Zulu Battle-piece: Isandhlwana
Coupland, Sir Reginald
Collins, London, 1948.
(reprinted Tom Donovan Publishing Ltd. 1991)
It may be said that, after a period of neglect, a modern age of writing about the Zulu War began with the publication of Donald Morris's “The Washing of the Spears” in 1965; in more recent years, Colonel Snook's books have appeared, revitalizing general interest in the period, with “How Can a Man Die Better: the Secrets of Isandlwana” likely to become the standard popular description of that battle. However, the volume under review stands as the classic account of an earlier age. In the first half of the twentieth century, Coupland was the leading authority on British foreign policy and colonial history, and this work was one of his last. In fact, it could be argued that this isolated piece of scholarship was the first “modern” account, as it broke new ground in questioning such received wisdom as the “ammunition box” theory of the disaster and ascribing responsibility for the war to Frere's politicking rather than to Zulu aggression. It is a slim volume, a third of which is devoted to the background and build-up to the events of 1879, with a brief coda on Rorke's Drift and the end of the war; its emphasis is on the tactical decisions made by the participants, but human interest is still very much to the fore, with portraits of Chelmsford and Durnford being the way into the story. The spelling of Zulu names, as in the title, follows the old traditions, and there are a few surprising details, such as the description of Chard and Bromhead as little more than teenagers, but overall this remains a very readable and informative account.
J.R.Gregson - August 2006