TOPIC: Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana
Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana 2 years 6 months ago #53086
Picture courtesy of DNW
An important South Africa Medal awarded to Acting Commissariat Officer J. N. Hamer, who left a vivid account of his escape from the massacre at Isandhlwana in January 1879 - ‘on coming up we saw the Zulus, like ants in front of us, in perfect order, as quiet as mice and stretched across in an even line. We estimated those we saw at 12,000’
SAGS (1) 1878-9 (Ag. Comst. Officer J. N. Hamer),
James Nathaniel Hamer was born in Clerkenwell, London, in October 1858, the son of James Hamer, a Clerk of the Queen’s Bench.
Believed to have served briefly as a member of the 6th (Volunteer) Battalion, Manchester Regiment, Hamer departed for South Africa in 1878, where he applied unsuccessfully for the position of Postmaster-General for Natal, no doubt on account of his youth, but with the advent of the Griqua War, he quickly found alternative employment as a Civil Commissariat Officer. So, too, in the Zulu War, when he was among a handful of men to escape the massacre at Isandhlwana in January 1879, and fewer still to leave such a detailed account of events. A letter to his father takes up the story, the transcript of which is held in the collection of the National Army Museum:
‘I dined the night before in his tent with Colonel Durnford and (poor?) Captain Geo. Shepstone. We were then at Rorke’s Drift about 10 miles from the Isandhlwana camp. The next morning Wed. Jan. 22, we had a dispatch from General Lord Chelmsford and Colonel Durnford sent for me to his tent. I had some breakfast with him & he gave me a verbal message to Lord Chelmsford at camp. When I got there I found the General had left the camp to attack the Zulus. About an hour after my arrival in camp, Col. Durnford arrived with his mounted native horse, the rest of the native contingency being some miles behind. The Zulus were then seen on the distant hills in small numbers (for an officer lent me his glass and I saw them myself). Colonel Durnford being superior officer took over command and orders from Colonel Pulleine and of course has all the ... (?). Very soon after the mounted native horse had arrived they were sent out to some hills on the left of the camp. Captain George Shepstone in command. I went along with him, and after going some little way, we tried to capture some cattle. They disappeared over a ridge, and on coming up we saw the Zulus, like ants in front of us, in perfect order as quiet as mice and stretched across in an even line. We estimated those we saw at 12,000. After his having given orders to the Captain of the Native Horse to retire gradually, Geo. Shepstone (& myself) rode as hard as ever we could back to the camp and reported what we had seen. A company of the 1/24 Foot was sent to back up our horsemen who by that time had retired down the hill towards the camp (I sent you a plan of the camp - which being the first I made out is slightly incorrect - I made out two other plans which have been sent to England to the War Office). We left our horses (for Geo. Shepstone & myself had rejoined the men) at the bottom of the hill, and went up and attacked the Zulus on foot, we drove them back at first, but after retiring over a ridge they were reinforced and came on in overwhelming numbers and we had a sharp run for it to our horses, which were some little distance away. We retreated towards the camp. Up to that time I had only had a revolver, so I rode into the camp and got a carbine. I then joined some soldiers in front of the camp and fired away as fast as possible, but we had to run for the Zulus came on us like ants on all sides. I had the greatest difficulty in finding my horse but got him and galloped through the camp, the Zulus being within 200 yards and then our company of the 24th with poor Colonel Durnford making a heroic and most gallant stand to cover the retreat. The scenes at the top of the camp baffles description, oxen yoked to waggons, mules, sheep, horses and men in the greatest confusion, all wildly trying to escape. I saw one gun brought over the neck of the hill, but it stuck fast among the stones. We had a very bad country to go over, large rough boulders and stones. Some distance from the camp is a small ravine which was hid by bushes, the greater part of the fugitives fortunately went above it, but several (with myself) went too low down, and met it at the centre. We could not go above as the Zulus were too near, and we had to go to the end of it before we could cross. The Zulus saw this and in large numbers tried to cut us off, I and four others were the last to get round, and we had to use our revolvers very freely, for the Zulus followed us up quickly, the ground being very bad for horses, and footmen had not the ghost of a chance. Several even were stabbed on their horses. My horse (Dick) had had a great deal of work that day and with tracking over the stones he got completely