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22nd October 2003Timewatch - Zulu - 'The True Story'
By John Young
With just two days to go before the broadcast, I have been lucky enough to receive a preview of the documentary.

Frankly I would like to see the 'director's cut' version. I know for a fact that a number of interviews have been left on the cutting-room floor.

The C.G.I. works well, when used. 'The Dundee Diehards', however, seem to lack the authentic look that the VMS's 'Diehard Company' go to pains to recreate. Their kit is wrong, and worst still, some are carrying Metfords or long Lee-Enfields. One scene compounds this - a close-up of one of them working the bolt- action on his rifle.

As with some many other documentaries, there are some real howlers. Charles Raw and the N.N.H. are transformed into a two-man 24th picket, who crest the ridge and peer down on the Zulu masses.

Captain Arthur Fitzroy Hart appears to have changed his name to 'Alan'.

Apparently 500 Zulu wounded were despatched in the aftermath of the Defence of Rorke's Drift - that would give a figure in the region of about a 1,000 Zulu dead, a figure I personally find hard to accept.

Silly things niggle - Lord Chelmsford, portrayed by Christopher Cazenove, (Coghill in 'Zulu Dawn'.) wearing a post-1881 general officer's frock coat, addresses the Earl of Beaconsfield as "Mr. Disraeli". Hardly the correct form of address by a baron, when speaking to an earl!

Dr. Saul David appears as the adviser, both on camera and in the credits. Take a look for yourselves at his 'Great Military Blunders', he has a 'Company of Royal Engineers' at Isandlwana - news to me when only seven R.E. all-ranks perished in the action.

For those of you who were well-versed in the detail of the Anglo-Zulu War, do not look for anything too earth-shattering. But judge for yourselves, as I've said so many times before, I'm only an interested amateur. Let those academics who proffer their theories to the masses through the media, be aware they are not right all the time.

As an aside I did volunteer my services to cast my eye over the documentary, when it was being edited. I didn't get the call, but don't think that had any influence on my opinions, it does not. Before someone says I'm 'bleating' or it is 'sour grapes'. The views expressed here are my own, and I stand by them.

John Young
22nd October 2003A M BANKS
I'm very interested to read your preview comments. I'll wait for Friday night before I comment further.
I would, however, be interested in your views regarding Ron Lock/Peter Quantrill's video produced in 2001.
23rd October 2003Andy Lee

I think it goes without saying that however good/bad the programme is on Friday evening it would have greatly benefited from your input.

I purchased a copy of your 'They fell like stones' from the Bristol event - outstanding. Hopefully one day I'll track you down to sign it for me.

All the best


23rd October 2003Julian Whybra
I too received an advance copy of the video with a note from the Asst Director that some information I was asked to supply had been cut from the final version. Andy, it's not just a question of being asked to make an input, it's also a matter of whether the overall director thinks it makes for 'good television' (and these days, political correctness). Accurate history is not necessarily always the outcome - despite the best of intentions on the part of the production crew (and, I must say, I did find in my dealings with them that their intentions were honourable). There are 'howlers' as John says (including someone using a bolt action rifle instead of a Martini-Henry at one point). Small mistakes (and fairly major ones) are inevitable I suppose. I did think the computer graphics were a cut above though.
23rd October 2003Clive Dickens
A friend of mine is a member of the Dundee Diehards, and he told me some three months ago about the issues thay you yourself have raised, he too was very miffed by the fact that all this was brought to the notice of the director but dispite putting the director in the picture concerning accuracy it all fell on deaf ear's. they are very upset about this , but my friend also told me they also compleely ignored the expert advisor someone we all know, so what chance did the film have of being accurate with people like this making it. what Julian say's I think covers it all but please do not hold the Dundee Diehards responsible.
23rd October 2003Marc Jung
Timewatch. How do you guys get an advance screening and then they won't refer to you for expert advice! It's amazing, that. So many of you proffer to be amatuers but the rest of us on here wouldn't see it that way. Not being sycophantic, we real 'amatuers' have learnt a lot from you guys and if the BBC thinks you're not up to it, more fool them. Perhaps if one of their researchers took time out to visit this great site even, then they may have been forgiven about mnot consulting any of you. That aside, waiting 'til tomorrow and I know it's been said, but yes the 'shattering' blow of Isandhlwana must've been allayed by the action at the 'Drift, but no-one can take away the heros, of both Zulu and Brits alike on that one. I know I wasn't there, but it's likely the whole garrison shoulda got VC's I don't care if the media THINK that's another loose ploy.
24th October 2003Barry Iacoppi N.Z.
Well said Mark. If some of the chaps here are not experts I don't know what an expert is.
25th October 2003bernie Drummond
I am rather surprised at the restraint shown by John and Julian in their cricicisms. Why was there no mention of Bartle Frere's part in the decision to invade ? Political correctness is to be expected, but if there is blame to be aportioned then why single out Chelmsford? he was not responsible for the ultimatum!
25th October 2003John Young

