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Help and advice for Welsh Soldiers in the Zulu War

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Welsh Soldiers in the Zulu War

Alan Conway, National Library of Wales journal Vol XI/1 Summer 1959.

Extracted onto the pages of GENUKI with the kind permission of the National Library of Wales

This is a complete extract of this article [Gareth Hicks 2003]

In January 1875 the 1st Battalion of the 24th Regiment of Foot (The Warwickshire Regiment) 1  landed at Cape Town, the first time for over sixty years that the Regiment had been in South Africa. During this period the area of British rule had been extended northwards to the Orange River and eastwards to the Great Kei. Almost coincidental with the extension of British authority was the development of the Zulus from a minor Bantu tribe to a highly organised military state, pre-eminent for its fighting efficiency among the African peoples. The chief who was responsible for this growth in power was Chaka who ruthlessly set about the extermination of his enemies and abolished the older ideas of submission and payment of tribute by the vanquished. By 1823 Chaka was the master of present day Natal and the Zulu nation became synonymous with its fighting machine, the regiment not the clan being paramount.

In 1826 Chaka was murdered by his brother, Dingaan, who kept the Zulu army up to standard but launched no further campaigns of conquest. Instead, in the late 1830's, Dingaan found himself confronted by the Boers who were moving into northern Natal. After the massacre at Umgunggundhlovu in February 1838 and the pillaging of Port Natal, the position of the Boers seemed to be extremely serious but they rallied under Andries Pretorious and, relying on their laagers which had proved so effective against the Matabele, they crushed the Zulus at Blood River and followed this up in 1840 by advancing into Zululand, accompanied by Dingaan's brother, Panda; Dingaan was defeated and Panda was proclaimed King of the Zulus. The latter, although weak and unwarlike or possibly because of this, managed to hold his position until 1873 with Theophilus Shepstone playing the part of his 'Grey Eminence'. In 1856, however, Panda's son, Cetewayo, had been recognised as heir-apparent by the Natal Government and had come increasingly to exercise more authority so that by the time of Panda's death there was no alternative but to recognise Cetewayo as King, although the opportunity was taken to lay down rules for the reform of Zulu government. Zulu customs, however barbaric, were no real danger to the inhabitants of Natal but the revival of Chaka's fighting machine was. Fully mobilised, 50,000 highly disciplined fighting-men could be put in the field; extremely mobile, particularly over rough ground, and employing the 'chest and horns' tactics of encirclement, the Zulu impis were formidable foes.

Until 1878, the Boers remained the chief enemy of the Zulus but with the annexation of the Transvaal, the British came face to face with their protege, Cetewayo, who was firmly convinced of Shepstone's treachery towards him. Sir Bartle Frere, moreover, who had been sent out by Carnarvon as Governor of Cape Colony and High Commissioner just prior to the annexation of the Transvaal, ...................

  • 1. In 1873 the Twenty-Fourth Regiment, despite its Warwickshire connection, was allotted a 'brigade depot' at Brecon and henceforward drew increasingly for recruits upon the counties of Brecon, Cardigan, Monmouth and Radnor. It is not surprising, therefore, that when the reform of Infantry of the Line on a territorial basis took place in 1881, the title of 'Second Warwickshire', given it in 1782, was replaced by that of 'The South Wales Borderers'.

................. was quite clear in his own mind that the centre of native disturbances was Cetewayo and that decisive action would have to be taken sooner or later against the Zulus.

[The map/diagram appearing at this point in the article showing the main towns/rivers of Natal and Zululand has not been copied here]

Five companies of the 1st Battalion 24th Foot, released from the 'Kaffir War', were moved into Natal and reinforcements were requested from England. The fall of Carnarvon and his replacement by Hicks Beach made things more difficult for Frere who was forbidden, in December 1878, to become involved in a war with the Zulus. Frere, however, had already taken action by sending an ultimatum to Cetewayo, the crux of it being a demand, virtually, for the breaking up of the ...........

............ Zulu army. As the army was the Zulu state, this was an invitation to national suicide which even Panda could not have accepted let alone Cetewayo. No answer came from the Zulu king and on the last day of 1878, British troops crossed the frontier into Zululand. What Frere needed was a swift, decisive and inexpensive campaign which would remove the danger of the Zulus, strengthen British prestige in the Transvaal and pave the way for the re-union of South Africa under the paramount power of Great Britain.