done and would not move a step further. I was in a jolly predicament when (thank God) a man of the Rocket Battery galloped up with a led horse and let me have it. I had just taken the saddle off poor Dick when a bullet struck him dead and the poor fellow who gave me the horse had only ridden ten yards when I saw him fall killed from his horse. The animal I was now on was a splendid beast, but the girth of the saddle was not strong enough and when I had galloped another two miles it burst and I came down on the stones, luckily I stuck like mad to the bridle and quickly rigged up a girth by passing the neck rein through the D of the saddle, and thereby saved myself as the Zulus were by this time close upon me. I managed all right till I got to the Buffalo River which was very difficult to cross. I myself saw several men swept down and drowned or killed. The Zulus charged us down to the river but they took care to cross lower down where it was safer. I had a dreadful ride to Helpmakaar half insensible and wet through. We got in about 6 p.m. to Helpmakaar and were up all night making ... (?) and keeping guard. We four volunteered to go with Major Spaulding next morning to Rorke’s Drift. Where as I had lost everything I possessed, horse (and my cash went down the river in my saddle bags where I had another spill getting out), Lord Chelmsford with his extreme courtesy and kindness (he is beloved by every one, and we only think of him in this sad affair), I mean chiefly for poor Col. Durnford, Geo. Shepstone and the other brave fellows, it is too awful to think of (and I have escaped on mere luck) allowed me to accompany his staff to Helpmakaar and thence to Pietermaritzburg. I am to my deep disgust now today in Natal and am proceeding up country to Ladysmith ... ’
Not mentioned in Hamer’s account is the fact he was given a new horse by Lieutenant Horace Smith-Dorrien, 95th Foot, attached as a Transport Officer, on reaching the other side of the river bank at Fugitive’s Drift, one of two incidents that were to lead to the latter being recommended for the V.C., but owing to the the wrong channels of communication being used, he never received the award. Hamer, however, did all within his power to get the recommendation accepted:
‘Mr. Hamer, the civil commissary whose life he [Smith-Dorrien] had saved, wrote copious letters to the Horse Guards and to Horace’s family but to no avail. When this became apparent, Hamer did his best to obtain for him the Royal Humane Society’s Medal but was told it was too late’ (The Man Who Disobeyed: Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien and His Enemies, refers).
Also present at Ulundi, Hamer later gained appointment as a Sergeant, afterwards Acting Sub. Inspector, in the Cape Mounted Police, and was also for two years a Deputy-Commissary of Ordnance under the Cape Government. Having then briefly returned to the U.K., he sailed for New Zealand, where he found employment as a Sub. Manager with the Trust & Agency Co. of Australasia and was married in 1888.
And over the coming years he became a prominent local figure, rising to Manager of the Trust & Agency Co. and being elected a fellow of the Royal Colonial Institute, in addition to serving with the Canterbury Yeomanry. Less happily, he was divorced in November 1900, after a much publicised case involving his adultery ‘with a woman in Wellington’.
In the following year, Hamer enlisted in No. 24 Company of the 7th N.Z. Contingent, and briefly saw service as a Lieutenant in the Boer War before being invalided home on account of sickness - as a result of which he received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for ‘Cape Colony’, ‘Transvaal’, ‘South Africa 1901’ and ‘South Africa 1902’. He also remarried in June 1902 and the couple eventually settled in Kent with her two children. Hamer’s step-daughter later left a colourful account of her new life, from which the following extract has been taken:
‘We only remained at the old home for another three years, because during that time my mother re-married a Captain in the South African War. I remember being decked out in a new green suit and hat, and my brother in a Norfolk suit, so that we could go to meet him. We were rather dubious as to what he would be like as we had heard terrible stories about stepfathers. He looked every inch a military man with his waxed moustache, as he whisked us away in a cab to go to the London Zoo, which was a great event for us. He was very kind, I guess he thought he had better make a good impression, which he did, and all through the years he lived, I must say he was always very kind to me.
When the day came for us to leave London, we were told that we were going to live in a 500 year old country inn, in Kent. Of course, this seemed a great adventure for my brother and I, and we were thrilled but very tired when the moving van arrived at 3.a.m., to take us to our new home. My stepfather had bought us a parrot in Africa so, of course, it had to go along with us.