I thought I'd let a few more people see it first before coming in with that line.

Frere was Commander-in-Chief of British military forces in southern Africa, his & Shepstone's shoulders should bear much of the blame placed on Chelmsford. Yet neither man was blamed & shamed, doesn't that speak volumes for the bias of the documentary?


In response to your comment I don't hold the 'Dundee Diehards' responsible, I merely stated they didn't quite look the part.

The burden for the inaccuracies must be shared by the production team and their on-set advisers.

John Y.
25th October 2003Colin
I've just watched it for a second time and all the mistakes and bloomers you mention are there. The problem is that all of us on this web site are Zulu War enthusiasts. The episode of Time Watch was made for the General Public, most with only a passing interest in the subject. The CGIs worked quite well and the aftermath of Isandlwana was, as promised, much more gory than we have seen before. Any new programme on the Zulu War is welcome and this one had interesting scenes involving Queen Victoria that have not been attempted before. No one but the enthusiast would have noticed even the biggest gaffs and the makers know that, hence their disinterest in altering their script when advised of these errors. The one thing that did annoy me was the treatment of Bromhead and Chard. The remarks about them being stupid, below average, officers I am sure were made by the same man and, if I am right, this particular person was well known for bad mouthing everybody.


25th October 2003Justin Young
I totally agree with what Colin sais about the documentary been aimed at the 'general public' (personally I wasn't very impressed)and not really at the people well read in the Zulu campaign. There were a huge amount of inaccuracies but on the other hand with only 50 minutes for this program, I'm sure much was cut out etc which may have been pretty important for tying things together. Surely this sort of program should be applauded for at least tackling the subject of the Zulu war and I'm sure after watching this program many people will decide to find out a little more about this interesting campaign- after all how many people here first became interested in the the Zulu war after watching Zulu or Zulu dawn?-and these films are riddled with inaccuracies!

Just my thoughts

25th October 2003Derek Hogg
I'm glad there are some voices of sanity comimg forth. TV producers tend to do what they want and to hell with accuracy. All they want is what makes good TV in their eyes. They may have advisers but that doesn't mean they will act on their advice. I'd echo the remarks made by Clive Dickens that one expert was completely ignored and I think it very unfair to blame all the advisers for the inaccuracies. Zulu wasn't accurate in any case and look at how many people, who wouldn't have given the Anglo-Zulu war a second thought before, became interested in the subject. if this programme does the same, then those interested will find out the inaccuracies for themselves. And like those of us who still love Zulu, they won't care either. This was a TV show made by TV producers who are totally responsible for the content of the finished article. Take the thing in context, not to heart and stop the blame game on those who have had no control over content.
25th October 2003Martin Everett
Did a meeting of Disraeli and Chemsford take place? If so and when. I have not got my reference books with me - but Chelmsford arrived in England, with Evelyn Wood and Buller on 26 August 1879. He was summoned to Balmoral ?2 September 1879 to see Queen Victoria and appointed GCB. Gladstone took over from Disaeli as PM on 28 April 1880. I assume this is when Disaeli was created Earl of Beaconsfield. But Disaeli died in 1881.
25th October 2003Martin Everett
Dear John,
There was reference by the programme to Chelmsford being appointed 'Gold Stick' at Court. I cannot verify that he was 'Gold Stick' but he only became Colonel, 2nd Life Guards, which could have also brought the appointment of 'Gold Stick' on 27 September 1900 - over 20 years after AZW. Hardly a case of honours been showered on on his return to England.
25th October 2003John Young