The advance on Cetewayo's kraal at Ulundi was to be undertaken by four columns, one starting from near the mouth of the Tugela River, a second crossing at Middle Drift, five miles below Rorke's Drift, a third starting from Utrecht in the south-east Transvaal and the main column, to which both battalions of the 24th Regiment were assigned, crossing at Rorke's Drift. A preliminary concentration of the main column was made at Helpmakaar where Frere's optimism with regard to a swift and decisive campaign was shared by Private Owen Ellis.

From Private Ellis (son of Mr. Thomas Ellis, 1 Cross Keys Court, Caernarvon) to his father and family. 1

1st Battalion 24th Regiment,
Helpmakaar, Cape Colony,
 31 December, 1878.

............The second battalion of the 24th Regiment arrived here about 4 o'clock on Sunday afternoon. 2 They came from Grey Town and the first battalion welcomed them by treating them to tea and bread and meat. There are also here three companies of the Cape mounted police and many volunteers ... King Cetywayo has a brother who is a great chief of the Zulus. This chief resides about ten miles from this place and he has about 2000 Zulus under his command. He has proclaimed against his brother and has allied with the British Government to fight against him. The Government has supplied his fighting men with Martini rifles and ammunition. If Cetywayo does not come to terms, we will demand his lands, kill his people as they come across our path and burn all his kraals. The Zulu chief claims the title of King and this is his reason for making war against his brother, Cetywayo. The chief is acquainted with every hole and corner in the country and he will remain with the English army unless a reply from the King is received by the appointed day. The farmers who live in the surrounding country say that the Zulus will only be tempted to fight the Europeans once and that they will afterwards fly away for their lives, because they have not the weapons which we have ....
   Two thousand Zulus have now arrived here. They are those that intend fighting against King Cetywayo. They were met by the band of the 1st Battalion of the 24th Regiment and were played into camp. The leader of the Zulus, King Cetywayo's brother, appears to be a very stalwart fellow. We had a splendid sight of the two thousand Zulus marching; they have now encamped above us on a little hill ....

Neither Atkinson nor Sir Reginald Coupland 3 specifically identify the Zulu troops with Cetewayo's brother and Ellis may have confused this alignment with ..................

  • 1. North Wales Express, 21 February 1879.
  • 2. C. T. ATKINSON, The South Wales Borderers, 24th Foot, 1689-1937, (Cambridge University Press, 1937) p. 329, gives the arrival of the 2nd Battalion at Helpmakaar as 'early in January'.
  • 3. Sir Reginald Coupland, Zulu Battle Piece, Isandhlwana, (London, 1948).

 ..................... the earlier Panda-Dingaan situation although he seemed clear in his own mind that Cetewayo's brother had joined with the British.

Early in January the column moved from Helpmakaar to Rorke's Drift and, as no reply had been received from Cetewayo by 11 January, the Buffalo River was crossed with pontoons. In a second letter, written from Rorke's Drift on 15 January, Private Ellis revealed that the morale of the column was high and that light marching order and seventeen days' rations indicated that a prolonged campaign was not anticipated.

From Private Owen Ellis to his father and family. 1

Rorke's Drift.
 15 January 1879.

