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"For want of a nail ..."?
Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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My younger son recently pointed out to me - with a chuckle! - a passage in one of his A Level history textbooks. The passage is the only reference to the AZW in the whole book, which is fair enough in the overall scheme of things, my own textbook of about 45 years ago also consigning the affair to a single sentence. Now this work is quite new, being published in 2008 and is not some 15th edition of a much earlier offering badly needing revision. So the passage did, therefore, come as a bit of a surprise:


"The war against the Zulus began with a disaster at Isandlwana, when the bulk of one British regiment was wiped out. A shortage of screwdrivers produced a delay in opening the ammunition boxes, enabling the charging Zulus to break the line of the South Wales Borderers[sic]. Days [sic] later, a company of the same regiment inflicted a terrible rebuff to the Zulus at Rorke's Drift. This time screwdrivers were available and the Martini Henry rifle was able to do its bloody work on the Zulu warriors."

So there, in a nutshell (plus a phrase mentioning Ulundi of course) was the AZW. This comes from The Experience of Warfare in Britain, 1854-1929 and is produced with his exam in mind. So that long-dismissed, hair-brained theory has surfaced again - it was the lack of a screwdriver! Now, I don't suppose there will be any reference to the AZW in any exam question, but on the strength of this single paragraph, one wonders what the rest of the book is claiming on the bigger topics of the Crimean, South African and Great wars. And added to the box-ticking approach which seems to hold sway these days (even in A-Level) one starts to wonder about the committee which put the text-book together.

Peter
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Julian whybra


Joined: 03 Sep 2005
Posts: 436
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Peter
Since I work in education, I can confirm that this is one of many instances of history (not just the AZW) being 'doctored' by those who are professionally not up to the mark or made politically correct (and therefore untrue) by those with an agenda additional to getting students through exams. It makes me mad. A month or two back I was conducting training with a middle-aged head of history and a newly-qualified teacher in a large comprehensive in Essex who would not believe me when I told them that Shakespeare and Elizabeth I were contemporaries.
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Rob D


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 93
Location: Melbourne Australia
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Julian,
As seeing is believing, I hope you sat those two down and made them watch Shakespeare In Love - several times.
Rob
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Peter Ewart


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

Unbelievable - just simply unbelievable. The mind boggles at how anyone can become a school teacher - let alone a history teacher - without even the most rudimentary, basic general knowledge. A.L. Rowse would have had them for breakfast but can only now turn in his grave - and I am being driven to drink.

P.
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AMB


Joined: 07 Oct 2005
Posts: 897
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In a word: Appalling.

AMB
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Peter

I remember seeing that book you mention, and was intrigued to know what the front cover represented, which showed soldiers in scarlet tunics leaving for war ?

Did/does it say in the book anything about it and who the artist is ?

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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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The acknowledgements in the textbook credit the Mary Evans Picture Library for the cover illustration. Using the search facility on that library's website, we see it is a painting depicting the 3rd Bn, Grenadier Guards leaving Waterloo Station on their way to S Africa on 21 Sep 1899, which was, of course, less than 3 weeks before the outbreak of the 2ABW.

As you probably know, the MEPC holds a huge collection and I think a further search is necessary to establish the artist's identity. Haven't yet done that as it will be one more site to register with, one more password, etc etc! However, I would be surprised if the Guards embarked in scarlet tunics rather than khaki but am happy to be corrected there. My grandfather's brother, a Coldstreamer, was also on the way very shortly afterwards from Gib., & the Gds Bde saw plenty of action fairly early on. (Grandad and yet another brother were very soon to follow!)

Incidentally, my son (politely!) put his teacher right recently on this aspect of Isandlwana. Accepting the point, the teacher said he was going by the textbook & Zulu Dawn! Should I laugh or cry?

P
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Julian whybra


Joined: 03 Sep 2005
Posts: 436
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Peter
Also have a look at the section on the Crimea which is equally bad.
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Rob D


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 93
Location: Melbourne Australia
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Peter
As you know Military History is a specialised study in its own right and doesn't find much of a place in general academic or school history.
In my experience, if military matters are mentioned in general histories or in school textbooks they tend to be covered briefly and vaguely, following the conventional wisdom, before the author gets on with the political, economic and social issues that make up most of the curriculum.
As teachers tend to follow the prescribed textbook unless they have specialised in the period or area being taught, I'm not surprised that the military aspects of school history are not up to speed with the latest research.
Personally I'd be more concerned about the two teachers mentioned by Julian who didn't know that Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare were contemporaries - that seems to me to indicate a very troubling general ignorance of the basic historical facts of one's own country.
Rob
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Peter Ewart


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

I agree completely that the actual military details of any period of history being studied will receive very limited attention indeed. I can see why that will always be the case, and rightly so unless a particularly important or unusual military development changed the course of history. And as far as the coverage of any particular war is concerned, during the period being covered by this text book, the AZW was but one of many military campaigns in which GB was involved, sandwiched between the greater conflicts in the Crimea in the '50s and in S Africa, 1899-1902, before the Great War dwarfed the lot of them. I remember my own school text book in the '60s (and probably ancient then!) summarised Disraeli's foreign policy difficulties of the time with a few sentences on the Congress of Berlin, the war in Afghanistan, the annexation of the Transvaal and a single sentence on "the pacification of the warlike Zulus."

So no problem with that at all. Nor with a teacher who has to teach the curriculum & can't be expected to know all the finer military points of each war mentioned; nor with a book which necessarily dwells on the impact the three major conflicts had on the British public, because that - and not military strategy - is the thrust of the curriculum. But I do have some doubts about the book itself. Quite apart from any editorial policy or the obvious change in approach on imperial matters since former times (whether uncontroversial or insidious) I wonder about the quality of the work.

An editor or an editorial team and (presumably) a collection of writers are responsible for the contents. Rightly, the AZW merits only a very brief mention. So, if a mention is brief, it has to be general. If it is general, it has to be balanced. To be balanced it has to be - at least broadly - accurate. Any sweeping statement is much worse if it is inaccurate because of sloppy work by someone. The brief para summmarising the AZW in this work mentions screwdrivers not once but twice, and it is suggested that the presence or absence of this tool in two engagements strongly influenced the result. The war with the Zulu hinged on the presence of screwdrivers. So this maverick theory, introduced by a popular author nearly 50 years ago & long since dismissed as nonsense, forms the major part of the brief reference to this campaign in a comparatively recently published work which is being used by schools across Britain. Not only is one of only two military factors mentioned (screwdrivers & Martin Henrys) grossly inaccurate but any balance in this single, brief para is thereby destroyed. Even in a very brief, general reference to a comparatively minor (to GB) campaign, such an imbalance is not good enough unless it holds water. So I see that shortcoming (and this is really my point) and I think "Oh, dear - if they have cocked that up badly, what have they done in the rest of the work on the three major conflicts, where it really does matter?" I'll read it some time & let you know!

On the point of Julian's two teachers, I agree there too. Can it really be true, I ask, that anyone educated to teacher standard of whatever subject can have such a gaping hole in their general (not merely historical) knowledge, and worse, that they feel confident in arguing that black is white? I could be caught out just as easily in, for example, science, where matters considered basic general knowledge for all today may well have passed me by over 40 years ago, or were not taught - but Shakespeare & Elizabeth: I think that takes the biscuit! ("Not his period", I suppose ...)

Peter
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Rob D


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 93
Location: Melbourne Australia
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Peter
Thanks for your reply. It appears we are in complete agreement - and Julian's comment about the book's coverage of the Crimean War suggests that you are right to be suspicious of its content in general.
Rob
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"For want of a nail ..."?
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