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Saving the Colours
paul mercer


Joined: 04 Jul 2006
Posts: 37
Location: Tavistock, Devon
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Hi everyone, I havn't been on line for sometime since I retired.
Have just finished listening to the five CD's on the AZ war by David Rattray (The Day of the Dead Moon) and it seems to me that there are one or two anomalies in his version of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift compared with all the books I have read.
The first is the saving of the colours, he states that Melville and Coghill did not leave the battle together, and that Coghill was already accross the river before Melville arrived. Most books seem to say that they met up on the trail, but if David Rattray is correct then Coghill must have left the battle some time before Melville was told to save the colours. I believe there were some cruel attempts later on to smear these two by saying that they were trying to save their skins by leaving the battle, so I wonder what point David Rattray was trying to make - is he saying that Coghill ran first and only recrossed the river when he saw Melville in trouble?
The second point he makes is about Hook at Rorke's Drift, he refers to him twice as 'Hook the Crook' which has been vigorously denied in every version I have seen. I know many people thought very highly of David Rattray, but I now wonder if his version of the AZ war is a bit 'plumped up' for the tourists?
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John Young


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 1003
Location: Lower Sheering, Essex
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Paul,

Melvill & Coghill didn't leave the camp together. It is my understanding that Coghill had indeed crossed the Buffalo, but returned to assist Melvill in his plight.

With regard to Hook, I think you may have misheard, what David says is Hook the Cook, for A. H. Hook was the Hospital Cook.

John Y.
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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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Paul

I think you'll find it was "Hook was the Cook"!!! (His duty that day, I believe).

With regard to the respective timings of M & C's flights, if Coghill returned from the Natal bank to assist Melvill in the water (as Higginson, the only witness to this episode, asserted) then we must assume he had crossed before Melvill. It is likely they arrived at the river without that much time between them. Remember it is possible that they may well have met up and even overtaken each other during their flights more than once; that they did not necessarily take the same or similar route (there was no narrow "trail" as such) and that one was heavily encumbered and the other physically incapacited to at least to some extent, leaving all sort sof possibilities on the route. We have accounts of Coghill's departure but no verified eyewitness account of Melvill's.

David gave a fairly standard account of the episode, if we make allowance for the authenticity or otherwise of Pulleine's "instructions"; the graphic description of a (probably non-existent) "coffin-shaped" rock, and the struggle up the bank, which depended on Higginson's testimony alone (very strongly challenged by Barker); the acceptance of the 24th's "official" account and some florid prose by Morris. Brilliant and dramatic as David's account is, he stuck more or less to the standard view. The real problem is Higginson - if his story was a pack of lies, as has been claimed, then we know nothing about the two officers between their approach of the river and the discovery of their bodies.

Peter
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Sawubona


Joined: 09 Nov 2005
Posts: 1179
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Doesn't Barker mention seeing them together on the trail?
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Jamie


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 149
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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All the evidence does indeed point to the facts that Coghill was not with Melvill when he left the field and he was on the Natal bank ahead of Melvill. I have not seen anything to say that they did meet up on the trail to the drift. In fact Coghill would have had to pass Melvill somewhere on route to the drift.

As Smith - Dorrien remarks:

"When approaching this Drift, and at least half a mile behind Coghill, Lieutenant Melvill (24th), in a red coat and with a cased Colour across the front of his saddle, passed me going to the Drift"

As Curling reported:

"Shortly after this. I again saw Lieutenant Coghill, who told me Colonel Pulleine had been killed. Near the river I saw Lieutenant Melville, 1st
Battalion 24th Regiment, with a colour, the staff being broken
"

Correct me if I am wrong anyone but I think it was Higginson as an eye witness that first put both Coghill and Melvill together in the water at the drift.