Pages 352-3 of Gerald French's 'Lord Chelmsford & the Zulu War' gives the following:
"Lord Beaconsfield presents his compliments to Lord Chelmsford.
Lord Beaconsfield has summoned the Cabinet to meet on next Monday, and if Lord Chelmsford will do Lord Beaconsfield the honour of calling on him in Downing Street on Tuesday the 7th [October, 1879] at twelve o'clock, Lord Beaconsfield would be happy to receive Lord Chelmsford."

Beaconsfield - Disraeli, like some many of his cabinet were members of the House of Lords, rather than the Commons.

As to Chelmsford being showered with honours, he did not become Lieutenant of the Tower until June 1884, under Lord Napier of Magdala, who was Constable of the Tower.

It was not until December 1888 that he became a full general. As you say he did not become Gold Stick until 1900, a position he retained on the accession of Edward VII.

Some of the 'meetings' portrayed in the documentary never actually took place, but are based on the exchange of correspondence. But that doesn't make for good television does it?


In response to your comment - I believe that Dr. Saul David did have some control over the content - so why exempt him from 'the blame game'?

John Y.
25th October 2003Derek Hogg
I agree entirely. Those that DID have control can expect any due flak. Those who didn't....
That is only fair.
it's got people talking though, hasn't it?
25th October 2003Melvin Hunt
Why would you have given everyone at the garrison a VC? Would you have included the ones who hid in cupboards and the gardens?
The Timewatch television programme was made for the general viewing public. Unless the producers involved the likes of John, Julian, Ian etc., in all stages of production there will be errors.
None of the errors originally raised by John would have been noticed by the average viewer.
(post 1881 frock?, "Mr Disraeli"?, "Alan"?)
Things need to be put in perspective here.
Would the producer have changed the frock if it had been pointed out to him on set or in the editing process?
On a TV limited budget which scene is easier to film? A couple of soldiers finding the Impi or a troop of mounted Basutos chasing a herd of cattle?
Even if most of the errors had been corrected it would not have changed the overall content and programme bias against Chelmsford. That, to me, should have been the main talking point along with the criticisms of Chard and Bromhead.
(Post 1881 frock?, "Mr Disraeli"?....???)
Sorry John. I'm on your side but it does sound like sour grapes.
Regarding your defence of Chard and Bromhead, there are a number of sources stating the same sort of criticism about the Officers. Keith Smith has written an excellent article on the subject.

25th October 2003James Garland
The programme also showed Queen Victoria's positive opinion of Chard which I think redressed the balance.
25th October 2003Martin Everett
Dear John,
I have now found that Disraeli was created Earl of Beaconsfield in 1876 - before he was replaced by Gladstone in April 1880. So the BBC were wrong to refer to him as Mr Disraeli in the dramatised reconstructions.

Nobody seems to give credit to Lord Chelmsford for his staff work in the organisation of the AZW campaign. They certainly do not mention his role in the success of the Abyssinian campaign - the 'Falklands' of the 19th century.
26th October 2003John Young

No sour grapes I assure you, better research on behalf of the production team could have avoided some of the points I've raised. As I said I did volunteer my services, I must say the trip to KwaZulu did clash with the memsahib's 50th birthday holiday trip, so there was no way I could get out of that!

What if a leading Anglo-Zulu War author were to call Arthur Fitzroy Hart, 'Alan'? Would that make any difference to you? Or would you still be indifferent? I know for one who has recently in an article. 'No names, no pack drill'.

