Carried the news of the defeat at Isandhlwana to Rorke's Drift
Driver J Burchall, N/5 RA
Driver Price, N/5 RA


Buffalo Border Guard

Adams (2),

Natal Carbineers



W Sibthorpe,
W Tarboton

Natal Mounted Police
Troopers Collier, Doig, Dorehill, Kincaid, Hayes, C H Sparks, Shannon, Stevens, Eaton

Natal Native Contingent
Captain W H Stafford,

Lieuts Adendorff,

Newcastle Mounted Rifles


Trumpeter Horne

However it appears one medal was removed -- 1687 Driver J Baggley, N/5 RA. Deserted 12 October 1879. Carried the news of the defeat at Isandhlwana to Rorke's Drift
The medal roll shows that no medal was issued to John Baggley


Yet the medal on sale 1977 ??

Reference/source :


Rorke's Drift was a mission station in Natal, South Africa, situated near a natural ford (drift) on the Buffalo River. The defence of Rorke's Drift (22 January-23 January 1879) immediately followed the British Army's defeat at the Battle of Isandlwana earlier in the day. One hundred and thirty-nine British soldiers successfully defended their garrison against an intense assault by four to five thousand Zulu warriors. The overwhelming Zulu attack on Rorke's Drift came a hair's breadth away from defeating the tiny British garrison. The successful defence of the outpost is held as one of history's finest defences.

In July, The Zulus are defeated by the British at the Battle of Ulundi. Cetshwayo is forced to flee. August, Cetshwayo is captured by the British and is exiled to the Cape. The Zulus are instructed to return to their homesteads and resume productive activities. Sir Garnet Wolseley, the new British commander in Natal, divides up the Zulu into 13 territories under appointed chiefs.


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Johhny Clegg & Savuka

Chorus" Impi! wo nans impi iyeza (A battle regiment is coming)

Obani bengathinta amabhubesi? (Who can touch the lions?)

  • All along the river Chelmsford's army lay asleep
  • Come to crush the children of Mageba
  • Come to exact the realm's price for peace
  • And in the morning as they saddled up to ride
  • Their eyes shone with the fire and the steel
  • The general told them of the task that lay ahead
  • To bring the people of the sky to heel


  • Mud and sweat on polished leather
  • Warm rain seeping to the bone
  • They rode through the season's wet weather
  • Straining for a glimpse of the foe
  • Hopeless battalion destined to die
  • Broken by the benders of kings
  • Vainglorious general and Victorian pride
  • Would cost him and eight hundred men their lives


  • They came to the side of the mountain
  • Scouts rode out to spy the land
  • Even as the realm's soldiers lay resting
  • Mageba's forces were at hand
  • And by the evening the vultures were wheeling
  • Above the ruins where the fallen lay
  • An ancient song as old as the ashes
  • Echoed as Mageba's warriors marched away


In the Films, Zulu Dawn & Zulu

Zulu is a 1964 historical war film depicting the Battle of Rorke's Drift between the British Army and the Zulus in January 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War.

The film was directed by blacklisted American screenwriter Cy Endfield. The screenplay is by John Prebble and Endfield, based on an article by Prebble, a historical writer. The film stars Stanley Baker and Michael Caine, in his first starring role, with a supporting cast that includes Jack Hawkins, Ulla Jacobsson, James Booth, Nigel Green, Paul Daneman, Glynn Edwards, Ivor Emmanuel and Patrick Magee. Future South African political leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi played Zulu King Cetshwayo kaMpande, his great grandfather. The opening and closing narration is spoken by Richard Burton.

The film ends with another narration by Richard Burton, listing the defenders who received the Victoria Cross, including Private Hook. Eleven were awarded for the fighting at Rorke's Drift.

The film was released to box-office success and critical acclaim.

