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7th February 2005Bayonets!! Back to the Drawing Board.
By mike snook
New topic as we strayed somewhat!

There is a photograph of a group of Buffs dated April 79, (they are standing guard over a couple of prisoners). They are smartly at attention (conveniently for once!). Their bayonets do not protude above head height and an outwards/downwards cant is distinctly perceptible. They are armed with Pattern 1853/72 bayonets.

This throws things up in the air somewhat. It doesn't prove that the 1st/24th had the same bayonet, but it is certainly suggestive of it. It resurrects, in my view, though I am still looking into the matter further, the idea that the 1st/24th and 2nd/24th had different patterns of bayonet. Hence both bayonets would have been in use at Isandlwana.

7th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Mike - Just to lend a feeble and utterly inexpert to you - can you make anyhting of the accounts of Zulus attempting to pull bayonets off rifles at RD? If bladed, surely the bayonet would be impossible to grip?
7th February 2005Mike Snook

No, no joy I'm afraid; the bayonet's are pretty similar in type of blade and the way in which they are fixed and locked. Length is the key difference.


7th February 2005Coll

I read these accounts also and I wondered if the Zulus had somehow adapted techniques with regards to the bayonets, by possibly wrapping leather from their shields, etc., round their hands to allow them to grip the bayonets without injuring themselves to a major degree.

I apologise if this sounds a bit naive.

7th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Coll - there was a 'lunger' variety and a 'sword' variety of bayonet. The lunger didn't have an edge as such but, if I remember correctly, a king of three-pointed star shape in cross section and was only dangerous at the pointy end. It tapered to a fine point. Presumably it penetrated deeper and came out easier and was pretty robust. The sword bayonet was just that, a big, long knife, but wasn't common in line infantry. I would guess that, whilst it wasn't easy to get a good grip, pulling on the lunger wouldn't be so likely to have resulted in a premature end to a promising career as a concert pianist.
8th February 2005John Young

I take it we are looking at the same photograph? Firstly how do you know that the men are from the 2nd/3rd Regiment? Or are you being misled by what others have surmised? See John Thomson piece in J.S.A.H.R. Vol. LVI. No. 226, Summer 1978.

I disagree with your comment: 'Their bayonets do not protude above head height'. Look again at the image and you tell me whether the o/r in the middle of the five, doesn't have a bayonet above head height - it is nearly above his helmet! The o/r standing on the left, who appears to be the tallest of the group has a bayonet at least above his eyes.

'They are smartly at attention' - not so they are at 'The Order' according to my contemporary manual of exercises. 'The rifle will then be placed perpendicularly at his right side, the butt on the ground, its toe in line with the toe of the right foot. The right arm slightly bent; the right hand to seize the rifle between the bands, thumb pressed against the thigh, fingers slanting towards the ground.'

John Y.
8th February 2005Glenn Wade
Interesting John
Do you have an opinion to what Regiment(s) these fellows belong?
8th February 2005Paul Cubbin
Mike......its happening again.....
8th February 2005Julian Whybra
I've kept out of this and the earlier 'bayonet' debate deliberately but for what it's worth...
I own a bayonet which allegedly comes from Isandhlwana. It was given to me by a doctor I befriended in the early 1980s who'd practised in Zululand as a doctor in the 1950s. He told me (he was S African) that his grandfather had retrieved this bayonet from the field of Isandhlwana after some heavy rains - he didn't know when. It is badly pitted as if it's been under the ground for some time but he had cleaned it up. I still have it. And it's 21 inches long. Now, I'm fully aware that its provenance cannot be guaranteed and that the 'antiques world' is full of such 'artefacts' but I believe the doctor was an honest man and he believed it was what he said it was. It certainly pre-dates any arguments about 17" or 21" because it's been in my possession since 1981. Incidentally, his grandfather was also a doctor practising in Natal-Zululand and just out of interest told his grandson that he'd treated many Zulus, as old men, who'd been wounded at Isandhlwana in their youth and was amazed that they'd survived with such fearful wounds. So, there you are, for what it's worth, the next time I'm at Chatham in April, I'll bring it along should anyone want to see it. I realise I lay myself open to all sorts of perfectly valid criticisms but still...
9th February 2005Mike Snook

I am of the view that the 2nd Battalion must have had the new bayonet given that 60K of the things were manufactured at home in 1876-1877, well in advance of their departure for the Cape. The issue I am trying to get to the bottom of is whether the 1st Battalion had the old pattern. If this were so then clearly it would be possible to pick up both types at Isandlwana.