Eventually we moved into the Chequers Inn, which however, was only to be our home for eight months. We were placed in school there, my brother at the Grammar School, and I was sent to a young ladies school. However, it was not for long, as it appeared my stepfather had a drink problem.
At the back of the Chequers Inn lies the old Castle, hundreds of years old. Our new friends spent many happy times playing there. Playing there soon came to an end, as life was very unhappy for my mother. She tried to stay as long as possible at the Inn, but the environment was not at all good, so one day, we were told that we were moving back to London, that is, my mother, brother and I. I know she was very sad as she had to leave all her furniture and start life afresh to provide for us, as my stepfather's capital had all gone. I can only realize now, in later life, how brave she was. My aunt was still living in London, but mother was independent and wanted to face her troubles alone. Of course, my brother and I were sad at leaving our new friends but knowing nothing could be done otherwise, we tried to help all we could.
We, my mother, brother and I lived a normal life at 29, Tremadoc Road until my step-father arrived and decided he was going to live without alcohol, so my mother took him in and trusted that life would be made easier for her. His endeavours did not materialize. Finally, he decided he would try again, but in another country, and Canada was his choice ... My mother had received many letters from Canada written by my step-father asking her to join him, way far, in land up the coast of British Columbia, where he had obtained a position as supervisor of a Government Salmon Hatchery ... ’
This was in 1906 and his wife duly joined him Canada shortly before the Great War, but she died in British Columbia while Hamer was visiting the U.K. in August 1920, so he decided to remain here and died at Clun, Shropshire, in September 1925; sold with a quantity of copied research, including family photographs.
DNW September 2012. £15,000
Dr David Biggins
Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana 2 years 6 months ago #53087
Picture courtesy of DNW
A rare Isandhlwana survivor’s South Africa Medal to Trumpeter J. J. Horne, Newcastle Mounted Rifles, shot through the leg he was fortunate to escape the massacre at Fugitive’s Drift and, some 50 years later, related his story to a newspaper reporter
SAGS (1) 1879 (Trumpt. Horne, Newcastle Md. Rifls.)
Around 75 European officers and men escaped the massacre at Isandhlwana, John Joseph Horne appearing on the list of survivors posted to Helpmekaar on 24 January 1879.
No better summary of Horne’s military career may be quoted than the following feature which appeared in the Natal Advertiser on 24 January 1920, on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Isandhlwana:
‘A surprising number of lsandhlwana survivors has been revealed by the 50 years’ peace celebrations. Mr. John J. Horne, an organiser of the Newcastle Mounted Volunteer Corps in 1875, and one of the survivors of lsandhlwana, is still hale and hearty and lives in Durban.
His account of the preparations for the battle at lsandhlwana shed new light on why no laager was formed. He and his corps were stationed at the far end of the camp and two members of his corps, Berning and Dinckleman, were on vedette duty about four miles out of camp Dinckleman rode in to Home with the report that the natives were approaching in mass formation.
Colonel Dumford, then in command, rode up, and Home passed on the report to him. The Colonel ordered the dispatching of the ox wagons and the formation of a laager, but shortly afterwards Colonel Pullin rode up with an auxiliary force and the laager was not formed. Why the order was countermanded is not known to Horne.
Horne escaped the massacre with a shot through the leg. Mr. Horne's career has had more excitement during a year than most people have in their lives. In 1870 he was given an appointment in the Government service at Ladysmith. He joined the Natal Frontier Guards in 1871. In 1873 they were ordered out on the Langalibalele rebellion. He was one of the first volunteers to join up when the trouble started. During the course of the campaign he went into Basutoland by way of the Double Mountains and the Bushman's Pass, under Captain Ellis, where they captured their man and brought him to the gaol at Matitzburg. In the latter end of 1875 Mr. Home was transferred to Newcastle, where he acted in many civic roles through the lack of other officials. Mr. Melmoth was magistrate of Newcastle at the time and when he received a request from a Major Dartnall to raise a mounted corps he asked Horne to do it. After official sanction had been obtained Horne raised a force of 37 men, whom he trained and drilled. In 1877 the Major inspected the corps and paid its organiser a compliment as to its efficiency. It was then brigaded with the Buffalo Border Guard between Newcastle and Dundee. A year later the corps was called up for the campaign the first leg of which ended in the disaster at Isandhlwana.’