Since the time I sent you my last letter I have removed about ten miles inland viz., to the border of Zululand. We are about to march from this place at an early date in order to proceed through and occupy the country of the Zulus, inasmuch as King Cetywayo did not submit to the terms demanded by the British Government. It is now too late for him as we have crossed the Buffalo River by means of pontoons. Rorke's Drift is the name by which the place where we crossed is known. Sooner the better we march through Cetywayo's country, as we have about one hundred miles to travel from this locality to the place where the King resides, viz., the 'Grand Kraals'. After arriving there, the Queen's flag will be hoisted and King Cetywayo will be made into atoms if captured by us and unless he has escaped like Kreli. 2  Several English magistrates have come with us in order to be appointed to magisterial offices in Zululand and to administer the English law in that country. This war will be over in two months' time and then we shall all be hurrying towards England. We are about to capture all the cattle belonging to the Zulus and also to burn their kraals; and if they dare to face us with the intention of fighting, well, woe be to them! As in Transkei formerly they shall be killed as they come across us. We intend starting nine days hence from Rorke's Drift for the 'Grand Kraals' where King Cetywayo resides ...........The order of march is as follows:- Firstly, there is Cetywayo's brother with 2000 of his fighting men well armed with rifles and ammunition; secondly, 500 mounted men with rifles; thirdly, a battery belonging to the artillery with six 6-pounders; fourthly, 500 Cape mounted police; fifthly, 1 - 24th Regiment; and sixthly, 2 - 24th Regiment. All much at a distance from each other as you see the militia do in companies. There is another column about to start simultaneously within about seventy miles of this place, so as to meet together. This column which starts from a place called Utrecht, consisting of the 80th and the 3rd Buffs Regiments. Another column comprising the 90th and 13th Regiments depart from a place called Stanzer; therefore, you will observe that all the troops will meet each other at the Grand Kraals. General Thesiger is with us and he has remained with us since the time we left Pietermaritzburg. All our clothes or kits have been sent down to Durban .... We have only enough clothes to change, viz. two shirts, two pairs of stockings, two pairs of trousers, etc. Our best clothes have been packed on board the ship at Durban. There are only seventeen days' rations for every man; so I think that we shall not be a long time doing our work. I know that we shall arrive at the Grand Kraals in about a week's time.......
   We have already captured 1300 head of animals, comprising cattle, horses and goats ... The bands of the first and second battalions of the 24th Regiment have been sent.............

  • 1. North Wales Express, 28 February 1879.
  • 2. Kreli was chief of the Galekas. Together with Sandili, chief of the Gaikas, he led the 1878 rebellion in the Transkei and was defeated by the Twenty-Fourth Regiment in May. Kreli escaped but Sandili was shot in June when trying to escape from the Buffalo Poort. See C. T. Atkinson, The South Wales Borderers 24th Foot, pp. 320, 322, 326. Durban, where they will await our return to proceed on board the ship, whenever that will take place. I am happy to tell you that all the boys and myself are in excellent health ...   


Once across the Buffalo River, preliminary reconnaissance showed that road making across the marshy Bashee valley would be necessary before the advance could continue   1  but the work progressed so well that by January 20, General Thesiger (Lord Chelmsford since the death of his father in October 1878) could order an advance. The day before, Private Ellis in a last letter to his family was mainly concerned with the question of where he would be going after the war.

From Private Owen Ellis to his father and family. 2

Rorke's Drift.
 C Company, 1-24th Regiment,
 Zululand, Cape Colony.
 19 January 1879.

...I send you this letter in order that you may understand that we are shifting from Rorke's Drift at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning, the 20th of January for the Grand Kraals of King Cetywayo and perhaps it will take us a week or nine days to reach that place. All the regiments, viz. nine regiments besides the Artillery, the Cavalry and the Cape Mounted Police will meet each other at the Grand Kraals and occupy the country and appoint English magistrates to administer the law unless Cetywayo will submit to the terms now laid before him. Not a single word has yet been received from him but it is said that he is willing to conform to every demand except one and that is giving up his arms. The English Government will therefore do with him as was done with Kreli and Sandili in Transkei....
We had a sermon on the field this morning. The 1-24th Regiment, the 2-24th Regiment, the Artillery, the Cape Mounted Police and the Cavalry had formed themselves into a square, with the chaplain, General Thesiger and all the staff officers in the centre, the drum constituting the pulpit....
After this war is over we shall not be barely a fortnight before reaching Cape Town .... It is said that we shall embark at Durban and take up the wives in passing .... If they would only finish with this row so that I might go to some town where I could see something besides grass land! I should like to go to Cape Town rather than Durban because there are fine barracks at that place and a large town too in which one may see something; but, never mind, we shall not be long before going to Cape Town or Durban and if I have time to write a line or two before embarking, I will send to let you know a little about the history of the journey, how I came through it and other minor matters....

 P.S. Perhaps I shall be for a long time after this without writing; therefore, don't be uneasy about a letter. I will send as early as possible. Good afternoon.

Leaving B Company of the 2nd Battalion to guard the hospital and store depot at Rorke's Drift, the column moved about seven miles to the next camp at Isandhlwana which Chelmsford had chosen three days earlier, a strong defensive .....