A prequel, Zulu Dawn, about the Battle of Isandhlwana which immediately preceded the Battle of Rorke's Drift, was released in 1979. It was also written by Cy Endfield, and starred Burt Lancaster and Peter O'Toole.

Plot of Zulu Dawn about Isandlwana

The film is set in British South Africa, in the province of Natal, in January 1879. The first half of the film revolves around the administrators and officials of Cape Colony, notably the supremely arrogant Lord Chelmsford and the scheming Sir Henry Bartle Frere, who both wish to crush the neighbouring Zulu Empire, which is perceived as a threat to Cape Colony's emerging industrial economy. Bartle Frere issues an impossible ultimatum to the Zulu king, Cetshwayo, demanding that he dissolve the Zulu Empire. Cetshwayo refuses, providing Cape Colony with a pretext to invade Zululand. Despite objections from leading members of Cape Colony's high society and from Great Britain itself, Bartle Frere authorises Lord Chelmsford to lead a British invasion force into Zululand.

The second half of the film focuses on the British invasion of Zululand and the lead-up to the Battle of Isandlwana. The invading British army, laden with an immense network of supply wagons, invades Zululand and marches in the direction of Ulundi, the Zulu capital. British forces, eager to fight a large battle in which they can unleash their cutting-edge military technology against the vast Zulu army, become increasingly frustrated as the main Zulu army refuses to attack the British, and fighting is restricted to a few small skirmishes between British and Zulu scouts. Concerned that their supply lines are becoming overstretched and that the main Zulu army is still at large, British troops begin torturing captive Zulu warriors in an effort to learn the location and tactics of the Zulu army. Halfway to Ulundi, Chelmsford halts his army at the base of Mount Isandhlwana, ignoring the advice of Boer attendants to entrench the camp and laager the supply wagons, leaving the camp dangerously exposed. During the night, Colonel Durnford and an escort of fifty mounted Basutos approach the camp. Lord Chelmsford then orders Durnford to return to his unit, bringing them to the camp immediately to reinforce Colonel Pulleine. Lt. Vereker should join Durnford as aide-de-camp.

Reacting to false intelligence, Chelmsford leads half of the British army, including the best infantry, cavalry and artillery units, on a wild goose chase far from the camp, in pursuit of a phantom Zulu army. On the day of battle, Durnford and his troops are arriving at 11:00 a.m. at the camp at Isandlwana. Meanwhile, the Zulu captives escape their torturers and regroup with the Zulu army, informing them of the British army's direction and strength. After having lunch with Colonel Pulleine and Lt. Vereker, Durnford quickly decides to send Vereker to scout the hills. Durnford then decides to take his own command out from the camp too, and scout the iNyoni heights.

The entire Zulu army is later discovered by men of Lt. Vereker's troop of scouts, who chase a number of Zulu herdsmen, trying to hurry away their cattle, only to discover the main Zulu enemy force of thousands at the bottom of a valley. Lt. Vereker then sends Lt. Raw to warn the camp that it is about to be attacked.

As Zulu impis descend upon the camp, Durnford's cavalry retreat to a donga in an effort to hold back the Zulu advance. Forced back, the British take heavy casualties, including the battery of Congreve rockets, which is overrun by the Zulus. Initially, the British infantry succeed in defending the camp, and Zulu forces retreat under a hail of artillery fire. British units defending the camp are now becoming dangerously spread-out, and are oblivious to Zulu forces moving round the sides of the mountain in an encircling move. As British infantrymen begin to run out of ammunition and the British cavalry are driven back towards the camp, Zulu warriors charge the British troops en masse, sustaining horrific casualties, but succeed in breaking the British lines. As British troops break and flee towards the camp, the battle breaks down into hand-to-hand fighting between British soldiers and Zulu warriors, amongst the débris of tents, fallen soldiers and supply wagons. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of Zulu warriors, British soldiers and their African allies are slaughtered in the camp, some being cut down as they attempt to flee back towards Natal. During the last minutes of the battle, the camp's commander, Colonel Pulleine, entrusts the Queen's Colours of the 2nd battalion, 24th Regiment of Foot to two junior officers, Lts. Melvill and Coghill, who attempt to carry them to safety in Natal, passing gruesome scenes as Zulu warriors hunt down British and African infantrymen attempting to flee across the river. While crossing the Buffalo River, the three lieutenants are cut down by Zulus and the Colours (a Union Flag embroidered with the Regiment's insignia) are captured. In his dying moments, Vereker shoots and kills the Zulu wielding the Colours, and the Colours fall gracefully into the river, where they are carried out of reach. In the evening, Chelmsford and the rest of the British army return to Isandlwana, to be greeted by the sight of their slaughtered comrades, and the news that a mass Zulu army has invaded Natal and laid siege to Rorke's Drift. The film ends with Zulu warriors in a silhouetted victory procession, dragging captured British artillery back to Ulundi.

