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4th May 2005Zulu - the real true story
By Alan Critchley
I watched Saul David on the Timewatch programme again last night. I think I only watched it so that I could enjoy the feeling of relief when it finished. Instead I just felt really irritated. Even I could see so many inaccuracies and cruel twisting of words that I wondered how people like that are able to make a living from his subject.
I don't know how many variations we can have on 'the true story', 'the real facts', the 'ultimate truth', or the 'never before told'.
I don't know what Ian Knight's new book will contain but I hope he has used Saul David as an example 'how not to behave'.

4th May 2005Colum O'Rourke
I watched it aswell. I didn't like the comments about Melvill and Coghill using the Colours as a 'self-help' method to escape from Isandhlwana. We will never know what really happened at the camp on that bloody day but Melvill was known to be a good officer who obeyed orders. Why do you think he made an Adjutant, merely due to his skills and obedience as an officer, I believe. I would believe the traditional story of Pulleine giving the Colour to Lt Melvill and telling him 'to carry them to safety etc etc'. I also disagreed with the words he used on Bromhead and Chard's methods of leadership. Dalton, I agree, should have received more recognition in the aftermath but all the heroes including the ORs and NCOs should be honoured for their glorious defence of a position like Rorke's Drift.
They where officers and should have stayed with ttheir men .
4th May 2005Colum
Oh I know. But Lt Melvill was Battalion-Adjutant while Coghill was Colonel Glyn's ADC. They had no companies to command. The Queen's Colour as you may know was a standard of honour and glory for a Battalion. Melvill was trying to save the last scrap of pride and his battalion's honour by carrying the Colour to safety. No matter what, he died like the men from his battalion but doing a brave and honourable thing. His actions deprived the colour from destruction and were to be later found by Lt Harford
5th May 2005Julian Whybra
I cannot imagine how anyone could state that carrying a ruddy great heavy flag constitured 'self-help'. The story of Pulleine's order to Melvill emerged within weeks of Isandhlwana from a 'gentleman whose testimony may be relied on' - presumably one of the surviving Imperial officers.
5th May 2005Colum
Watch 'Timewatch' and it actually states that 'maybe' Melvill used the colour as a getaway purpose. I believe that Pulleine took an order and obeyed it at his own sacrifice.
There where other ways to save the colours without deserting the battlefied and men.Ensigns Furness and Vance of the 29th Foot tore them from their poles
and wrapped them around their bodies to save them from the French at the battle of Albuera and the colours in those days where far bigger than the ones Melville and Coghill had to deal with.
5th May 2005Colum
I'm sure Melvill had little time to consider doing that especially when charging a horse at full speed through the great mass of Zulus.By the time they reached Sotondose's Drift, it was awash with victorious Zulus.
5th May 2005Mike Snook
This whole issue has been whipped up by writers citing Wolseley on the subject of M & C. But it is necessary only to dip into Wolseley's journals and correspondence to realise what a deeply spiteful, jealous and flawed character he was. Those who cite Wolseley's views on M & C and perpetuate them, will seldom balance the argument by pointing out Sir GW's character traits. Clive - please dip into a bit of Wolseley when you have the time and you will see what I mean. Melvill and Coghill are holders of this nations' supreme award for gallantry. Their deliberate acts of self-sacrifice, one for the other. are beyond question.

5th May 2005John Young

Exactly the point I hope that I put across on BBC Radio Wales morning show, when attempting to rebut Sir Max Hastings' comments regarding Bromhead & Chard. Sir Garnet Wolseley was a bitter and envious man.

John Y.
5th May 2005Tony Jones.
Dear All,
John Cleese once said in an interview,where he answered the critics of his work,that it is the 'easiest job in the world' to become a critic of any sort in any field,and that these people only exist in this capacity because they feed off the work of others.How true that is in this case.Mina Panic's initial staement on this site was that the public would be presented with a true account,for the first time,of the events at the battles of Isandlwana and Rorke's Drift.I think a rebate on the licence fee is appropriate in this case.Has anybody(even bothered) to count the number of errors in this programme.As it stands at the moment,however sensationalisted the claims made in this programme,it is now relegated to the category of 'fish and chip wrapping paper',ie,however news worthy the claims were,people just don't even bother to take notice of what was said anymore.Maybe a 'critique' of this programme should be featured on 'points of view' or at the complaints office at OFCOM.

6th May 2005Graham Mason
Having recieved a copy of the " TIMEWATCH " production of the action on Jan 22 1879 i felt somewhat cheated and confused ! . The action at the mission station was to me a piece " tacked on " at the end as almost an afterthought and i was asked recently to comment on the SAUL DAVID book andjust looked at the chapter on Rorkes drift and gave up after that ! .