Just 38 South Africa Medals were issued to the Newcastle Mounted Rifles, at least seven of whom were killed in action on 22 January 1879.
DNW December 2014 £5,800
Dr David Biggins
Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana 2 years 4 months ago #54146
Picture courtesy of DNW
SAGS (1) 1879 (Tr . Sibthorpe Natal Carbine...)
Reconstituted from a mount or menu-holder, edge rubbed with loss of initial and last three letters of unit, heavily polished and worn £1200-1500
Trooper Sibthorpe is confirmed as one of the European survivors of Isandhlwana (The Noble 24th, by Norman Holme refers).
Dr David Biggins
Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana 2 years 4 months ago #54148
Apropos the Henderson medals at the start of this post.
I had the box of issue for this Zulu War medal in my hand along with his Natal 1906 Bambatha Medal and his CMG - sadly the lady didn't want to part with them despite my telling her that I know who has the Zulu War medal.
Such is life I'm afraid - at least these aforementioned are still with the family out in the Dargle.
Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana 2 years 3 months ago #54761
Just watched this medal reach a hammer price of £6,000 (the same as a casualty sold just a few moments earlier).
Dr David Biggins
Medals to men who survived Isandhlwana 2 years 2 months ago #55389
Picture courtesy of DNW
SAGS (1) 1879 (Capt: W. H. Stafford 1st Nat: Nat: Contgt.);
CGHGSM (1) Basutoland (Capt. W. H. Stafford, Abalondolozi Regt.)
The Disaster of the Battle of Isandhlwana 22/1/79 Zulu War 1879 as told by Captain Walter H. Stafford a survivor of the Disaster and who was Captain of the 1st Battn. 1st Reg. of Natal Native Contingent. - January 1938.
I will be 80 years of age in a few months and one of the very few European Survivors of the Isandhlwana Disaster during the Zulu War 1879.
In response to many requests I am writing the account of my personal experience in the Zulu War 1879 and referring to events prior to the battle of Isandhlwana and the terrible Disaster which befell the British forces on the 22nd January in that year. I do not remember reading an account by a survivor and it is for that reason that I [am] acceding to the requests to tell of what happened when I was a lad of twenty years. My decision was not taken for the sake of bravado and the boyish adventures have seldom been related by me.
The whole of my life has been an outdoor one and I have by force of circumstances been compelled to practically live on the saddle as far back as I can remember and had the hard farm life experienced by the sons [of] those settlers who arrived at Port Natal in 1850 by the Minerva not been my lot I would not have been here to tell the tale.
Now the story -
Everything seems to come back to me and the account is truthful and without exaggeration.
In July 1878 the Powerful Zulu Chief Cetywayo entered British Territory in Natal and carried off two Native women, British Subjects, and put them to death. The usual explanation was demanded and the truculent attitude of the Zulu Chief caused Sir Bartle Frere to issue instructions to Lt. General Lord Chelmsford to prepare for an emergency.
The Zulu Chief had long been itching to drive the white man into the Sea and spirit of Tahaka, the mightiest of all the Kings who had conquered and tramped on every black nation within hundreds of miles, still prevailed with the Zulu Impis.
The long looked for opportunity had arrived and Cetywayo’s great army was in that state of preparation that only a general under Tahaka and Cetywayo could make it.
The Council of war was summoned and it was decided there and then and once and for all, to Bulala Abatakti (to kill the devils). That the position was grave there is not the slightest doubt. Natal was in imminent danger of being over run and there was nothing to stop the black horde except a handful of white troops.
Lord Chelmsford was instructed to stem the mighty armies which were thirsting for the blood of the hated white man. Mounted Volunteer corps were formed and also native Contingents with white officers and N.C. officers.
About this time I was engaged in transport riding between Durban and Maritzburg and during a visit to some friends of the late Captain Adjutant G. Shepstone got acquainted with this gentleman. He offered me Fifteen shillings per day and after the War a farm in Zululand.