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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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Jamie

Yes, Higginson is the ONLY source for what happened to Melvill & Coghill at the Buffalo, in and out of the water. That is, the large rock, the turnabout of Coghill, the death of Coghill's horse, the abandonment of the rock, the parting with the Colour, the arrival of the trio on the Natal bank, the climb up the gorge, the attempts by Higginson to gather some horses, the deaths of C & M., Higginson's departure, etc etc. The putting together of the whole story - by Glyn and Penn Symons - of what happened to the two 24th officers between their separate arrival at the river and the finding of their bodies a fortnight later, depends - as far as I can see - on the testimony of a single eye-witness. And this eyewitness was - according to Barker - not accompanied by M & C on his river crossing, did not ascend the gorge with them, and that M & C were nowhere to be seen when Barker rescued Higginson from the river bank, the latter stealing his horse to do so and lying about it to Barker's comrades a few minutes later.

It really would be nice to have an eywitness other than - or as well as - Higginson! The whole story of M & C at the river depends on him. Why would Barker, Tarboton et al make up their story about Higginson's escape?

Peter
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Galloglas
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I'm no expert but I vaguely recall seeing a statement by Col Glyn's Groom (Williams?) in which he recalls seeing Lt Melvill leaving camp then Coghill close behind. However, and of course, it does not follow that the two mantained that sequence or even any close proximity over the rest of their ride. "Close behind" could refer to the time interval only and not to any proximity.

G
Galloglas
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As I further recall, he also makes mention of seeing Coghill's horse injured and then Melvill being at the drift and Coghill approaching it.

It's an interesting episode since although both ended up at the drift we simply have no way of knowing if that is what either of them had in mind when they first left the camp.
Melvill was plainly trying to do whatever he could to save the Colour.

Coghill had no way of influencing events any further at the camp and could possibly even have hoped to break away towards the east and rejoin Glyn.
It's probable that neither had complete control of their mounts, and horses can also panic and try to follow each other. Both probably died in the bitter realisation that the Colour had been lost. Only, a simple fluke stopped it being swept away entirely, thought it being inacessible in the river at least stopped it being carried off by any Zulu.

G
paul mercer


Joined: 04 Jul 2006
Posts: 37
Location: Tavistock, Devon
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Thanks for your replies. It seems strange that given the courage shown by Coghill in recrossing the river that some were openly critical of his action in leaving the field. However, later on Lt Harward was severely critisized for leaving his men at Myers drift - as was Lt Carey after the Prince was killed and it would seem that Victorian ethics dictated that an Officer should remain with his men during a battle no matter what is happening, in which case they all should have died (with the exception of Melville who was under orders to save the colours) Frankly I do not blame any of them for leaving what was obviously a terrifying and increasingly hopeless situation, I know that if I had been in his position I would have done the same!
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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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Paul

It was Wolseley who was Melvill's and Coghill's chief posthumous detractor for leaving the field, to some extent reflecting the expectations of the Victorian army and its officers, although I believe these thoughts were only aired in his private diary - and don't forget there weren't many more caustic Victorians than Wolesley.

I'm not aware of any others who were critical - certainly not openly critical - of Coghill's actions. The 24th had set out the story of his deed within weeks and Queen Victoria had put her stamp on it by May I believe, so not many would have openly gone against the London Gazette. Harward's action was different - he was not considered to have told the truth and the evidence pointed strongly to cowardice. Carey certainly fled but believed the Prince had safely done so too - until too late, his defence being that the Prince was in charge, not him. I understand that the principle of sauve qui peut was considered appropriate at the right time for those who were not directly in command of men who remained, although of course there would have been those who disagreed with that.

There is no direct evidence that Melvill was under orders to save the Colour, the origin of the "instructions" from Pulleine appearing anonymously in a Kaffrarian newspaper shortly afterwards. There is no other evidence for this order, which doesn't mean that it wasn't still possible or even likely, as some have surmised or calculated. Coghill, Melvill and Carey had all demonstrated very strong qualities with regard to their duty before Jan 1879.