I will never consider myself an expert in this field but it will take an outsider ( s ) one day to find out the truth once and for al about events on that day in 1879 . For my money there IS enough material fro another programme or two , and concentrating on two separate items . A worthy in this field said that Rorkes Drift was a " side issue in the war and blown up out of proportion " , well if this true then why some 125 years later do we go on so about this 9 month campaign ??? .

New facts emerge all the time and i for one hope we never see such cheap headlines again as " BUFFOON WHO SLAUGHTERED THE ZULUS " , if that journalist was to write another article on the Zulu war please find out at least what an impi is ! , thank you , Graham .
6th May 2005Basil
The actual header was
"Bufoon who butchered the Zulu
Dull,idle,utterly lacking in ambition and a thoroughly useless soldier..."
6th May 2005Colum
It was meant to be Melvill back up there, not Pulleine who carried out the order. Sorry.
7th May 2005Mike Snook

Sadly I missed the whole Max Hastings issue and your rebuttal on the radio as I was away for a couple of weeks. But my family have sent me the cuttings from the papers since. Max Hastings has let himself down badly. He follows the laughable meanderings of Saul David. For those who can access British Army Review, my comments on David's book, and indeed the lamentable Timewatch programme, have just been published there.


7th May 2005Tony Jones.
Dear Mike,
hello.Can we access 'British Army Review' on the internet or is it only available in hard format.Thanks.

7th May 2005John Young

I'm no fan of Sir Max Hastings, I must admit, since he deeply offended my late father, back in 1984, when he chose to refer the division in which my father fought in WW2 as '...little better than barbarians beyond the beaches...' (Or words to that effect.) As my father was in the 2nd Mons', 53rd Welsh Division, I've drawn the conclusion that Sir Max is anti-24th.

Is there a link we can follow to your review?


Imet Max Hastings shortly after the Falklands conflict and I
7th May 2005Clive Dickens
I met Max Hastings shortly after the Falklands conflict and I can honestly he is the most ignorant man that I am likely to ever meet he is also very much disliked by other journalists,
8th May 2005Mike Snook
Tony and John

Not sure about e-access to BAR. I'll check with them next week.


9th May 2005Peter Quantrill
The myth about Pulleine giving orders to Melvill to save the colours emanates from the letter published in a Natal nespaper signed, was, as you say, by a " Gentleman whose testimony may be relied upon."
This report is not only possible hearsay, but totally unacceptable. I doubt very much if it was one of the surviving officers. It may even be fiction. Such a quote is far too important to be left out of the proceeds of the Court of Inquiry.
We all know that Harness virtually conducted and controlled the proceedings alone.He eliminated many repords from being recorded on the grounds that they were duplicated. Harness was not in the business of being perceived to delay the report, hence the brevity of the time taken to conclude the Inquiry.
The fact remains that anyone who overheard Pulleine instructing Melvil to save the Colour was in receipt of vital evidence not to be brushed to one side or indeed, not worthy of recording. And what about the 2/24th Colours? Would not a similar instruction have been given to a 2/24th officer? Where were the colours? In the case of the 1/24th, probably in the Guard Tent located immediately in front of Black's Koppie. In the case of the 2/24th, in their Guard Tent at the rear, i.e. some two hundred yards or so in front of Chelmsford's HQ tents.
So Melvill had to move from the centre of the battle across to the 1/24th's Guard Tent to rertieve the Colour. He, in all probability, did so on his own initiative.
The report from the " Gentleman whose testimony" --- would have been read by many, yet no at the time cared to pursue the issue? I submit that no cogniscence or weight can be placed on this amorphous evidence. An anonymous letter written by someone who has not the guts to sign his name is simply not historically acceptable as evidence. Rest assured that had any survivor been privy to such a conversation, it would have been the headlines of the day.
Hence, in my view, there being absolutely no primary or secondry evidence to support such an instruction being issued to Melvill, the theory should, like many others on Isandlwana, be religated to the realms of fiction.
9th May 2005Mike Snook

I accept your comments on the testimony that 'may be relied upon', but as a former officer I ask you this - how do you separate a Commanding Officer from his principal staff offcier in a dire crisis? You have only two choices - either the Adjutant ran away or the CO sent him away. I believe that there is a case to be made on the back of a primary source that he was sent away with the Colours. But it isn't there in black and white; you have to read between the lines. More in September - but in the meantime I beg you don't pitch your tents alongside the other knockers. You are too good a historian to keep company with them.

