Rorke's Drift and Isandwana

We  moved near to Brecon in 2013 where there is a terrific museum commemorating the 24th Regiment of Foot (South Wales Borderers) which fought in the Anglo-Zulu war of 1878-80. So soon after we went to South Africa to visit the battlefields and a haunting experience it was too. At Isandalwana the Zulu King Cetshwayo  wrong footed Lord Chelmsford so that he split his army and left the bulk of it in camp while he went chasing off to engage the Zulu warriors several miles away; in fact the main Zulu army was in hiding waiting to ambush the poorly defended base camp. Almost all the defending forces were killed, over 1,300 British and Natal soldiers, the biggest defeat in imperial history. A small contingent held out at the staging post of Rorke's Drift nearby hence slightly redeeming the reputation of the army.

Today the battlefield of Isandalwana is much as it was. It is easy to imagine what carnage took place with the masses of British and Natal dead  and disembowelled all over the veldt, so that their spirits could escape their bodies. I do believe that when extreme pain is suffered a sense of it remains in the atmosphere, a sort of haunting. I felt it too at Cawnpore where the British community was massacred in the Indian mutiny - the other Victorian imperial disaster - and of course in Flanders on the Great War battlefields.

At Isandwana our imaginations were certainly inspired by the oration of our guide Andrew Rattray from the Fugitives Drift hotel nearby. It was unfashionable but effective - emotional, patriotic, opinionated and pro Zulu. His father David was the expert on the subject and able to fill the Royal Geographic Society in London many times over with his story telling. Tragically he was murdered by an intruder to Fugitive's Drift a few years ago.

As a postscript I discovered in Brecon when we returned that the 24th Regiment of Foot was in 1879 actually the 2nd Warwickshire Regiment which recruited in South Wales; it became the S.W.B. two years later. There is a vault under the museum, not open to the public, that contains trophies from Isandalwana. One is a Zulu shield with a neat triangular bayonet hole through it such as the  foot soldiers of the 24th Regiment carried  on the ends of their rifles. Makes you think.