Plot of Zulu about Rourke's Drift

In 1879, a communiqué to the government in London, narrated by Richard Burton, details the crushing defeat of a British force at the hands of the Zulus at the Battle of Isandlwana. At a mass Zulu marriage ceremony witnessed by missionary Otto Witt (Jack Hawkins) and his daughter (Ulla Jacobsson), Zulu King Cetewayo (Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi) is also informed of the great victory earlier in the day.

A company of the British Army's 24th Regiment of Foot, depicted as a Welsh regiment, is using the missionary station of Rorke's Drift in Natal as a supply depot and hospital for their invasion force across the border in Zululand. Upon receiving news of Isandhlwana from the Witts and that a large enemy force is advancing their way, Lieutenant John Chard (Stanley Baker) of the Royal Engineers assumes command of the small British detachment, being senior by virtue of his commission date to Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead (Michael Caine), who, as an infantry officer, is rather put out to find himself subordinate to an engineer. Realising that they cannot outrun the Zulu army, especially with wounded soldiers, Chard decides to fortify the station and make a stand, using wagons, sacks of mealie, and crates of ship's biscuit. When Witt becomes drunk and starts demoralising the men with his dire predictions, causing the soldiers of the Natal Native Contingent to desert, Chard orders him and his daughter to leave.

As the Zulu impis approach, a contingent of Boer horsemen arrives. They advise Chard that defending the station is hopeless before they flee, despite Chard's desperate pleas for them to stay. Zulu riflemen open fire on the station from a neighbouring hill. Over the next few hours, wave after wave of Zulu attackers are repelled. The Zulus do succeed in setting fire to the hospital, leading to intense fighting between British patients and Zulu warriors as the former try to escape the flames. Malingering Private Henry Hook (James Booth) surprises everyone by taking charge in the successful breakout. Attacks continue into the night.

The next morning, at dawn, the Zulus approach to within several hundred yards and begin singing a war chant; the British respond by singing "Men of Harlech". In the last assault, just as it seems the Zulus will finally overwhelm the tired defenders, the British soldiers fall back to a tiny redoubt that Chard had earlier ordered constructed out of mealie bags. With a reserve of soldiers hidden within the redoubt, they form into three ranks, and pour volley after volley into the stunned natives, who withdraw after sustaining heavy casualties. Later, the Zulus sing a song to honour the bravery of the defenders and leave.

The film ends with a narration by Richard Burton, listing the defenders who received the Victoria Cross, including Private Hook. Eleven were awarded for the actual fighting at Rorke's Drift.

on Youtube

The Zulu Wars - The Road To Isandhlwana - Episode 1 ---

The Zulu Wars - The Washing Of The Spears - Episode 2 ---

The Zulu Wars - Twilight Of The Zulus - Episode 3 ---

Zulu - The True Story (Timewatch 2003) --

A look at how the humiliating defeat at the battle of Isandlwana was played down while the small victory at Rorke's Drift, on the same day, was promoted by Victoria and Disraeli as the major engagement. The true story of the Zulu War is one of unprovoked slaughter, heroes ignored and the guilty protected - and the responsibility for this lies with those who lived at the time .