  • 1. This reveals only too clearly the immobility of the British forces in comparison with those of the Zulus.
  • 2. North Wales Express, 7 March 1879. An editorial note states that 'The official list of the officers and privates of the ill-fated 24th Regiment who were killed at the battle of Isandula (sic), Zululand, was published yesterday. Among the names which include those of many Welshmen we find that of Private Owen Ellis ... The deceased soldier with several other young men from this town, joined the 24th Regiment about five years ago'.

 ............... position rising to over 500 feet above the plain with the one weakness that the position was itself commanded at close quarters on the north. By nightfall on 20 January most of the column had encamped. Chelmsford had made a preliminary reconnaissance in the afternoon but had seen no Zulus. As Isandhlwana was only intended to be a temporary halt before the next stage of the advance to Isipezi, twelve miles further on, no entrenchments nor laagers were constructed. In any case, it was not anticipated that the Zulus would be encountered in strength until much nearer Ulundi. This oversight was but the prelude to a tragedy of errors.

The next morning a reconnaissance in force towards Isipezi was decided upon. Nothing larger than Zulu patrols was seen until the afternoon when Major Dartnell with the mounted troops established contact with the Zulus in some strength towards the south-east. As they seemed reluctant to engage, Dartnell decided to bivouac for the night and to push the attack the next morning with reinforcements from the main camp. Before dawn on 22 January, Chelmsford, misled as to the strength of the Zulus opposing Dartnell, advanced to his support with half the troops from Isandhlwana leaving instructions for Colonel Durnford to advance from Rorke's Drift to Isandhlwana. Chelmsford and Dartnell were unable to come to grips with the Zulus who withdrew towards Isipezi Mountain followed by the British troops. Despite reports that the Zulus were concentrating their forces against Isandhlwana, the situation as seen through the glass seemed normal and under control so that it was not until afternoon that Chelmsford decided to return to camp, still unaware that anything was seriously wrong. At four o'clock, however, definite news reached him that disaster had overtaken the camp and his forces pushed forward as fast as they could, reaching the camp just about sunset. Chelmsford's forces deployed into line and advanced in the darkness with fixed bayonets only to find the camp deserted by all but the dead. Brief accounts of this phase of the disaster are contained in two letters written by Privates Morgans and Ward of the 2nd Battalion at the beginning of February.

From Private John Morgans, No, 15115, 2-24th Regiment, to his brother. 1

Natal Colony,
 South Africa.
 1 February 1879.

.... I am very sorry to tell you that on the 22nd of January 1879 I had a narrow escape of my life, also the regiment. We went out early that morning, before daybreak, to attack the Zulus; we went about sixteen miles from camp and, whilst we were away the Zulus came around the hill and about 7000 of them attacked the camp while we were away looking for them, and they killed about 100 of ours and five companies of the 1-24th Regiment, about 400 men altogether. So when we were coming back to camp, on half way the general came to meet us and he made us to sit down while he was speaking to us. He told us that our camp was attacked by the Zulus and that our men fought like warriors in the camp trying to save it but the Zulus were too strong. ..........

  • 1. North Wales Express, 11 April 1879.

........... Also, he told us that we must gain our camp back before morning, so we started away on time, the big guns (cannons) in the centre. The 24th was formed in line with fixed bayonets. The big guns fired about twelve shells and we fired a volley and, after we had done that, we charged in double march up to the old camping ground. It was dark at the time and we heard the enemy retiring. The first thing I came across when I came to the ground was four dead bodies with their inside out and when we came a little closer to the spot, the tents were burnt and torn to pieces, and when we formed a piquet, I found a dead man and when I looked about it was a friend of mine, old P.Q. as I used to call him. There was about sixteen of my draft killed. So we had to retire back across the river (Buffalo River) and back to Natal colony; we went in about forty miles to Zululand and had to retire back to Natal colony .... There is about 16,000 Zulus waiting for us the other side of the river. So I hope I won't die out in this country but reach my old home. Give the news to my relations near.
So I leave you now and hope that all are well. Don't vex about me if I die like a soldier.

