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If Col. Durnford Had Been A 24th Officer ?
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Last attempt at a topic starter.

This was a comment I made in a previous topic long ago and always wondered about -

If Col. Durnford had been a 24th officer, still assigned to the No.2 Column, and still said and did what he did at Isandlwana and it turned out exactly the same way, how would he have been portrayed in the media of the day, in civilian and military circles, and in books right up until now ?

Remember, he would have had the full weight of support from the 24th Regiment in the aftermath.

Note - I am just trying to start a topic, I will not be adding to it.

Hopefully it makes progress.

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PS. I think I started a similar topic about this on another forum.
Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
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Quite possibly. It may not be beyond the realms of plausibility that the higher echelons of the 24th might have closed ranks around him. The uncomfortable manoeuvring for position between Chelmsford, Crealock & Clery et al (whether it was as perfidious as has been claimed or not) potentially at the expense of Glyn, when deciding how to respond to Ellice's persistent enquiries, provides an example of what might have happened in reverse, perhaps.

Incidentally, it seems the idea that Hassard might have deliberately assisted in a whitewash isn't really supportable when, according to Harness, it was he and not Hassard who more or less ran the whole Inquiry, and that it was he who not only declined to record all the evidence offered because of its irrelevance (in his opinion) but who also strongly pushed Hassard & Law into agreeing to his idea that no opinion on the cause of the disaster should be offered by the Court. Hassard (see Heaton and, again, Harness) seems to have been considered an old duffer who wasn't at all well, didn't really want to be involved, or even there, and got away from Helpmekaar as quickly as possible.

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Martin Everett


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
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I suspect that Durnford's body would now rest under a cairn of stone on the battlefield rather being buried, after due ceremony, with a headstone for all to see today in Fort Napier.

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Martin Everett
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Alright, I'll play the Devil's Advocate -

Let me take the topic up a level.

Isandlwana is well-known for the heroic stand of the 24th, but the battle itself thought by some to have been brought about by the senior commander who himself is in the Royal Engineers.

However, as mentioned in the original topic heading, what if he had been an officer in the 24th, would this have still been the thinking, or would he instead be known as the heroic senior commander of the 24th who made correct decisions followed by correct actions, or would he still be the villain of the piece even though he was in the regiment present on the battlefield ?

Would he have been more defended/protected by the regiment/military and an alternative version of him in the aftermath circulated, or would he still have been damned ?

In my opinion, if Durnford had been a 24th officer, there would have been no 'blame game' involving the officers at Isandlwana.

We'd also have had contemporary paintings/prints of him at Isandlwana, as he was very visible during the engagement, unlike Pulleine, who was only depicted in the image showing him already dead being saluted by Hamilton-Browne, as his actual whereabouts and actions are surprisingly/curiously unknown.

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Simon


Joined: 26 Feb 2007
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Coll wrote:
Alright, I'll play the Devil's Advocate -

We'd also have had contemporary paintings/prints of him at Isandlwana, as he was very visible during the engagement, unlike Pulleine, who was only depicted in the image showing him already dead being saluted by Hamilton-Browne, as his actual whereabouts and actions are surprisingly/curiously unknown.

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In my view it is pure 'luck' that Durnfords body was found - i.e. he made his stand along the track that Chelmsfords column returned along.

Additionally members of the NMP and NC probably searched for their colleagues (being a close knit colonial unit), finding AWD in the process.

AWD did have certain 'physical characteristics' that made him recognisable - whereas HBP was probably dressed and looked like any other officer of the 24th when found.

I'm not sure I like the 'surprisingly/curiously' comment.....how many more of the dead were positively recognised and if so buried individually....Shepstone (because of family influence?)....The reason that nothing is known about HBP actions, was no one survived who was near him in the battle...had the Melvill and Coghill survived, maybe more light would have been thrown on HBP actions.....maybe he was 'hiding behind a rock' or writing in his tent but I doubt it.
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Simon

As I said, if Durnford had been an officer in the 24th, being the senior commander in the camp, attention would have been focussed on him, his whereabouts and actions.

Hence my question, in the aftermath would Durnford have been depicted in contemporary paintings showing the 24th last stands, being that he was a Colonel in their regiment who heroically died with them on the battlefield, rather than noticeably absent from the images, unlike Chard at Rorke's Drift.

Even with Isandlwana being a defeat, he was the senior officer, therefore had he been 24th not RE, he would have been included, maybe even in Fripp's painting.

Isandwana has been written about as very much a 24th battle, as such, a Durnford in the 24th would have been in the spotlight.

That being the case, would he still have been portrayed as he has since, or would he have been a 24th hero ?

You can't tell the story about Isandlwana without including Durnford, so how would the/his portrayal have changed in the aftermath ?

Would books praising the 24th's outstanding defence, at the same time destroy their 24th commander Colonel Durnford's reputation so completely ?

