Stan sketched briefly the events leading up to and during the battles, their history is certainly well known to our members and has been extensively written about. It was the small, fascinating detail that our speaker offered.
The British soldiers still wore their red tunics and white pith helmets and could be identified by their facing colours on cuffs and collars as well as the different regimental badges. The red colour was a drawback for the troops, but in Africa they at least toned down their helmets to a more khaki colour with mixtures of tea, coffee or mud. And it is not a generally known fact that the soldier of that period earned one shilling per day for all his troubles.
The opposing Zulu battlefield regiments, each 1.500 strong and commanded by an Induna, had their own uniforms of feathers and furs. Each regiment would have a shield colour, junior units carried black shields, senior ones white; and there were all manner of combinations, some black with white spots.
Much has been made of the Impondo Zankomo, the Horns of the Buffalo, Shaka's famous battle formation. But it had not been invented by him. Being the clever tactician he was, he had undoubtedly heard of Hannibal's Cannae and adopted the encircling maneuver. Other symbols were brass armbands and necklaces. The beads often contained snuff or other narcotics, and a snuff spoon was carried in the earlobe or stuck in the headband. But in battle warriors went into action wearing nothing but a loin cloth with monkey tails hanging from the front.
The massacre at Isandlwana, where 1 400 British soldiers were slaughtered, might have been avoided if the British had not underestimated the Zulus and their ability as frenzied fighters, who were allowed to marry only after they had killed an enemy. Another reason was the high number of Zulu soldiers, approx. 20 000 which attacked. If the British had kept together to stand and fight, things might have turned out differently. But once they ran in all directions, especially the black soldiers, the writing was on the wall.
The ammunition boxes were not nailed but screwed down and could not be opened easily, and when the African troops arrived for ammunition they were at first refused, leading to further cala- mities, while frantic soldiers had to beg for ammunition when they ran out.
In comparison, the battle at Rorke's Drift showed the resilient tenacity of the British soldier, as demonstrated by the high number of Victoria crosses won, 11 in all, more than for any other single action in British history.
It was also fortunate for the defenders of the mission station, that the Zulu disliked night battles, and preferred to fight in the open and not against quick firing rifles.
The speaker strongly recommended that interested members visit both battlefields, some 11 km apart, especially if they get a chance to listen to David Rattray' expert talks. This was also stressed by fellow member Tony Gordon.
Anyone who would like to read the text on which Stan's talk was based, is invited to ask for the copy from the scribe.
Jochen (John) Mahncke (Vice-Chairman/Scribe) (021) 797 5167