From Private Francis Ward, No. 1486 C Company, 2-24 Regiment to his aunt, Mrs. Edmunds, late of the Prince Albert Inn, Aberdare.   1

Rorke's Drift, Natal.
 2 February 1879

I am glad to say that I enjoy capital health and hope to continue so. I am fully aware that you know that I have enlisted. I am now indeed sorry for it. I was under the influence of drink when I did so. I have already served fifteen months .... and I must go through it the best way I can. Ever since we arrived in this country we have been on active service and, most likely, operations will not be over for the next twelve months. I hope and trust that God Almighty will guide me safe through all, so that I may return to my dear native country once more. I daresay that you are aware that Tom Jones, Aunt Betsy's son, was in the same regiment as myself. It is with very deep emotion and regret that I have to acquaint you of his sad death. He was killed on the 22nd of January at Isandula Camp in Zululand, the territory we invaded. There were lost on our side 993 men. I can assure you, dear aunt, it was a most ghastly sight to witness. After our poor fellows were shot, they were brutally mutilated. Kindly write to poor Tom's mother and let her know of his death. I was speaking to him the night before and he requested me to write home if anything should happen to him, also he said he would do the same for me....

He was on guard this day and the company he belonged to went out with five other companies, we having been acquainted that the enemy was not far distant. We left camp at daybreak. In the meantime, the enemy was watching our movements and marched on our right flank towards the camp, which they captured after a terrible struggle. They cut up every man of ours, except three that managed to escape. The enemy brought a force of about 15,000 against our handful of men. Our aide-de-camp was sent out after the column to fetch them back with all haste, the reason being that the enemy had captured our camp. We arrived near camp when it got dark. We opened into skirmishing order and we had four seven-pounders in the centre of the column. They throwed some shells and rocket to the left of the camp; also we fired a few volleys as well before we advanced towards the camp. We had our bayonets fixed; we captured the camp; but the enemy had disappeared---but before they retired, they burnt all things that belonged to us and took away with them one million rounds of ammunition and the colours of our battalion; and the first battalion of ours lost five companies of men and officers; also the artillery and volunteers lost every man; indeed, it was a terrible calamity.

Dear Aunt, I wish I had listened to your good advice and give up the drink, I would not be where I am at present .....

  • 1. North Wales Express, 18 April 1879.

.....If I should have the same fate as poor Tom, tell Mary, my youngest sister, to claim what belongs to me to the War Office but I sincerely hope that I shall be spared to return home again. There will be many poor fellows yet will have their heads laid low before the war is over. Also tell poor Tom's mother to write to the War Office for his money....

The earlier movements of Dartnell and Chelmsford had been quickly appreciated by the Zulus who proceeded to mass their strength against the depleted forces at Isandhlwana leaving little more than token forces to keep Chelmsford occupied. Early on the morning of 22 January, Lieutenant-Colonel Pulleine became aware of the presence of Zulus to the northward of the camp and positioned his forces for its defence. A little after ten o'clock, Colonel Durnford arrived with his reinforcements of Basutos and two companies of the Natal Native Contingent. Being senior to Pulleine, he took over command of the camp. Native scouts were sent out to discover the strength of the Zulus towards the north and, on receipt of a message that the Zulus were retreating, Durnford decided to follow them up with his native forces on the understanding with Pulleine that should he encounter the enemy in force greater than expected, white reinforcements would be sent to his assistance. This was precisely what occurred and Durnford with Pulleine's reinforcements had to retreat under heavy pressure from the Zulu regiments. The 'horns' of the Zulu impi probed forward to encircle the camp but despite heavy attacks on its centre, the 24th Regiment by a steady fire held their position. Unfortunately, ammunition began to dwindle at the most critical point of the battle because the ammunition boxes were screwed down and access to the ammunition was very difficult and slow. The Zulus rallied, the Natal Native Contingent broke and fled, the enemy poured through the gap and despite desperate defence in isolated groups, the defenders were slaughtered almost to a man. Those who were able to make their escape towards the Buffalo River found the terrain very rough (although ideal for the highly mobile Zulus) and the river running high so that, according to Atkinson, only three men from the ranks of the 24th Regiment reached safety. 1 The accounts of two further survivors, Thomas Thomas and Edward Evans give brief but graphic descriptions of the battle and the subsequent flight.