A defence of Durnford had he been in the 24th would have followed the same accurate path as that depicted by Edward Durnford and more recently by the authors of Zulu Victory and TMFH.

I reckon they'd have been mostly in agreement...not opponents.

Sine ira et studio - a quote mainly used to remind authors, historians, reporters, editors, etc., of their obligation somewhat, of being impartial when writing about war.

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PS. This topic is a hypothetical question, which has the effect of testing for weaknesses in the original situation/argument.
peterw


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
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Henry Pulleine has hardly escaped criticism nor been immortalised in Fripp's painting either. Had Durnford been a 24th Officer the only result - in my view - would have been to lessen any culpability resting with Pulleine.

Durnford would still have the legacy of Bushman's River Pass on his record.

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Peter W

Thanks for replying.

In that scenario, would they really have went after Durnford in the aftermath, as then the choice (for want of a better word) would have been between two 24th officers, either individually or together to blame for the defeat, resulting in the deaths of many men, mostly from the 24th ?

As it was such a shock to the military and public, there is a fair to good chance, it would have ended up being a tragic defeat of a British camp overwhelmed by a Zulu army of 20,000, and left at that. No finger pointing at all...at least towards those at Isandlwana. Remember, they were already looking in Glyn's direction initially.

The Bushman's Pass incident also has a positive view to some regarding Durnford, so again, if he had been in charge as an officer in the 24th, then again, the/his defence would have followed this path.

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Rob D


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
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Coll, Peter W
If you're going to play at hypotheticals, at least be consistent. Had Durnford been a 24th officer he would have been with his battalion in 1873, not at Bushman's River Pass.
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Rob D

Fair point. The topic will only deal with Isandlwana.

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Simon


Joined: 26 Feb 2007
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One thing I always find vexing is the fact that most people seem to focus on the reason for the British defeat (Durnford, Pulleine, screwdrivers Confused ) but never on the Zulu victory (apart from a few authors).

It seems like British need to take credit for their own defeat - which is probably why the Zulu commanders (at Isandlwana) were not debriefed after the war.
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Simon

Yes. It has always ever been a Zulu victory and British defeat, but some have felt the need to find a cause why we lost, by grasping at straws, instead of accepting it was the Zulu strategy, overwhelming numbers and bravery.

This topic is asking if such efforts would have been made, if both senior officers were 24th, because if you start blaming one or both of them, it could result in the domino principle/theory. Namely, it had started with Glyn then sort of worked its way down to Durnford and Pulleine, which could then lead on to questioning the decisions/actions of other 24th officers during the battle, right to the point of how and where Melvill and Coghill met their deaths.

However, that was never going to happen if Durnford was 24th, as why describe the heroism of the 24th at Isandlwana whilst attacking their senior officer, as you would be ruining the situation for the whole regiment in the aftermath, by blaming one of their own for their deaths.

An isolated, controversial RE officer as senior commander, not directly connected to the 24th, therefore not reflecting on their actions, was always going to be the choice in the end, if compelled for whatever reason to find someone to hopefully, ultimately find a tidy (again for want of a better word) way to tie up the loose ends.

Read any books that praise the 24th and damn Durnford, but read them imagining Durnford had instead been in the 24th, then ask yourself, would he still have been described and criticised with the exact same wording and phrases ?

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SphinxRiddle


Joined: 05 May 2013
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Interesting...at one level I find this topic difficult to conceptualise and somewhat paradoxical, as, had Durnford been an Officer of the 24th, he would likely have only got promoted to that position by being inculcated with the disciplined instinct for obeying Chelmsford's orders to defend the camp, as well as general regard for his battalion, displayed by Pulleine and Melville in the reported conversations with Durnford when he arrived in the camp on 22 Jan. Moreover as a 24th officer Durnford would obviously not have been personally leading, and possibly not keen to sanction, a mounted expeditition to explore to the East (and encounter the left horn). In short I think Durnford the conditioned 24th officer would have been more reminiscent of Pulleine than the Durnford RE we are familiar with! Who knows how he would have deployed the 24th companies if he had been clearly and unambiguously Pulleine's senior as a 24th man - possibly with more knowledge of Zulu tactics he would have adopted the much debated massed square at an earlier stage, but equally possibly with no horse troop (led by his real alter ego Durnford RE) holding the Zulu left in the donga, the camp might have fallen even quicker than it did...or perhaps with tactical flair he might have somehow deployed mounted elements to try to break the Zulu chest being pinned down by A and F companies before the Zulu flanking manouevre took effect. Head-spinning permutations!