I was eventually organised at the old Drill hall in Maritzburg and as a Lieutenant and placed under the Command of the late Captain Pailley. A few days later my friend and companion to be Harry Davis arrived in Maritzburg and also became enrolled in the Natal Native Contingent. Fort Napier was the scene of great activity and we turned out every morning for a course of drill instruction. It was decided that Krantzkop was to be the Head Quarters to which place the Magistrate would send the enrolled natives to be formed into Companies and Contingents. On the 24th December 1878 we left Maritzburg on trek. It was a Tango outfit. The oxen were mostly from the Free State improperly trained and the drivers and voorloopers all inexperienced so the difficulty of getting the column along with the loaded wagons well can be imagined by those who have had experience of ox Wagon Transport. The late Captain Montgomery from Mid-Illovo was Commandant in Charge and he was only too glad of my experience in ox transport and therefore placed the transport into my charge.
When we arrived at Krantzkop the oxen from the Free State which were unacclimatised commenced to die like flies from Red-Water and by the time the Natal Native Contingent had its full Compliment of men there was very little left of the oxen. Drilling was indulged in daily which was to me always an amusing performance.
The monotony of camp life was relieved for a few days as I was ordered to Greytown to buy up salted oxen for the Government but my visit there was short lived as I was recalled to head quarters and on my arrival was congratulated by Captain Pailly. “What, on buying oxen?” I said. He then acquainted me with the fact the previous night orders contained my promotion to the rank of Captain. After receiving the Commandant’s congratulations, he informed me I was to be placed in charge of the Amangwana tribe some 150 strong and that a flying column of seven such companies had to enter Zululand and that my company was also to accompany this Column.
The following morning we were once more on the move and joined Colonel Durnford’s column at Burring Hotel about nine miles from Greytown. As far as I can recollect the following officers, whose names recall many old Natal and East-Griqualand families, were in charge of different native companies - Charlie Raw, Wyalt Vouse (?), Nourse, Barton, Harry Davis, Henderson and myself. Joe Lister and Wallace Erskine were amongst the Lieutenants and Andrews and some N.C. Officers.
On a Sunday evening the column halted at Helpmakaar and the following morning saw us camped in enemy territory on a flat across the river. There was no Laager and I felt at the time that the little column could be wiped out of existence unless some provisions could be made for defence. That evening was the Eve preceding the terrible tragedy of Isandhlwana which was to be enacted next day.
It comes back again to my memory I was ordered to place a picket and after having done so was summoned to the Colonel’s tent, Colonels Durnford and Shepstone and “Tom” the Colonel’s Cook were present. I was also surprised to see Wally Erskine who was on Picket duty in the tent also.
Colonel Durnford informed me that the native picket in Erskine’s charge had refused to remain at their post, although this news was disagreeable it was not altogether a surprise to one who had been brought up amongst the Natal natives. The names Tahaka and Cetywayo were terrifying to these poor devils, for as far as they could remember the native abafazi (woman) had used those names to frighten the children when they became unruly and they had never been allowed to forget the mighty deeds performed by the Zulu armies. I might mention that the Amangwana regiment of which I was in charge were Chief Nowadis men and were drawn from the district of Little Tugela.
Harry Davis was in charge of Jantjies Hlubis. It has always been my opinion that the formation of the native Contingents as a fighting unit was a force. The terror of Zulu Impis held them spell bound and to their minds the Zulu army was invincible. After placing Lieutenant Andrews in charge of a fresh picket the rest of the evening was spent over a game of cards. The popular games in those days were ‘Twenty-five’ and ‘All -four’. A chap by name Lieutenant Black who had not been long out in this Country was the loser and I remember that officer staking his farm in Zululand against his opponents prospective piece of ground. I jokingly told him that the only plot of ground he would ever get in Zululand [was] one measuring seven foot by four feet. There is many a true word said in jest, and sad to relate the poor fellow fell from a Zulu Assegai about thirteen hours later at the Massacre of Isandhlwana.
We had not long turned in when orders were received to break up camp owing to a despatch come through with Lieutenant Cochrane to the effect that the column was to move up to Isandhlwana. At daybreak the whole column was well under way and it must have been between 8.30 a.m. and 9 a.m. that we arrived at the fatal spot when, I understand the movements of large bodies of the enemy had already been reported by the scouts. The horses had been off-saddled and breakfast was hardly thought of when Captain Barton was Senior Captain was sent for by Colonel Durnford. Captain Barton could not be found at the moment, so I duly reported when Colonel Durnford instructed me to accompany him. Together we rode eastwards through the camp to where the artillery were Colonel Pulleine were posted (sic).
