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20th October 2003Lord Chelmsford and the Zulu War
By Andy Lee
Over the weekend I purchased the book 'Lord Chelmsford and the Zulu War' by Major Gerald French DSO. The book is a 1939 first edition and contains a foreword by Sir Bindon Blood.

Having paid a fare amount for this (in book terms) interested if anyone out there knows anything about this book.

Andy Lee
20th October 2003Julian Whybra
I've had a copy for years - essential reading for the 'other' armed camp. It provides for the first time access to Chelmsford's military correspondence - although HEAVILY edited by Gosset - who wasn't afraid to present the pro-Chelmsford slant he naturally wanted. In many ways it was a response to Clements's book and the read is full of righteous indignation - methinks the man doth protest too much. Clumsy in some ways, so clumsy you can actually feel the ranks closing. apart from all that, useful in making you think and reinforcing your opinions, whatever side they may fall on.
20th October 2003Peter Ewart
Andy & Julian

I'd be interested to know who chose Gerald French to mount the defence of Chelmsford, following the latter's recent mauling by Clements. And why? I've seen the book but have never acquired a copy (chasing the price upwards for years instead of biting the bullet long ago!) but wonder whether any preface in it connects French (jnr or senior) with Chelmsford in any way?

He had published an account (which I don't have) of his own father's career a few years earlier and I suspect this too, perhaps, may have been a spirited defence of the FM, in a similar manner to his defence of Chelmsford, following criticism?

It is fascinating, when reading military memoirs, to study in which "camp" the author and his contributors fall, and which names of prominent career rivals either simply don't appear or are accompanied by the spitting of blood!

Incidentally, I do have a copy of another of French junior's works - a history of club cricket. Don't suppose his white-washing of the General dwells on this aspect of the campaign, by any chance?

20th October 2003Andy Lee

Would be interested to know if I paid a good price for it - it was marked up at 100 and I got it for 85.

20th October 2003Peter Ewart

Well, I haven't seen it offered at under 65 for a couple of years at least, so you're probably not too far out.

I see (from abebooks) that Gerald French wrote quite a few works, sometimes illustrated by the 2nd Earl of Ypres (I'm assuming Gerald was a younger son of the 1st Earl but will stand corrected on that). Biogs of Gordon, Byng, etc and one on cricketing etiquette, which I don't have, as well as one on the decline of the cavalry. Can't see a single copy of French's "Chelmsford" on "abebooks" so it is certainly scarce.

What a shame that Smith-Dorrien himself never lived to see French's "Chelmsford/Zulu War." What, I wonder, would his reaction have been, first on the book itself and secondly on the stable from which it came. A wry grin? A snort? JY may have an opinion.

20th October 2003Andy Lee

Thanks for your help - most appreciated.


20th October 2003Miguel
This thread brings me to an over-simplifying question: in general, would you say that Chelmsford was an incompetent officer?

Yes, it is a complicate question, yes, answers will always be opinionated, and yes, hindsight is a great thing.

20th October 2003AMB
85 sounds pretty good. A good tight copy in a dw normally goes for 100+, so you did ok.

As for Smith-Dorrien [I must admit to being a fan of his] - I have always asked myself the question: why was Smith-Dorrien not killed? I think one can only conclude that this particular special service officer saw the writing on the wall & got out before maybe those officers whose Regt was being destroyed thought to do the same!
However, after Mons - all is forgiven!!

21st October 2003Keith Smith
Hi guys

As Julian said, Chelmsford's letters were heavily edited by Gossett. You might care to read John Labands "Lord Chelmsford's Zululand Campaign" which contains the complete letters and covers much the same ground, but without the heavy propaganda.
It's also much cheaper!
21st October 2003Julian Whybra
85 is a fair price. French was a personal friend of Chelmsford, I understand, and saw it as his duty to defend him against Clements's slanders.
To be fair, I think from his accounts Smith-Dorrien would have been in the thick of the flight. Why did he escape and not others? He had a horse. It didn't stumble. He wasn't wearing a red jacket. He could swim. He didn't lose his horse in the river. Kismet.
21st October 2003AMB
I take your [very valid] point.
However, it would be very interesting to know exactly when Lt S-D saw fit to leave the battle.

22nd October 2003Julian Whybra
Well, from his account, it was certainly after the Zulus entered the camp area, after the track across the Manzimnyama had been cut, at the same time as were fleeing (1) the Africans of the Natal Native Mounted Contingent, (2) the men of the M.I. (he stopped to assist one), (3) the men out with the guns (he met Bvt. Maj. Smith), and (4) Hamer, who'd been up on the plateau with Shepstone. He saw QM Bloomfield 2/24th killed. He arrived at Helpmekaar at nightfall to find "about ten or twenty men who'd escaped" there before him. Given that he had no-one at the camp for whom he was responsible, he certainly doesn't seem to have left any earlier than others who did have responsibilities to others and to each other. I imagine he left when he felt the situation had become one of sauve qui peut, a decision reached both personally and by witnessing the mood and actions of those around him. He was certainly of the same mind as at least 2 other officers whom he met.
22nd October 2003AMB
I think that young S-D did exit the scene 'just in time'. I was not trying to slur the gentleman, I assure you. He was lucky to have a good horse & firm seat.
What a shame that the old boy was never interviewed by a historian.
23rd October 2003Julian Whybra
It never entered my head that you might be; for my part, I was just trying to answer your question. As for a 'good horse' didn't S-D describe it as a broken-kneed old crock?
28th October 2003AMB
A broken-kneed old crock to one one is another's Derby winner - especially if it got you down the Fugitive's Trail!