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The 'Boys' at Isandlwana
Mike Snook


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 130
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As we have discussed before, we are light at least one 'boy' on the 2/24 nominal roll if the remark about three boys of the band being left behind with the Band Master at Isandlwana is correct. On the Isandlwana nominal roll contained at 'Rambling Reminiscences of the Punjab Campaign 1848-9 with a brief sketch history of the 24th Regiment from 1689-1889.' by Lt Col Andrew Macpherson, (not one for pithy titles he), 25B/1494 Private James Gurney (as he appears in Norman Holme) is listed as Boy Gurney. This gives 3 x 2/24 boys - McEwan, Gordon and Gurney, as well as Harrington and Robert Richards of the 1/24, for a total of 5 boys in all.

Not entirely sure where Macpherson got his list but elsewhere he appears to draw pretty directly on stuff written by Wilsone Black.

Please some clever cloggs come on and say 'I knew that already'!! Very Happy

Anyway I have corrected P250 of my copy of LWOTF to show Boy Gurney rather than Pte Gurney. On checking things through I noticed that on P247 I have shown Robert Richards as a private when he should also be shown as Boy. Norman H lists Richards as a boy. I took my list from the regimental list prepared at the museum a couple of years back. I have made my corrections in pencil in case anybody comes back and says they know all about this and I 've got the wrong end of the stick!!

Regards

Mike
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Keith Smith


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 540
Location: Northern NSW, Australia
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Mike

I wonder if you have the correct interpretation of the facts about Pte Gurney? Looking at my copy of Norman Holme, he says of this young man 'Enlisted at Chatham, Kent 20/12/1877; age 15 years.' In my paper on the Boys, I have interpreted this to indicate that he was 15 years old at enlistment and so would have been perhaps 17 years old (depending on his DOB) on 22nd January '79. This, then, explains why he was referred to as 'Private' rather than 'Boy'. Using your same interpretation, one could infer that perhaps Ptes Ghost, aged 14, and Hankin, aged 14,
were also Boys?
KIS
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Dawn


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 610
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
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When a comprehensive list of the dead was drawn up and published in the London Times in about March 1879, it listed Gurney as boy Gurney. I believe the list was drawn up by Chelmsford himself (probably his lackeys). I wish I could be more specific but I don't have a copy of the newspaper in front of me at the moment.

I do remember reading through the list (with a magnifying glass, they used tiny print in those days) and spotting the name and getting all excited because I, too, was looking for those elusive boys. I'm sure I did a post on it on the old forum.


Dawn
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Michael Boyle


Joined: 12 Dec 2005
Posts: 595
Location: Bucks County,PA,US
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In any earlier topic, Julian mentioned he'll soon be ready with his next edition of "England's Sons". He seems to indicate new found survivors, I wonder if he he's tracked down some of the 'boys' names as well?

MAB
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Mike Snook


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 130
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Keith

Yes, I noticed Norman's note on Gurney's age at attestation. I have not seen your paper but would like to do so. Coud you e-mail me a copy?

I offer no interpretation - I am merely reporting that on this particular nominal roll Gurney is shown as Boy - and I am delighted that Dawn has been able to confirm it recurring in another place.

Dawn,

I thought you would be the most interested to know, but you had already sleuthed it out for yourself.

Of course if the nominal roll had to be reconstructed from papers left behind in PMB or KWT (specualtion) and Gurney was shown on them as boy, then the chances are that he would be re-recorded as such in preparing the casualty lists regardless of whether he had come of (military) age in the interim.

Also an interesting psychological phenomenon I would share with you from my time as a soldier. Any death of a comrade is a bad experience, but if one has been around a bit, (and I first started noticing this in my early to mid-thirties), one tends to be doubly cut up, by the death of particularly young soldiers. It is that perception of a young life wasted, all that human potential suddenly snuffed out, and what might have been for this young person. That is why I believe the various remarks and observations about 'boys' are recorded in the sources, even if Keith as you suggest, some of the young men concerned were not literally 'boys' but had migrated technically into being 16 year old 'privates'. And of course it explains why the mutilations of the boys in the saddle were particularly noted above all the others. The sort of experience I describe, I might say, does make one particularly resentful of the enemy, and would go a long way to explaining why the war suddenly turned nasty in the wake of Isandwlana.

Regards

Mike
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Dawn


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 610
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
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Mike

Just to confirm my source now that I am at home and can lay my hands on it.

It is The Times of 17 March 1879. It lists the officers and men killed in action at Isandlana (sic) Hill. Gurney is definitely listed as boy Gurney. He enlisted in December 1877 at age 15 years but we do not know his birth date. If his birthday was later in 1879 (which is possible) then he would have only been 16 at the time of the battle. So that would seem to provide you with your second source. I dare you to rub out the pencil and write it in pen.