From Edward Evans of Llawrglyn, near Llanidloes who escaped from Isandula to his mother and brother. 2

3 February 1879.

You know nothing of the horrors of war and if I was to write from now till Christmas, I could never explain half what I have seen or how I was saved. Myself and two more comrades rode our horses through the centre of their line of fire and hundreds of guns pointing at us; but I can assure you it was a ride for life. Many of our noble heroes that escaped from the hands of the enemy lost their lives in crossing the Buffalo River. Thank God for learning me to swim. My horse fell in the water and both of us went down together and both swam out again---but a very hard struggle. I had to let go my rifle and ammunition and everything I had...

  • 1. Three others attached to the Rocket Battery also escaped. Atkinson, p. 345.
  • 2. North Wales Express,  11 April 1879.

From No. 1415 Thomas Thomas of Ystalyfera to his Uncle and Aunt.  1

Rorke's Drift.
 19 February 1879

....I am very sorry to tell you that we see very hard times of it out here now. We are on the march all the time and we have not seen a bit of bread this last two months, only biscuits all the time and we are often on the road for two or three days at a stretch, that we don't get coffee or tea, only dry biscuit; it is an awful place for water. Another thing, we have to write with powder and water and I had to pay fourpence for this sheet of paper and envelope...
We had a very hard fight for about three hours at a place called Isandhlwana. The Zulus attacked our camp and as soon as we saw them coming, we struck the tents and formed square around the ammunition, and we kept them back for three hours. The General was not with us at the time; he was out somewhere and the colonel that was in command of us (as soon as he saw the Zulus retiring) ordered us to advance after them. We went about 300 yards and they were so many that they came in our rear and took the camp and everything that belonged to us; they came about us so thick that we could not handle our guns and then we knocked them down with the butt of the gun; the Zulus killed about 1841 of our fellows altogether but we ourselves killed some of the volunteers because they were running away and the colonel in command shot himself because he knew he had done wrong. He should not have put us to advance after them and leave the ammunition. However, we killed about 6000 that day. David Davies has been killed....

Thomas' statement that 'the colonel in command shot himself ' (referring probably to Durnford but possibly to Pulleine) is hard to credit; at the same time it is difficult to understand why he should have made such a statement had he not believed that such was the case.

The battle of Isandhlwana ended at about 1-30 p.m. and by 4-30 p.m. B Company of the 2nd Battalion, left to protect the post at Rorke's Drift, found the Zulus moving against them. Fortunately, natives of Durnford's Horse had brought news of Isandhlwana about one hour earlier and some defences were erected from mealie bags, biscuit boxes and commisariat waggons. The defection of the members of the Natal Native Contingent and their flight to Helpmakaar rather offset this meagre advantage and left roughly one hundred whites to defend the post with another thirty in hospital. The defenders held out for the best part of twelve hours against great odds maintaining a steady and deadly fire. The burning of the hospital by the Zulus probably saved the garrison after nightfall, as the flames from it provided sufficient light by which to keep up an accurate fire. At daybreak the Zulus retired in face of the advance of Chelmsford's column leaving the garrison comparatively unscathed with twenty men killed and nine wounded. Private Henry Hook sent his mother a very matter-of-fact account of an engagement in which his courage earned him the award of the Victoria Cross. 2

  • 1. North Wales Express, 18 April 1879.
  • 2. See Atkinson, pp. 351, 353.

From Private Henry Hook, B Company, 2-24th Regiment to his mother, Mrs E. Hook, Drybridgestreet, Monmouth.   1

Rorke's Drift.

After the enemy had fled from the general's camp, they came across the river here and attacked our commissary stores but fortunately we got an hour's warning and made a fort. By-and-bye down they came in thousands---one black mass---so many we did not know where to fire first, they being so many and we were about 100 all told. But, thank God, after a night of great fighting, we drove them off and we saw the general's forces coming over the hill and that gave us great relief, I can tell you. There were four Monmouth men killed, viz. Sergeant Maxfield (Cinderhill-street), Private Hopkins (formerly a servant at Gibraltar House, Monmouth and later a policeman stationed at Llanarth), Private Charles (Penalt near Monmouth) and Thomas Bennet (Monnow-street). Sergeant Maxfield was burnt alive in the hospital; the enemy swarmed around and burnt the place before we could save him and, as he was raving mad with fever, he could not save himself. Hopkins and the others were killed in the fight at the general's camp. I had a very narrow escape, for I was in the hospital and when the enemy set fire to it, I had to get out of the window and fight my way through them .... I am now servant to Major Black (his man having been killed) and a nice gentleman he is and I like him very much...