3 Popular Myths of Isandlwana – 1879 Zulu War


The Battle of Isandlwana on the 22nd of January 1879 was one of the most devastating defeats suffered by Britain at the hands of local inhabitants.

The clash between British Troops and Zulu Warriors led to a brutal battle that has been retold numerous times, however much of the tale has proven to have more basis in fiction than facts:

1. ‘Men of Harlech’

According to the enduringly popular 1964 movie Zulu, the 24th Regiment – who comprised much of the garrison at both Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift – was composed largely of Welshmen. Although the Regiment had indeed established its depot at Brecon in 1873, its recruits continued to be drawn from across the United Kingdom, and only a small proportion were Welsh by 1879. The association with Wales largely post-dates the Anglo-Zulu War – in 1881, the 24th were re-titled the South Wales Borderers, and it is now part of the Royal Welsh.

2. Ammunition failure

One particularly persistent legend has it that the British were overrun at Isandlwana because of a failure of ammunition supply, either through the parsimony of regimental quartermasters, or because their ammunition boxes could not be opened – an idea which, of course, effectively excuses a number of deeper military errors.

One of the survivors – a lieutenant named Horace Smith-Dorrien, who was destined to become a general in the First World War – recalled the reluctance of Quartermaster Edward Bloomfield of the 2nd Battalion, the 24th, to issue ammunition as the battle began. Yet a close reading of the evidence suggests that this incident was simply indicative of the confusion that inevitably prevailed in the camp; Bloomfield’s reserves were, in fact, earmarked to be sent out to Lord Chelmsford should he need them, and Bloomfield was showing no more than a proper respect for his orders.

In a letter home, Smith-Dorrien admitted to his father that he afterwards secured a supply of ammunition and spent much of the battle distributing it to the front-line companies. Nor were the boxes particularly difficult to open – although reinforced by copper bands all round, access to the rounds was by means of a sliding panel in the lid held in place by a single screw. And if time was pressing, the panel could be smashed out by a sharp blow to the edge with a tent-mallet or rifle butt – over the years, a number of screws bent by such rough treatment have been found on the battlefield.

In 2000, an archaeological survey of the site found the remains of the tin lining of a number of boxes along the British firing positions – sure sign that boxes had been opened there. Last word, however, should go to the Zulus, many of whom mentioned that the British infantry continued to shoot at them until the final stages of the battle.

3. Drummer boys ‘gutted like sheep’

One story that circulated widely in the horrific aftermath of the battle was that Lord Chelmsford’s men, returning to the devastated camp on the night of the 22nd, had seen ‘young drummer boys’ of the 24th Regiment hung up on a butcher’s scaffold and ‘gutted like sheep’. While it need not be doubted that, in the fury of the attack, the Zulus would have killed boys as well as men – they had taken the Queen’s shilling, after all, and their chances with it – this horror story does not stand up to close scrutiny.

‘Boy’ was a rank in the British Army at the time, applied to lads not yet 18, many of whom were the sons of men serving in the regiment. Drummers were seldom Boys – among their other duties was administering floggings as punishment – and of 12 Drummers killed at Isandlwana, the youngest was 18 and the oldest in his 30s. Five Boys were killed at Isandlwana, most of them in the 24th’s band, and the youngest was 16 – not quite the innocent lads immortalised in sentimental paintings of the time.

Even the contemporary regimental history of the 24th admitted ‘no single case of torture was proved against [the Zulus]’. But, in the fraught atmosphere that prevailed when Lord Chelmsford’s command returned to the camp that night, such horror stories spread like wild fire and were readily believed –although, as one officer pointed out, ‘it was impossible for those who told these yarns to distinguish anything in the night, it being exceptionally dark’.