The computer graphics worked well enough for the opening shot, why did they not use them to generate the Natal Natal Horse?

As to the scapegoating of Lord Chelmsford, I concur with Martin's above comment, the British force which invaded KwaZulu in 1879, were in my opinion the best informed British troops ever to take the field up until that time. Chelmsford saw to that.

As to Saul David's comment about the defence of the camp being Chelmsford's plan, the eight-company deployment in extended order is right out of the manual of 'Field Exercise & Evolutions of Infantry', 1877.

I'm surprised no-one has mentioned the confusion and the merging together of Robert & William Jones' post-campaign experiences. Robert Jones V.C. it is now alleged took his life whilst fleeing from imaginary Zulus. A startling new fact, you learn something new every day.

As I said before lets see the edited-out interviews, I know two Natal Carbineers' descendants were interviewed, one of whom's forebear was apparently denied a V.C. for his actions at Isandlwana. Personally, I'd like to hear what he had to say?

Equally, I would have liked to have heard what a relative of Lord Chelmsford had to say about the assumptions made by the production. Yet no-one spoke in his defence.

Let us not forget Beaconsfield advocated the Confederation Policy, devised by his Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord Carnarvon. Frere & Shepstone who practised the policy on the eastern Cape and the Transvaal, without let or hinderance by Beaconsfield. Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Carnarvon's replacement, endeavoured to convince Frere not to go to war with the AmaZulu, but that was only because of his fears that it might upset 'The Great Game' being played on the north-west frontier of British India.

Whose government was it that had denied Lord Chelmsford's request for regular cavalry and additional battalions? No mention of those facts - obviously it doesn't make for good television!

John Y.
26th October 2003AMB
The programme made out that the PM was upset by Chelmsford's invasion. Like all British soldiers, he was simply carrying out the orders of the politicians. Why was so little made of those driving the Cape & Natal political scene at the time (bar a very brief mention at the start)? Soldiers generally do not start wars - unlike most politicians, they know what goes on. But they do have to finish them.
Chelmsford did not order the laagering of his Camp at Isandwlana. He did not order trenches to be dug and the Gatlings were not with No3 column. The extended lines of the 1/24, NNC & 2/24 were simply caught by suprise, over extended and overwelmed. None of the Principles of Defence were adhereded to & the Force consequently paid the cost. A mistake.
As the commander of the operation, Chelmsford had the ultimate responsibility. The column commander, Col Glyn, must also share some of the 'blame', as it was his column.
Regardless of this, it is easy for us to snipe at those who undertake military operations over 120yrs after the events. Hindsight is always going to say that things might have been done differently - even Lee's handling of Gettysburg could be bettered by a well-read civilian today, using the facts as they are now know.
Chelmsford [like Lee] was short of reliable intelligence. Dartnell thought that the Zulu force that he had encoutered was of significant size & sent messages back to Chelmsford requesting re-inforcement. Chelmsford was not to know that this int was inaccurate. Again, hindsight is great after the event.
Basically Chelmford could have done a number of things differently. This may have saved some lives of those lost in the Camp. Or it may not.
During the second invasion, Chelmsford's handling of the operation went well. The final battle of the war, Ulundi, was a well executed set-piece engagement - with minimal losses to the British.
As for the programme's handling of R/Drift - I'm afraid I thought that was woeful. Sadly, some very 21st century thinking - and very liberal at that. The 19th Century British Army was not known for it's social parity, but of those VCs awarded (as this excellent site shows), the majority went to ORs, not officers. As with all honours and awards, they can be quite subjective.
Overall, whilst the producers made some real blunders in the making of the the programme, they should be applauded for bringing the Zulu War back out to the general public. You never know, some viewers might begin to use this site or join one of the excellent Zulu War associated societies.
26th October 2003Melvin Hunt
I'm not having a go at you but I am trying to put things in perspective.
Non of the errors you menioned were important enough to infuence the overall programmes point of view.
I think it was appalling how Chelmsford was treated. That is the impression most viewers will now have of him.
I repeat- This programme was made for TV and did not, apparently, involve the experts enough to eliminate errors. If it had, then, yes, I would not be so "indifferent" to errors.(Thats assuming that I spot them in the first place.)
I quite agree, the balance was redressed. I was just pointing out Keiths article.
26th October 2003Clive Dickens
At the end of the day the B.B.C who gave an estimated measeley Ł200,000 for this production fly out an expert whome I myself have the greatest respect for and then completely ignore his advice, as for ripping to pieces Lord Chelmesfrd well the B.B.C are very good at distroying anything British they do it to people today who are still alive so they are sure not to miss the chance to have a go at someone long dead.
26th October 2003Alan Critchley
Overall, it was better to make the documentary in the form in which it came than not to have made it at all. If I view something on a unfamiliar topic which has errors of detail such as uniforms or equipment, I can live with it as long as the main story is accurate. The author must get his information from some source, and if taken in good faith and still inaccurate, then the source is at fault. The documentary was brilliant in the computer images. To me the savagery and desperation came over well throughout.