Colonel Durnford and Captain Shepstone entered Pulleine’s tent whilst I remained outside.
From what I could hear an argument was taking place between Pulleine and Durnford as to who was the senior. Colonel Pulleine appeared to give way and I heard Colonel Durnford say “You had orders to draw in the camp.” Alas there was no time for this now as the fighting had already commenced. It is understood that Lord Chelmsford who moved out of Isandhlwana the previous day, to attack Matyana and a Zulu force twelve or fourteen miles off, left explicit instructions for the Isandhlwana camp to be drawn in by Pulleine, who was in command until the arrival of Colonel Durnford.
I can never understand to this day why this was not done.
The advice to form laager in every camp, when campaigning against Zulu, had been told and retold to the British by the Boer advisers over and over again. It was the old, old mistake of under rating an enemy that had been made by the British before and also the fatal mistake at Isandhlwana.
I am of the opinion and what I say was confirmed at Rorke’s Drift, that had a laager been formed at Isandhlwana with the wagons, boulders, boxes etc., we could have withstood the Zulu armies at any rate until such time as reinforcements arrived.
After leaving Pulleine’s tent we rode back and Colonel Durnford gave orders that full ammunition was to be issued. It may here be mentioned that the native Contingent were armed with rifles to the extent of one to every ten men, that remainder carrying assegais and shields.
The newly arrived troops were in action a very short time after their arrival in camp. Lieutenant Russell with his Rocket Battery, and who lost his like that day, was ordered to the extreme right and about 200 yards away. It is hard what position the other officers occupied but we were all in a line on the first ridge of Isandhlwana and by the time these dispositions had taken place there was a force of some 2,000 Zulu steadily advancing about 700 yards off. My first shot at 800 yards went over the enemy and I distinctly recollect the second shot with my sight at 700 yards to have got on the target. This is how I judged the distance of the enemy at the [time] I ran over to Barton and asked him to let Colonel Durnford know that a large force of the enemy was in front of us. He pulled out his pocket book, wrote down the message and sent it over by a native messenger. Barton then suggested that we close up our forces, which we did, and the firing now became general.
The Zulu Impis continued their steady advance, splendidly their savages pressed forward and when within 300 yards the native Contingents began to waver and bolted. When we came within sight of the ravine separating the flat from the hill I found that our companies were the last to bolt, and that the whole of our forces had retired to this position and were still there when we arrived.
The one exception being Lieutenant Roberts of Pinetown who had managed to get his men into a cattle Kraal on the ledge of the ridge. I heard subsequently that this officer and his men had been shelled by our Artillery and that Roberts met his death as a result of this blunder.
Our Artillery fire was erratic owing to the fact that the guns had not been unlimbered and were on the carriages to which the horses were naturally excited and became unmanageable. The ammunition by this time was running very short.
I rushed back to camp to get further supplies. This took time as in those days the ammunition boxes lids were screwed down with nine screws and unlike the present day box which is never easily opened. On returning to my post with the ammunition box, assisted by [one] of my Indunas whose name was “Intini” and who lost his life shortly after, I noticed that the whole of our force was retiring on to the camp in the face of the enemy, who were in crescent formation, the horns being thrown out well to the left and to the right.
The first man to come up to me was Charlie Raw who said “Stafford where is your horse?” I replied that I had left it tied to the wagon. He said “You had better get hold of it as it is all up with us. There appeared to be no one in command. Colonel Durnford had been killed. The only orders that I heard given out at the camp were by a young Imperial officer of the 2nd 24th Regiment who was endeavouring to rally the remnants of his men and actually got them into some sort of formation.
It is well known that in every camp there are a number of non-combatants, and men on the sick list, who are termed ‘the sick, lame and lazy’. From what I saw afterwards these men quitted the camp when they realised the first danger and we passed many killed who could not possibly have taken part in the fighting. A great many of these unfortunate men were cut up by the encircling movement of the right horn which had now commenced to work round to our rear and cut off any retreat by the Main Road on the side of Isandhlwana. This was the road we travelled when entering the camp earlier in the day.
The battle had now developed into hand to hand fighting and small parties of men were selling their lives dearly in the fearfully unequal contest brought about by blundering and incompetence.