Chelmsford withdrew his base to Pietermaritzburg in order to reorganise the whole campaign when reinforcements, which were now speedily granted, should arrive from England. Meanwhile, much trepidation was felt after Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift lest Cetewayo should invade Natal and this feeling of tense expectancy comes through strongly in letters from Corporal Thomas Davies and Private Richard Owen of the 2nd Battalion.

From Corporal Thomas Davies, C Company 2-24th Regiment, a native of Llantrisant to a friend. 2

Rorke's Drift.
 10 February 1879,

........Since the great misfortune we had, I have not had my clothes off. We haven't had any attack since but we are living in great misery for we haven't any opportunity of getting anything yet in the way of clothes for change. We are at Rorke's Drift holding our position in a commisariat fort where we shall remain, I believe, until they have got more troops from England...

I am happy to inform you that I am made full corporal since the great disaster. I wear two stripes on my arm and one good conduct badge below ....

P.S. You must excuse my writing as this ink is made of gunpowder.


From Private Richard Owen, 2-24th Regiment to his mother in Caernarvon. 3


6 March 1879.

.... My time will be completed twelve months next July and I hope to be home before long, as I am tired of this life, as we have been nearly four years lying out on the Velt. Our Regiment is now up in Natal Colony at war with the Zulus. We have had some very hard times up in the.........

  • 1. North Wales Express, 18 April 1879.
  • 2. ibid., 11 April 1879. 
  • 3. ibid., 25 April 1879.

......Transkei but it is a great deal worse up here. A great battle was fought in Zululand between our Regiment and the Zulus on the 22nd of January. The Zulus out-numbered our Regiment, as they were between twenty and thirty thousand strong. There were only five companies of our Regiment in camp, 60 Artillery, with two 7-pounder guns, 30 Volunteers and some native levies and one company of the 2-24th. The Zulus came on in such force that they cut them all up and only 5 men of our Regiment escaped. All the band and drummers are killed. There is only about two hundred of our Regiment left and about 36 men have left wives and large families behind in Cape Town. We are getting very hard times since the fight, as there are only a few of us left. As we are only a few miles from the Zulu King's country, we are on the look-out day and night. We have not pulled our clothes off since the 21st of January, and we are expecting another attack before long, as the General has sent home to England for six or eight regiments to come out. As soon as they arrive out here, we will advance on the Zulu King's residence but the Zulus are a great deal stronger than us. They have an army between 80,000 and 90,000. On the 22nd of January when they cut our Regiment up, they took a large quantity of ammunition and rifles belonging to those that were killed and burnt the camp and all the stores of provisions and clothing and took the two 7-pounder guns and burnt the hospital and sick men. The Adjutant and another officer escaped with the Regiment's colours but they were shot down as they tried to cross the river. The colours were found a week after by Major Black of the 2nd Battalion 24th in the river Buffalo which parts Natal Colony from Zululand. I am very sorry to say that the Dutch people are breaking out again up in the Transvaal. It is not quite two years ago since they had to be quietened before when the English took the place from them and raised the English flag there .... When these other regiments arrive here we shall get the news what the few of us that is left of our regiment are to do, whether we are to go to the front with other Regiments or to go home to England. I am very sorry to tell you the sad news of my cousin, No. 312 Owen Ellis. He fell with his comrades on the 22nd of January after fighting a very hard battle ....

Substantial reinforcements arrived by mid-April, the 1st Battalion was re-formed and despite much difficulty in securing waggons, teams and drivers, the second invasion of Zululand began on 11 June. The Twenty-Fourth Regiment was not given the opportunity to avenge Isandhlwana although the 1st Battalion took part in all but the final assault on Ulundi. This time no precautions were overlooked and on 4 July Cetewayo was defeated and Ulundi burned. The last stages of the Zulu war are described by Private Ellis Edwards and Edward Hughes although they were not personally engaged in the battle.

