At 17.30 on Friday, 26 January 2007, David Grey Rattray, military historian, raconteur, friend of South African and British Royalty, was murdered in front of his wife, Nicky, by a gang of six thugs intent on robbery. Most of the gang involved have been arrested and are being brought to justice. The loss to the military history community of South Africa is huge.
Dave, like so many great military historians, was not a historian by training, but by passion. He graduated as an entomologist, and used this expertise to enhance his battlefield commentary. He had an expert knowledge of Zulu language and culture and, for his skill at interpreting this to the world, was presented with the prestigious Ness Award in 1999 by the Royal Geographical Society, of which he was a Fellow. He was also a trustee of Siyasiza, dedicated to improving the lives of the rural poor in KwaZuluNatal.
A respected member of the Anglo-Zulu War Historical Society, David Rattray shared his research and deep knowledge of all the aspects of the military history of the Anglo-Zulu Wars with more than 60 000 international visitors to this country. He travelled widely overseas, giving hugely popular lectures in major cities about the Anglo-Zulu Wars and his beloved Fugitives' Drift Lodge. His world-wide fame as a writer and lecturer brought large numbers of tourists to all the battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal and this helped to ensure their preservation. Visitors to South Africa came especially to listen to this master story-teller regale them with tales about brave men. I feel incredibly privileged that we were able to be among them.
David's funeral was held at Michaelhouse School, and tributes paid included those from the Bishop of Natal, the Rt Rev Rubin Phillip; His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales; Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Great-Grandson of King Cetshwayo, commander-in-chief of the Zulu Army in 1879; and Natal Premier, S'bu Ndebele.
David's published works include A Guide to the Anglo-Zulu War Battlefields, A Soldier Artist in KwaZulu-Natal and, above all, his incomparable tapes and CDs entitled 'The Day of the Dead Moon', telling the story of Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift.
Military historian, naturalist, story teller, author, guide and friend, David Rattray is a huge loss to all South Africans. This journal mourns his passing.
South African Military History Society
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