The silent advance of the Zulus had developed into a quick run, accompanied [by] exultant shouting and the camp was being fast surrounded. There was no hope of escape for the infantrymen, no quarter was expected and none given. It was now a case of every man for himself and a chance was offered the mounted men owing to a gap between two of the Zulu regiments neglecting to make a junction.
When attempting to retreat by the road we were forced to verge to the left. It was one of those incredible short spaces in a man’s life which live in his memory. Moments which fill a life time. Thanks to the noble animals we rode to which terror seemed to impart strength and speed we fought our way through and then commenced a race for life over country consisting of dongas and stone, where one would hesitate to travel in ordinary circumstances.
The fleet footed Zulu kept at our heels and a small distance gained was temporarily lost owing to the fact that at one of the dongas I came across a wounded man and after several attempts to get his foot into the stirrup iron of my saddle I eventually pulled him up behind me. He has an assegai wound under his arm and was already so weak from loss of blood that I could hardly feel his grip on me. All went well for a few hundred yards during which time he managed to tell me that his name was Young of Lonsdale’s Horse. We were now approaching a wide donga about twelve feet in width and in taking the jump my horse’s hind feet could not have gained a firm footing on the other side and during the horse’s recovery poor Young lost his seat and fell back. By this time the pursuers were were right on us and Harry Davis came up alongside and made a splendid revolver shot putting a bullet through the head of the nearest Zulu. I was carrying a Martini Henri Carbine on my thigh and using it at every available opportunity but I had only seven rounds of ammunition left.
Shortly after we came across Lieutenant Erskine who was lying against a rock with an assegai wound through the calf of his leg quite exhausted and unable to proceed further. Opportunely I was able to get Erskine up behind me just in the nick of time. The scene now baffles description. It was a perfect pandemonium. Loose mules and pack horses and oxen, some with ghastly gashes were galloping over the veld at will, some with saddles and others with blinker only. How sad to think what these noble animals are called upon to suffer in their masters’ wars. Fortune favoured us now as a large white horse with a rein round his neck came up alongside us evidently instinct prompted him to seek protection and we were able to catch the charger. The rein was twisted round the lower jaw, as all youngsters who are brought up on a farm learn to do, and Erskine was pleased to have his brave back.
The river was banks high as quite to be expected in the rainy months of January. A strange sight greeted us as we got to the edge. Men were struggling in the water. The various uniforms presented all the colours of the rainbow. Half a dozen bodies were washed ashore and [on] the bank at the end of the river on our side. This confirmed my opinion that those non-combatants left the camp when the first danger was noticed.
The bank of the river that we came to was very steep, rugged and bushy and to the best of my recollection there was [a] narrow flat on this side running into a Krantz higher up. The remnant of our men were gathering there. I noticed the late Joseph Lester amongst them. He was an old Pondal and trader from my part of the world and he and I were well acquainted. Old Lester was very excited and could not swim. I advised him to go up to where the current was not so strong and that directly my horse got into the water I would slip off its back and catch hold of its tail and be towed to the other side and advised him to do the same. By this method all those who could not swim were safely brought across the river. I think there were thirty-three in all.
When slipping off the back of my horse as it got into the river I noticed that he had an assegai wound about 6 inches from the crupper staple of my saddle and was bleeding profusely. How he got the wound and when, I have no idea, unless the assegai was thrown when poor Young fell off into the donga.
It may be of interest to the Botha family of Greytown to learn that my horse was purchased from a Mr Botha of Krantzkop, the horse ridden by Davis was bred by my late father Edward Stafford of Stafford’s Post near Harding, Natal, bred by a stallion purchased from the late Thomas Foster of ‘Stainton’ Ixopo, Natal.
The only Imperial Army officer with us who escaped was Captain Essex of the 2nd 24th Regiment and one of the Mounted Infantry men who ran all the way and kept up to us. He was gifted with marvellous staying power.
It was here decided to climb to a very high point which was as high as the hills on the opposite side of the river. There was no sign of the enemy, who, evidently finding that we had out paced them, either made off to intercept another party or returned to participate in the looting of the camp at Isandhlwana.
Had it not been for the late Charlie Raw’s advice, to whom I owe my life, I would certainly have suffered the fate of those whom lost their lives there. I had no intention whatever of looking for my horse as I never dreamt of the danger I was in being inexperienced and firmly convinced, from what had been drummed into me since I was a child, that the British soldiers were invincible and ~I thought that a stand would be made.