From Private Ellis Edwards of Cefn Mawr, near Wrexham to his family. 1

 8 July 1879

....I wish to express my opinion of the great battle which we had on the 4th day of July whilst taking the capital of Zululand. The scene was horrible. The fight lasted for one hour and ten minutes and was extremely hard. The strengh of the enemy was 25,000 whilst our strengh was only 4,500. After hard fighting we repulsed the enemy with the loss of 3000 killed and 500 wounded; our loss was 10 killed and 40 wounded. I can assure you that the Zulus are a lot of fearless men. They poured upon us like a number of lions. The burning of Ulundi---their main support---was the greatest fire I ever saw. It continued burning for four days. I am very much pleased to tell you that I really think the war is close at an end now. We captured 800 ..........

  • 1. North Wales Express, 19 September 1879.

...................head of cattle. I am very sorry to tell you that it is rumoured in this camp that we are going to India after this affair is settled. At the same time I hope it is wrong as we have had plenty of foreign climates. I can assure you that the hardships which I have gone through are beyond measure. I have got to wash all my clothes and bake the bread which we eat. We have to march fourteen miles a day and, after arriving in a strange camp, we have to dig trenches before we get any food. If this regiment does not go to India I shall be at home by Christmas .... I am very sorry to tell you of the sad misfortune which befel the young Prince Napoleon whilst scouting out in the wilds of Zululand. After the Zulus had killed him they stabbed him in fourteen different places. I was one of the men who removed his body in the van in order to send it home to England ....
 It is very hard to get any paper or stamps in this part of the world. I have been forced to steal out of the way every time I want to write because we haven't got one moment as we can call our own ... Wood is very scarce here at present. We cook our food with dried cow dung....

From Private Edward Hughes, E Company, 1-24th Regiment, 2nd Division to his parents at 4, Little Crown-street, Caernarvon.   1

Upoko River.
 July 1879

.....We have had a very hard time of it but we are now enjoying a few days' ease. We have been up as far as the King's Kraal, Ulundi on the White Umvolosi and after burning all the kraals we came across and knocking the Zulus out of time, have returned to this camp to wait the issue of affairs.
We arrived, after a very hard and tedious march, at the King's Kraal, encamping opposite it on the 1st of July. Nothing of any importance occurred until the 3rd when the Zulus surprised us by opening a smart fire on some of our men who were down at the river getting water. The fire was quickly returned by our men down there on duty. The light cavalry were immediately got ready; 4 nine-pounders were got into position; and it was determined to shift the Zulus out of the place, for as long as they were allowed to remain there, it was evident that we could not get any water without great danger. A couple of shells were, therefore, thrown across the river. This had the effect of making the Zulus scamper off to their kraals at full speed. But our horsemen were waiting for them and chased the enemy as far as their kraals. Our men were obliged, however, to retire for the enemy were reinforced by some thousands. Our loss was slight; that of the enemy considerable. The same night the Zulus kept us awake for nearly two hours singing and shouting in a terrible manner.
Next morning, the 4th, we were all quietly awakened at a very early hour. No bugles sounded and everything was done as quietly as possible. Our men crossed the river and made for the open plain. This movement was quite unexpected by the Zulus, for at seven o'clock about 15,000 of them were seen making for our side of the river; but just at this critical moment our column had reached the open. They were then seen by the enemy who imagined that they had a very easy thing of it. But they calculated wrongly for they were greeted by a tremendous fire from our men as they advanced. Forty-five minutes passed after the first shot, when the Zulus wavered; our men cheered heartily; away went the Zulus as hard as they could run, closely followed by the 17th Lancers who mowed them down like grass.
     So ended the battle of Ulundi and with it Cetywayo's power over his people.
     Our loss, as near as I can ascertain, was ten men killed and about fifty wounded ....

  • 1. North Wales Express, 19 September 1879.


The Zulu war thus saw the disgrace of Chelmsford and his partial redemption at Ulundi; it emphasised the danger once more of under-estimating the military abilities of natives operating under conditions particularly suitable for their type of warfare and it added another chapter of courage and fortitude to the annals of the Twenty-Fourth Regiment. There is also considerable justification for the belief that the casualties inflicted upon the Zulus at Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift, albeit at a very heavy cost to the 24th, made the final defeat of Cetewayo at Ulundi a matter of comparative ease. The prominent part played by Welshmen in these engagements was a fitting preface to the subsequent history of the South Wales Borderers.


University College of Wales,