I also notice McEwan is listed as M'Ewan in this roll which may explain why he may have been called M'Every in Sweeney's letter.

As regards the loss of young soldiers, it reminds me of one of Kate Bush songs called "Army Dreamers" which sort of sums it all up:

"Our little army boy
Is coming home from b.f.p.o.
I've a bunch of purple flowers
To decorate a mammys hero.

Mourning in the aerodrome,
The weather warmer, he is colder.
Four men in uniform
To carry home my little soldier.

What could he do?
Should have been a rock star.
But he didn't have the money for a guitar.
What could he do?
Should have been a politician.
But he never had a proper education.
What could he do?
Should have been a father.
But he never even made it to his twenties.
What a waste --
Army dreamers."

Dawn
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Keith Smith


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 540
Location: Northern NSW, Australia
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Mike

Happy to send it to you. Let me have your email address in a private email.
KIS
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Dawn


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 610
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
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Further to the above, it has always intrigued me that Gurney was enlisted in late 1877 and a short time later was off with the rest of the regiment to South Africa with little or no training. I can only presume that he was perhaps an orphaned relative of one of the men in the 2/24th and that his training, as such, was taking place in the field. To go one step further, I would infer that he was under the bandmaster's tuition and one of the unnamed 'teenaged boy-bandsmen' mentioned on pg 93 of Mike Snook's book HCMDB.

But then I could be letting my imagination get the better of me!

Dawn
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GlennWade


Joined: 16 Jan 2006
Posts: 151
Location: Swansea
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Hi Dawn

That's very interesting concerning the identification of Joseph McEwan as M'Ewan. Coupled with fact that Drummer Sweeney's letter would have to be transcribed from written paper to a printing press we can safely assume that whoever did that misread Sweeney's letter.


Cheers

Glenn

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Mike Snook


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 130
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Keith and Dawn

Can you confirm for me please - was it the convention that boys became privates at 16, 17, or 18? I am a bit confused on this now, because if either of the latter it would seem incontrovertible that Gurney must still have been a boy wouldn't it?

Regards as ever

Mike
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Keith Smith


Joined: 30 Aug 2005
Posts: 540
Location: Northern NSW, Australia
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Mike

According to Skelley The Victorian Army at Home, p. 238, 'In 1871 the minimum age was raised [from seventeen] to eighteen ...'

If Gurney enlisted at age 15 on 20/12/77 then, depending on his DOB, he was either 16 or 17 in January 1879. This would certainly indicate that Gurney should have been a Boy, but since Norman Holme gives him the rank of Private, then he should have been 18 years old. A real mystery, this one ...

By the way, Skelley also makes the point that while 75% of boys trained as musicians (i.e.drummers and buglers), the remainder trained as tailors or shoemakers. (p. 262) The title 'drummer-boy' is therefore certainly a misnomer.

KIS
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Mike Snook


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 130
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OK

Well I'm going to rub out the pencil and ink Gurney in as a Boy.

I'm surprised to find that it's 18.

Mike
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Dawn


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 610
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
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Mike
Yes, I'm surprised that it is 18, I've always thought it was 17 but I can't recall my source. Keith seems to have the facts on that one though, so I guess it was 18.

I think that we can take The Times list as a primary source for the verification that Gurney was a 'boy' as it was compiled only a short time after the battle. The only explanation I can put forward for the listing as 'private' is that there was a mistake made in the records. (I hope I'm not going to be tarred and feathered for suggesting such a thing!!) I think that if he enlisted at 15 in late 1877, then he may have been only 16 in January 1879, and, even if he had turned 17 earlier in the month, he probably still had the rank of 'boy' if he could not be a private until he was 18.

An age which, of course, he never reached.

Dawn
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Martin Everett


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 783
Location: Brecon
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Let's avoid the discussion. Boy's pay was half adult pay, i.e. 6d per day. Adult service started at age 18 years. Although you could enlisted in the militia (part-time) at 17 years 6 months. To be appointed a Drummer (extra 1d per day) you had to be an adult. However there were boys (14+) in the band and corps of drums.

I suspect that considering the size of the central column - wagons, animals etc, it certainly was likely that there were a number of boys within the wagon drivers - who were technically civilians.

The term 'drummer boys' has always been used to refer to the Drums, even though most of them were adults.

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Martin Everett
Brecon, Powys
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Sean Sweeney


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 185
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
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Something that may be of interest to you,
and possibly as a consequence of the loss of the boys at Isandhlwana,

in 1882, when the 79th Q O Camerons were posted to the Egyptian crisis,

an order was issued that all men under the age of 20yrs were to be left behind.
After applications were made to have this order changed, the only concession made was in the case of 'Drummers'.

High Command probably looking to alleviate any possible negative publicity,......just in case ?

Sean
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The 'Boys' at Isandlwana
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