Regards as ever

9th May 2005Peter Ewart

This little paragraph in the newspaper has always fascinated me. (In the Kaffrarian Watchman originally, if I recall).

My first guess was very strongly that it was a "plant." Simply inserted to put an appropriate gloss on matters. Not in a cynical, modern way but more in the accepted(?) way of the time. "Perhaps it happened like this. If it didn't, then it should have done - probably did. And jolly good thing, too. We'll leave it unattributed."

On the other hand, I now think it can't be dismissed for simply being unattributed. The usual discipline of enquiring rigorously whether a source is primary or secondary comes completely unstuck when researching in newspapers, and never is this more clear than when going through the reports and comment during the months after Isandlwana. Quite apart from reports being mixed with comment and letters from the theatre of war being mixed with extracts from reports from other papers, often condensed by precis and frequently ignoring inverted commas, the one "rule" which is constant is that MANY of the reports and stories are deliberately unattributed - and yet emphasised as highly reliable. The fact that the Pulleine/Melvill conversation was reported but unattributed was not unusual but was the norm - so we should rely on it no more or no less than many of the other accounts which are relied upon but which are unattributed. It could be a faithfully reported conversation which was published after following the custom of non-attribution.

And yet - there is that nagging feeling that the reported conversation is just rather too perfect.

Perhaps (surely just as likely?) the conversation was heard but the report (whether by the hearer or by the paper) was embellished? Even if not deliberately embellished, it can hardly, in the circumsances, have been recorded correctly word for word.

I've always thought the argument over the reliability of this source hinges on:

(a) the likely military procedure in the circumstances - which you both discuss above but on which I'm not qualified to comment.

(b) the common procedure of newspapers of the time in publishing unattributed quotes, and whether the Watchman was simply following this procedure.

I used to think it was a deliberate "plant" but now I'm 50/50! Of course, the dismissal of the quote as unreliable would not disprove the possibility of an order being given in some way at some juncture to Melvill. So it may well remain inconclusive anyway.


and (c) whether the Watchman was following this procedure or whether it was planting
10th May 2005Peter Ewart
Ignore bottom line - gremlins.

10th May 2005Peter Quantrill
Good morming from a cloudless autumn day in KZN.
By no means will I be pitching my tent anywhere other than an area where concusions are drawn on primary source material. Such conclusions are of course, open to interpretation. Melvill's record showed that he was too good an officer to act in any way unbecoming.
My point was that such a vital piece of evidence would have been recorded at the Court of Inquiry. It was not and so one must ask why? The probability was that it was fiction.
I have to disagree with your conclusion that either he ran away or his CO sent him.
The real mystery is the timing of Pulleine's death. More than one primary source places his death as " early" in the battle. We know that Melvill left the camp at approximately 1255 hrs or thereabouts. May I suggest that Pulleine was killed just prior to 1255 hrs. His CO killed, Melvill then on his own initiative decided it was prudent to save the colour and died in his attempt to do so. This is a plausable explanation. We shall of course never know, bur I would rather not accept an unsigned letter which was unsupported at the Inquiry in order to draw a conclusion.
As an addendum, Melvill was not by Pulleine's side throughout the battle. At approximately 1215 hrs he was on Tahelane Ridge instructing Essex, presumably on Pulleine's orders, to fall back as Zulus had been sighted " in force in our rear."
At that stage of the battle Pulleine would have realised the error of his troop deployment in light of the full scale attack that was developing, but of course it was too late.
Kind regards,
10th May 2005Mike Snook
Peter Q

But the withdrawal from the Tahelane Spur precisely supports my point - Melvill went there because Pulleine sent him to execute a task there. And having seen Cavaye and Mostyn beginning to withdraw, the Adjutant would then have rejoined the CO on the firing line. As I read things it is absolutely clear that Pulleine was still alive when Melvill left the field: two primary sources to say that Coghill, who certainly left slightly after Melvill, was telling people as he went that the CO had just been killed. He also told Melvill himself when he caught up with him on the trail. I am quite certain that Pulleine was still alive when the Colours left. And it would be improper for the Colours to depart from the battalion without the express say so of the CO.

I will be arguing that we have a flawed vision of what the break-in battle looked like and shall be suggesting a somewhat different vision. From this much else flows.

There is no way that we can be sure that Melvill left at 12.55. It is possible to relate events in time and space, relative to one another, (one of the central contentions of my first book), but not, I believe, to pin them down to a specific time.

