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DateOriginal Topic
5th May 2004Chelmsford returning to Islandhlwana
By Chris
As a soldier in the Australian Army, the battle of Islandhlwana has always intrigued me ever since I was a young child. There are many interesting aspects of the battle to investigate but what I can imagine to be the most horryfying of all is the feeling that would have gone through the average red coat as he watched the British line breaking and the camp being overrun. Being stranded out here in the middle of Zulu land with your back to Islandhlwana hill, the ammunition slowly running out and the zulus closing in would have been a very grim realisation faced by many men probably the same age as myself as they put their final round into the chamber of their martini henrys. Having only seen pictures of the battlefield and watched a few documentries i cannot profess to be a historian but what I would like to draw on is other's knowedge about the events after the battle. One can only begin to imagine the scene of the camp as Chelmsford rode back into Islandhlwana. I can only assume that he had some knowledge about what was going on at Rorke's drift when he arrived back. So then why didn't he move to Rorke's drift straight away to assist? Why did he spend the night at Islandhlwana instead? Was it simply because they had already marched 10 miles that day? Or did he presume Rorke's Drift was done for?

6th May 2004Peter Ewart

Haven't made exact calculations, but I think the distance his infantry had marched that day was nearer 30 miles than ten, including there and back and a fair bit of fruitless to-ing and fro-ing up hill and down dale in hot weather and thick, sweaty uniforms, the return journey being done as fast as they could march.

Many of them apparently expected a night attack to finish them off. Their ammunition pouches were not as full as they had been at 3 am that morning and their own ammunition wagon, which had been loaded up and positioned ready for an emergency that morning, was somewhere in the dark on the saddle among the debris - but probably empty by then.

Hunger and thirst may also have come into it. They also knew how far it was back to Rorke's Drift - could they have got back there before daylight? Perhaps, just. Chelmsford clearly suspected an attack into Natal may already have have happened but he was more or less powerless to do anything by then. He'd just lost well over 1000 men - the 100 or so at R/Drift may have seemed trifling by comparison, except that he still hoped to find survivors from Isandlwana there and, of course, intact stores.

6th May 2004Keith Smith

Peter is quite correct in what he says about distance. In fact, if anything, he understates the case. The 3rd Regiment NNC and most of the mounted men had left the camp at dawn on 21st January, virtually without food, and had marched much further than had Chelmsford and his people. This was particularly tough on the European NCOs of the NNC, who were on foot.

The other consideration is that when they reached the 'nek' at Isandlwana about 8 pm, they could clearly see the fire at Rorke's Drift and with the devastation of the camp around them, could only assume that the mission station was in a similar state. Better, therefore, to await the dawn, even in such distressing surroundings, than march on without much in the way of ammunition, towards an unknown prospect.

6th May 2004Frank Muscal
If Chelmsford and his men clearly saw the fire at RD from the 'nek', could they hear the gunfire as well?
7th May 2004Keith Smith

The following is an extract from the reminiscences of Trooper Fred Symons:

"Firing could be heard from the direction of Rorke;s Drift, and a lurid light begab to rise along the Buffalo on the Natal side."

21st December 2004Brian Carmody
I have read some indications that the final responsibility for the disaster at Islandhlwana was put on the shoullders of Dunford, can anyone briefly explain why?
Is the film Zulu Dawn a good historical reference?
22nd December 2004David Alan Gardner

Yes I think Zulu Dawn is fairly accurate-much more so than Zulu-Incidently it was on BBC 2 for the first time last night-I watched it again.The ammo boxes looked accurate as well (unlike in Zulu).I think they did a good job, and it was mad on 100th anniversary of the battle.
As for why Durnford was blame-a subject that has been debated at length here-briefly-he was the senior officer in the camp, the fact he had led his forces out of the camp- has been quoted as some-Chelmsford most importantly-as being -to put it mildly- a mistake.
Conveniently, Durnford died in the battle, therefore it was left to others to correct this much malighned man.
In my personal opinion, Durnford did as much-and more-than could have been expected of him in the circumstances.