As someone said, it will at least generate interest in the subject (and make more money for the professionals in the industry). Dr. Saul David (there seem to be as many Doctors around as there are in the NHS), alluded to a written order to Durnford from Chelmsford which was found later on the battlefield. He didn't say what it contained. Ian Knight suggested that strategic importance was attributed to victory at Rorke's Drift. I think it was more public morale and Political reasons.

This site is dedicated to the individuals involved and their actions which won them the VCs is separate from the political web which put them into the situation in which they found themselves. To say 125 years later that they didn't deserve them is not only unfair, it is wrong. As our friend Themba said when justifying the disembowelling of the soldiers, 'it was the custom as viewed with the attitudes at that time'. Somehow we are never allowed that luxury and seem always to have judgements heaped upon the participents based on the luxury of today's values.

Certain details are key to the two conflicts, Isandhlwana and Rorke's Drift. The subject of Melvill and Coghill was dealt with very briefly. They were both credited with the saving of the Colour even though Dr. David thought the VCs undeserved. He may well be right, but that needed more information. The London Gazette of 19 January 1907 cites saving the Colour for Melvill and returning to assist him to Coghill.

At Rorke's Drift, I always thought it was 4,000 Zulus in the attack. But what's 1,000 Zulus between friends. To have descendants of William Jones and Sgt. Gallagher giving their interpretations of events seemed a little strange. The suggestion that because Sgt. Gallagher was the most senior sergeant, he warranted a VC. He was senior by 2 to 4 months to three of the sergeants present but I thought that the other, Sgt. Windridge was 6 months his senior. Not forgetting CS Bourne of course. Donald Morris suggested 'Black as Hell and thick as grass' which he attributed to Pt. John Wall, not Gallagher. Again, I too have not heard the one about William Jones being pursued by Zulus in Manchester. Private Jones also being chased by Zulus? How do they know? Did he leave a suicide note? Was it in his garden? I understood it happened at his employer's Maj. De La Hay.

My greatest disappointment was in the portayal of Chard and Bromhead. They each had one other fellow officer portray them in anything but flattering terms. Winston Churchill had some pretty scathing remarks made about him. But history doesn't judge him on those, but on what he did when it mattered. I feel the same is true with Chard and Bromhead. When asked his source for the suggestion that they considered doing a runner, Dr. David said it came from Hook. Where did Hook get it? From one of his frequent chats with the two officers? More likely it came from something heard via Rev. Smith who from his position on the Oskarberg may have interpreted movement of the wagons as preparation for withdrawal. I have no doubt that the option quite rightly would have been considered but even the two 'thickheads' would have quickly realised that this wasn't a realistic option.

Acting Assistant Commissary Dalton did deserve the VC. He undoubtably was pivotal in the initial organising of the defences. The delay in his VC award might have been in part due to the fact that he was on sick leave for six months after the defence. He did however receive his VC before John Williams and only 3 days after William Jones.

I hope that documentaries like this continue to be produced, frustrating as inaccuracies in them might be to those who strive towards the truth. At least the subject is not forgotten.