At another level though I would agree that certain accounts in recent years that present theories of what actually happened are often infused with politics of regimental or national identity...and that troubles me. In accounts overtly sympathetic to Durnford it is often implied that the left and centre of the 24th line were crumbling first (not uncommon to find the theory of Dyson's section getting wiped out on the plateau first in these, or the TWOTS theory of the NNC bolting), with Durnford's stand (supported by an apparently fleet footed G company that makes it back to the edge of the saddle) helping to buy the fugitives time. Often the implication is that the blame lies with Chelmsford, and Pulleine was simply ineffectual by dint of the lack of evidence of his movements and the manifestly over-extended companies. Meanwhile, in accounts more sympathetic to the 24th Durnford can tend to be cast as a rash 'Custer' figure whose impetuousity and withdrawal gets the right of the line carved up (starting with Pope's G company, whose retreat to the saddle is seen as a logistical impossibility), while the heroic 1/24 withdraw in companies to loosely cohere in bigger stands in the saddle (though the extreme distance of the bodies of Anstey's contingent is rarely discussed, and Melville & Coghill are assumed to have left the field legitimately with Pulleine's blessing). We probably all bring emotional investments (consciously or unconsciously) to our interpretations of the battle, but beyond the general retreat we know so little of what really happened and I find myself wary of any romanticising of either 24th as a corporate body or Durnford as a leader having any influence on proceedings - just desperate, struggling knots of unfortunate men caught in a maelstrom of sickening violence reacting in a whole range of ways. For instance the legendary 'whirling cutlass' charge down to the saddle by the survivors of Younghusband's company - an heroic effort to join up with the stand in the saddle, or sheer panic at effectively ending up as targets in a shooting gallery by a massed Zulu force armed with rifles at close range?





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Sphinx

Good post.

The main gist of the topic is this -

When judging who Durnford was, the type of man he is, and what his decisions and actions were at Isandlwana, then these are the points being made about a British officer, no matter what regiment or corps he belonged to.

However, had he been a 24th officer, not of another unit, would the above still stand, word-for-word in books damning him, or would that have been enough to change the/his story ?

In my view, even back in 1879, there would have been no blaming of Durnford or Pulleine at Isandlwana, had the former been in the 24th.

Therefore, all arguments against him, would/should never have taken place in the aftermath, right up until now.

The whole idea of blame is an invention/detraction/deflection.

Isandlwana was a massacre of British forces at a camp by a Zulu army of 20,000 warriors, who attacked in a well co-ordinated strategy of double-envelopment. That is it. The camp was doomed from the get-go.

Why blame anyone on the battlefield ?

You would be blaming them for losing a no-win situation.

Where's the logic in that ? - there is none, unless there was another reason to do so.

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PS. We might as well blame King Leonidas for the defeat at Thermopylae, or Col. Travis et al, for being defeated at the Alamo.
mike snook 2


Joined: 04 Jan 2006
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Here's some real history to play around with.

'I had a long conversation with Lt Col Durnford RE this morning, who was wounded in the unfortunate business at the Bushman's Pass. He is thorough going engineer in appearance & manner - a great talker & in fact an English edition of my Irish engineer Lt Col Home who was with me at Cape Coast Castle, but I imagine more truthful: the latter really did not know I believe when he was speaking the truth or otherwise....[a bit more on Home]..... Durnford has most injudiciously identified himself with the Colenso side here and as that arithmetical [curious word] dignitary has taken up a line in opposition to the opinion of all colonists, Durnford has become so unpopular that his usefulness as a public servant - he is colonial as well as military engineer - has been very seriously impaired. I gave him to understand this which I don't think he relished. He say that he feels deeply aggrieved by Sir A. Cunynghame having held a court of inquiry into the Bushman's Pass affair and by no notice having been taken of his services upon that occasion. He is a man too much given to expressing in alarmingly strong terms his opinions on men and their measures: he denounces everyone who does not agree with him and thinks that because he is honest of purpose and devotes his time and his purse freely to carrying out the line of policy towards the native tribes engaged in the late disturbances, that therefore his actions should command respect. Like so many of our Rl [sic] Engineers, he is thoroughly impractical, ignorant to a large extent not only of the ways of the world but of the feelings that influence human nature in the serious affairs of life. I wish I could get rid of him, for I look upon him as rather a firebrand here and I think that he is not only injudicious but that he is eccentric almost to a degree that might fairly be termed madness. When eccentricity is amusing it often serves a man in the world, but when it is at all of the gloomy type the world wishes the ''peculiar person'' at the Devil, as I do now with my friend Durnford.'

Major General Sir Garnet Wolseley
Lt Governor of Natal
Journal Entry, 3 April 1875.

Keep well. Oh...and don't overlook the descriptors 'impractical', 'ignorant' 'firebrand', 'injudicious' and 'eccentric almost to a degree that might fairly be termed madness', or forget that these words were chosen, much like Alfred Henderson's utterly unequivocal words on events at Isandlwana, by a man who actually knew the real Colonel Durnford. History eh.

Oh and interesting that he was so 'Irish' that Wolseley (ditto) didn't even notice. Should I have highlighted 'I wish I could get rid of him'?

M
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If Col. Durnford Had Been A 24th Officer ?
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