After Fugitives Drift had been negotiated a consultation took place. We placed ourselves under Captain Essex’s command. Our arms consisted seven rifles and 33 rounds of ammunition and it was decided to make for Helpmakaar, where we formed a laager and stood to arms all night.
We know nothing about [the] Rorke’s Drift fight and were fully under the impression that the Zulus had followed up the victory and were making their way to Maritzburg. At daybreak, therefore, when Captain Essex called for volunteers to take the news to Maritzburg, the ride was looked upon as one of great danger, I volunteered my service on the condition that I was allowed the service of companion Harry Davis.
Both of us were from the Harding district. We started off on our long ride which was to take us 24 hours, and we rode hard and fast. At Mooi River (Natal) we meet Major Grenfell with a party of Engineers, whom we acquainted with the bad news. He gave me a letter to Sir Bartle Frere stating that he knew me personally and that thorough reliance could be placed on what I said. He provided two fresh horses for Davis and myself and a warrant empowering me to commandeer what other horses we require en-route. We once more hit the breeze for Maritzburg.
At Barrups Hotel we changed horses again and pushed on to Greytown where the Magistrate provided the needful in two fresh horses. After a hearty meal and a refresher at Mrs Plants Hotel we pressed on. At Seven Oaks we woke the post cart stable boys and took out two cream post horses to ride leaving the other two at the Post Cart Stable. The creams were not a success under the saddle so we changed them at Umgeni for two other mounts one, of which we commandeered from an old Kehla (ring headed native) at the bridge, whom we told to at the Plough Hotel in Maritzburg where he would be rewarded.
It was at day break, tired and dead beat that Maritzburg was reached and we arrived at Government House when the native was preparing to light the early morning fire. I woke up the Hon. W. Lyttleton and handed him the despatches, who led us up to Sir Bartle Frere’s room.
After the detailed description was given by us we were instructed to go to our hotel and not say a word. In those days the post or mail Cart ran from Maritzburg to Kokstad and passed through my father’s farm ‘Stafford’s Post’ and as I met Baartman Uys the driver of the Cart, I asked him when passing to tell my people that we had met with disaster and that Harry Davis and myself were well, he must have told this to one or two of his friends as the news spread like wild fire.
The whole of Natal that evening was in a state of panic and those people who possessed conveyances left the Natal Capital, and fortifications and barricades were erected in the centre of the town. On Lord Chelmsford’s arrival a few days later Davis and I were sent for and closely questioned for an hour and we left the following day to join our respective units.
About 9 months after the Zulu War I received [a letter] from Sir Garnet Wolsley in which he told me that he had received a letter from Lieutenant Erskine giving him an account of how I had saved his life and that I should receive some recognition for any service. I regret to say that I ignored his letter and nothing further transpired. Later I handed this document to a Mr Coter of Kokstad, a friend of our family and some months later he informed me he had lost it. The last I saw of Lieutenant Erskine was at Helpmakaar lying in some biscuit boxes. He thanked me and said when I found him and picked him up on the veld he was praying for a merciful death. Those are passing moments in the lives of men which endear them to one another.
I have now stated my experiences as a lad of 20 years. I subsequently took part in the Basuto War 1880-1881 having before the Zulu War taken part in the Griqua Rebellion at Kokstad in 1878. In conclusion I would like to add that the gifts of farms to those who took part in the Zulu War never materialised.
22. 3. 79.
Copy of Reference.
This is to certify that Mr W. H. Stafford joined the Natal Native Constabulary under my command as a Lieutenant and that in consideration of his zeal and the efficient manner he discharged his duties in assisting in organising the N.N.C. Regt. he was promoted to a Captaincy and placed in command of the Amangwana Tribe. He was detailed to accompany Colonel Durnford into Zululand and was present at the battle of Isandhlwana and I am pleased to state that it has been reported to me that he has fulfilled the trust which I placed in him in promoting him, as he acted with Heroism in saving the life of his Lieutenant W. Erskine who was wounded and whom he carried out to safety behind his horse.
Signed A. N. M. Montgomery
1st Bat. 1st Regt. N.N.C.
Dr David Biggins
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