Monday 22 June 2009

Isandlwana & Rorke's Drift - A Trip to the Zulu War Battlefields - August 2004

Back in 1964 when I was an impressionable six year old boy my parents took my sister and I to Skegness for the day. The sun was shining and the beach was beckoning. But on entering the town my father spotted something that just couldn't be resisted - the film 'Zulu' was showing. So he and I changed our plans and saw the film.

Thirty years later in 2004 I was on a family holiday in Durban, South Africa. The sun was shining and the beach was beckoning. But I'd looked at a map and I knew Rorke's Drift and Isandlwana were close. So I enlisted the help of Paul Naish, a guide who I can't speak highly enough, and off I went. 

We took the old wagon track down from Helpmekaar and crossed the Buffalo River. Like those before me I felt drawn towards the odd shaped mountain in the distance.I could almost hear the wheels of the wagons turning and the shouted orders of NCOs as we crossed the river. The Isandlwana battlefield is vast and remains much as it was back in 1879. Brown grass, rocky outcrops and lots of water underfoot. and everywhere, white cairns marking the last resting places of Chelmsford's shattered army.

The picture above on the left shows the spot where the two British 7 pounders were positioned prior to their withdrawal and loss on the track down to Fugitives Drift. In the distance is the conical hill to the left of which Major Russell and the Rocket Battery were lost early in the action. Durnford's first contact with the enemy was four miles away, beyond the hill. The middle picture shows British graves and Memorials. The picture on the right shows a large cairn on the slope of the Isandlwana 'mountain'. This where Younghusband's company fought until they ran out of ammunition. The cluster of white in the bottom left of the picture are around the site where Colonel Durnford made his last stand.

Many men fleeing from the battlefield found their way down to Fugitive's Drift. Two such men were Lieutenants Melville and Coghill who died trying to save the Queen's colours. The picture on the left shows their graves. Durnford was originally interred on the Battlefield at Isandlwana but was subsequently reburied in Pietermaritzburg (see picture on the right).

Rorke's Drift is a busy little place now. There is a school, a museum and a cluster of buildings on the site of those that were destroyed. The area held by the defenders is delinated on the ground. The pictures above were taken in the area occupied by Zulu snipers.

The picture on the left shows the site of the final redoubt marked by a circle. The British memorial (centre picture) is in the centre of a small cemetery. There are two Zulu mass graves nearby, both marked by simple memorials. The picture on the right shows the building which has been erected on the site of the hospital - the scene of so much bravery.