Glad to know you are still getting a bit of sunshine - having left SA at the end of the winter, I moved straight back into a British one, so this has been the longest winter of my life!

Peter E

One of the problems with the testimony that may be relied upon is that I cannot conceive who it could possibly have been. Any ideas? The expression tends to be suggest a regular officer but none of the lucky five can have witnessed such a conversation. Furthermore I shall be arguing that their testimony cannot be relied upon - at least not after the break-in battle begins.

I guess we might all have to wait for Doctor Who to turn up with his tardis (if that's how you spell it!) to transport us back there. Perhaps if we stand right on top of Isandlwana, the Zulus won't notice us!!

Regards as ever

10th May 2005Peter Quantrill
Hi Mike,
The truth is that we shall never know. Agreed Melvill, having given the withdrawal instructions, would logically have rejoined his CO. The time now is approximately 1230 hrs.
Between the latter time and 1300 hrs a fair amount of confusion exists, prior to break in. For example, Private Williams is instructed by Coghill to strike Glyn's tent and place it on a wagon. Moments later Melvill leaves followed by Coghill, sans Glyn's wagon which had been abandoned. You may well be correct in assuming that Pulleine is still alive, but Coghill now seems to give the impression of " sauve qui peut" as he yells to Williams to come on or get yourself killed ( words to that effect.)
We can argue realistically, that Melvill did indeed leave between 1245 and 1300 hrs.
His watch as we know was recovered having stopped at 1410 hrs. ( No waterproof mechanisms then)
Ron and I have done a time study on how long, under the prevailing circumstances, it would take for Melvill to reach the river. At best one hour fifteen minutes and worst longer than an hour and a half. Taking the best time, he would have left at the latest 1355 hrs.This all assumes that his watch stopped on entering the Buffalo and this is not an unreasonable assumption.
There exists the possibility that a Colonial Officer may have heard such a conversation and instead of regrouping at Helpmakar, kept riding. In this event he would not have been questioned, but instead decided to write his version to the press. All conjecture.
Either way, panic ensued and flight became the norm. Notwithstanding this, I do not believe that Mellvill's conduct was in any way questionable.Yes, either ordered to, or, in my view, on his own initiative, he attempted to save the Colour, a task he carried out with total singlemindedness.
Coghill, as we all, know, earned his for sacrificing his life in a valient attempt to save his friend.
10th May 2005Peter Quantrill
Please correct the latest time that Melvill left to read "1255 hrs."
12th May 2005Julian Whybra
1) Of course the 'gentleman whose evidence...' is not acceptable as evidence, but it is interesting all the same, and by the by, no-one knows whether it was placed before the Ct of Inquiry and rejected for inclusion - much of import was - perhaps it was thought unnecessary for the purposes of the Ct - viz. to inquire into the loss of the camp.
2) I am frankly surprised that anyone should call into question a surviving officer's testimony before a Ct of Inquiry. There would have been plenty of others left alive (at least 82) who could gainsay a piece of evidence or a soldier's story re his time of departure at the time - that would be quite a risk to take. Young took such a risk and was exposed - others were quick enough to say he wasn't there! Don't you think that the colonial newspaper columns would have been full of derogatory remarks about officers lying about the time they left the camp? I shall be interested ultimately to rerad the justification for these comments and to see how it squares up with arrival times at the various ports of sanctuary in Natal.
14th May 2005Mike Snook

I'm assuming your point 2 is aimed at my remark on the lucky five.

Be assured I'm not talking about big whoppas I'm talking about little distortions and obfuscations. Probably not many of the survivors ever got to read the testimony of the lucky five anyway. And what light could they shed if they were by and large ahead of them. Besides look what happened to Gardner - open ridicule largely on the say so of the other survivors. And Curling too becomes a hate figure for the 'any number of lies' remark.

Two rhetorical questions - could the situation at Isandlwana have been saved?
What was going on when the survivors left?

I have my thoughts on both of these issues but they are for publication - HCMDB now Aug not Sep. Hopefully there will be a magazine taster before that.

By the way you got a mention in my recent piece in British Army Review - if you'd like men to post you a p/copy (there is no on-line access sadly) e-mail me off line with a postal address.

Regards as ever

14th May 2005Juian whybra
Hi mike
Not 'aimed', more of a general reponse to snippets of the contributions re Essex and Melvill, etc., but a few days late i grant you (I haven't been able to visit this site regularly over the past 2 weeks for personal reasons so sometimes when I have my postings have seemed a bit disjointed). As i say i look forward to reading the eventual final version!
I hope the BAReview is positive!