John, I have to go back to a library to check whether we are looking at the same photo. If you have grounds to believe that this is not the Buffs or is not in April 79 then please say so. You are one of the acknowledged experts on the photography of the war.

On parade one can be at attention, at ease or stood easy. Simple as that. It is the weapon that is at the order not the men. The men are at attention as I said. And there is an outwards/downwards cant in the line of the bayonet, making them 53/72's. Whether it is indeed the Buffs in April 79 or somebody else later or earlier is where you could make a really helpful contribution.

9th February 2005John Young

I have to say this I'm not an expert on anything to do with the Anglo-Zulu War, merely an interested enthusiast.

I'm doing this answer away from home, due the Memsahib's condition, but off the top of my head John Thomson states that the photograph was sent to him by the Curator of the Local History Museum, Durban. It is captioned with the words something akin to 'Zulu Prisoners, Lower Tugela', no mention is made in the original caption as the identity of the British unit providing the escort.

John Thomson in his 1978 article details the fact that the escort could have been found by the 57th, 99th or 2nd/3rd. The first two units having yellow facings, and the latter buff - as reflected by their nickname. Thomson offers the fact that sometimes yellow facings appear darker, I agree that under certain studio conditions this is so, yet under natural sunlight, the same might, and stress the word might, not apply. So any identification from studying the reproduced image proves inconclusive. Thomson does prefer the Buffs as his possible option.

Knight & Castle, in 'Fearful Hard Times', I believe use the expression 'thought to be the Buffs', or words to that effect, unfortunately the hospital's library doesn't extend far beyond Mills & Boon's!

Ian Castle in his 'British Infantryman in South Africa...', goes with the identity as being the 2nd/3rd Regiment. Whether his source of a 'Private Collection' can expend more I don't know.

Wilkinson-Latham in his work on the uniforms and equipment of the campaign, also states the image is that of the Buffs. I know the source of his photograph has a collection of the 3rd (East Kent) Regiment, whether it is attributed in that collection as 'The Buffs', I can't say.

When my scanner is back in play, I'll send you chapter & verse on 'The Order', and it is the not the same as 'Order Arms' that I knew.

I'll got some nice sketches by Fripp with Zulu prisoners under guard, I dig those out for you also.


John Y.
10th February 2005mike snook

We are not looking at the same photograph - but I have just found the one you are looking at. I will take it back to work in about a week's time and compare it with the one I was looking at. They are very similar and involve some of the same people in the same place.


12th February 2005Adrian Whiting
Mike, John,

It may be a finer point of drill, but I would suggest that you are both right in relation to the comments above about the men being at "attention" and/or "order".

The men are stood at the "Order" which means they first have to be at attention. The foot drill instructions describe the position of attention, and rifle exercises require the man to first be at attention before holding the rifle in the way described, so as to be at the "Order".

The men could hold the rifle at "advance" "slope" "shoulder" and so on, each time being at "attention". If the men in the photograph were then to stand "at ease" and then even to "stand easy", whilst the rifle would still be perpendicular, the position would not be the "order" because the men would not be at attention ! I very much agree that the term "order" refers to the rifle not the man, but to achieve compliance with the command "Order - arms" the man would first need to be at attention.


Sounds like a very moving piece to have in your collection/possession - what stories could it tell ?!

Like you, I have not been able to handle a conclusively provenanced bayonet from Isandlwana, but yours has to be one of the closest to that we are likely to get I think. The two I have seen previously, both in SA, and with the same type of provenance - though not perhaps as personal as your contact seems to have been, have both been P1853/72s. Like you, I am just as wide open to valid criticisms as to whetehr or not they were really used there, and indeed were bayonets issued to the 24th anyway.

I tend to prefer the suggestion that there was a mix, even between the 24th battalions.