Peter
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Julian whybra


Joined: 03 Sep 2005
Posts: 437
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There are more than one or two anomalies. Rattray was an excellent story-teller, but as he once himself told me, he was no historian. I'd forgive him his mistakes, but I'd be wary of quoting him.
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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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Yes, he repeatedly made it very clear that he was not a historian and didn't claim to be one, but "merely"(!) a story-teller. He explained at the very beginning of his DotDM tapes that he would tell the story as he saw it - and his method was to trawl the first-hand accounts of those who'd been involved, whether senior officer or humble soldier. This he did brilliantly, bringing everything to life so that the listener felt he/she was almost there at the time.

The drama in his stories was so often personal, because we can all identify with the human story - fear, excitement, shock, fatigue, tragedy, pathos or whatever. There is no doubt that some of his sources - military memoirs and reminiscences especially - can be demonstrated to be faulty, and I suspect he would have amended some of his material if recording it today, nearly 20 years after the tapes were made. Just think what reliable works have appeared since the early '90s which weren't available to David when he first launched his tapes and lectures. I'd also be very surprised if, over the years, he didn't experience some good-natured joshing from one or two of the respected AZW historians he hosted at the lodge. He also admitted being an admirer of Morris's work - which, in its scope and presentation, certainly was admirable, and which also lacked the advantage of all these later works, but has been seen to be very faulty in parts - and the tapes and lectures followed Morris very closely in places.

I believe his Soldier Artist is much sounder and more balanced, without omitting any of the astonishing drama of the whole AZW story, and provides a compelling background to the Lloyd paintings and their discovery.

Peter
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rich


Joined: 01 May 2008
Posts: 897
Location: Long Island NY USA
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I've noticed the terms "story-teller" and "historian" bandied about here and from the looks of it I think they both are intertwined when any discussion of history is presented. If it's a historian presenting history, of course, it's developed as a predominatly fact-filled backed-up story subject to interpretation of those facts, no? Many many years on from us I'd be intrigued to know which "stories" will be uppermost in the minds of AZW enthusiast and historians, Mr Rattray's or say Mr. Knight's or Mr. Morris'. it's interesting that Mr. Morris' is still hanging around. He must be a good "story-teller" and "historian" to boot.... Wink

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Julian whybra


Joined: 03 Sep 2005
Posts: 437
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Rich
The difficulty is that Morris was writing at a time when no historian save Coupland had touched the Zulu War so people tended to take him at face value even though he was just a journalist. Jackson's historical account was written at the same time and published just before Morris's but never achieved anything like the same notoriety (it still remains the best and most authoritative version). Plenty of other non-historians then followed - good writers all - but not research historians. Knight is one of the latter and though his books are aimed often at the popular market they do have detailed bibliographies and sources even if they don't always have the footnotes and references.
The evolving historiography of the AZW has been rather like that of the Titanic - lots of good stories and public entertainment intermingled with factual, evidence-based, well-researched history.
As the saying goes, Buyer Beware!
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Sawubona


Joined: 09 Nov 2005
Posts: 1179
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And Morris was quite simply one Heck of a good writer as well, Rich. He had that rare ability to craft a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter or even an entire book with consummate pacing. And he had the ability to turn a memorable phrase like few other writers- at least like few others who haven't long since passed on. We can all agree on the talent and skill inherent in the fiction of Delderfield, can't we (hackneyed as some of it may be)? Delderfield lifted DM's description of Buller verbatim from WOTS and put it in the mouth of the wife of one of his fictional personae. If DM's writing is good enough for Delderfield to admire (and blatantly plagiarize), it's good enough for me to admire as well.

Perhaps it was all because of his journalistic training, although I believe he had pretty much retired already from two careers before he set his heart and pen to journalism-- fourteen years in the Navy before being recruited by the CIA and then serving in Soviet counter-espionage for the next sixteen or so years. Was he in fact no more than "just a journalist"? Was he in fact ever formally trained as a journalist? IMHO, having "hung out" with the likes of Hemingway is just another feather.
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Saving the Colours
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