(By the way, who was the mystery fourth bloke around the camp fire?)

26th October 2003John Young

I can solve one mystery for you at least. The other man is a descendant of Trooper William Walwyn Barker, Natal Carbineers. According to Stalker's 'Natal Carbineers', he performed a deed at Isandlwana which did warrant a V.C., yet he never got one.

I did discuss with Roger Lane at the Chatham event about R.J. Hall's cry of "Black as Hell, thick as grass!" But he was adamant it was his forebear's rendition.

John Y.
26th October 2003Steve Moore
Hi, taking advantage of the lull in the predictable proceedings between the big guns in this conflict.
Throught the thing was interesting, worth watching, innacurate, but then so is life.
If it gets people wanting to know more, so much the better.
Being sad, watched it to the end credits and noticed the Beeb thanked among others, a J Young.
We are so lucky to have 2 experts with the same name.Good job it wasnt "our" J Young, woudn,t want him involved in the blame game.
Cheers Steve.
26th October 2003John Young

Actually it said 'John Young' - sorry.

Sadly it was me, for providing a photograph of Robert Jones V.C. from my collection. I also introduced the Asst. Director to a Natal Carbineers relation, who wasn't used, who in turn introduced the production staff to their 'Queen Victoria'.

I also give them the text of Melton Prior's report from the 'Illustrated London News', sadly that was my sum input to the documentary. I was asked to provide some further illustrations, but someone-else did that in the end, obviously they needed the money more than I.

There are two others who were included on the credits, who have made comments on the documentary, interesting you only chose to mention my name though?

John Young
26th October 2003Steve Moore
Hi John,
Guess you answered your own question.
Cheers Steve
27th October 2003Colin
Just a quickie. Any one who, like me, is tempted to buy the BBC History Magazine this month because it has an article about the progamme in it ......... be warned! It's only a few pages and is written by Dr Saul, therefore it is just a rehash of his views expressed in the programme . Nuff said. Reason for this posting is that the magazine is sealed in a bag so you dont know what you've got till you've purchased it!


27th October 2003Julian Whybra
Well, I watched the Timewatch video for a second time last Thursday evening and then sped
off to get a night flight to Edinburgh, feeling more and more incensed. Friday's copy of The
Scotsman carried a full page article by Saul David on the programme and I was so angry by
this stage I decided to write the inevitable 'Angry of Tunbridge Wells' letter to The Scotsman,
The Sun. Telegraph, and the BBC History mag. I composed it on the plane home this morning
and have just sent it. I feel better now it's off my chest - will they publish it?

Dear Sir,
I am heartily tired of TV programmes maligning the British Empire, belittling brave men’s
deeds, and judging 19th-century actions by 21st-century standards. I refer to the recent
Timewatch programme ‘Zulu - (travesty of) the True Story’ and your article of 24th October,
both of which were riddled with errors, inaccuracies, and contradictions, oozed nauseatingly
political correctness, and was more concerned with sensationalism than historical veracity. In
addition the double standards applied to Africans I found both shameful and patronising.
The historian used to present the programme is not an expert in the Zulu wars (and it showed);
he couldn’t even pronounce the name of the main battle properly. Furthermore he used
information selectively to provide the deliberate slant he wanted.
Regarding Isandhlwana, the presenter maintained that Lord Chelmsford had been ‘lured’ from
the camp by a Zulu feint. There is no evidence for this whatsoever. It was pure serendipity as
far as the Zulus were concerned. He also maintained that Chelmsford pretended a ‘lost’ order
was sent to Colonel Durnford telling him to take command and that this order was disobeyed;
when it was subsequently found, it was suppressed. This is absolute rubbish. Durnford was
ordered to proceed to Isandhlwana - as senior officer he would automatically take command of
the camp (though Chelmsford’s military secretary told him incorrectly that he believed the
order had included the phrase ‘take command of the camp’; when it was later found on the
battlefield, its content was not ‘suppressed’). With a fluid military situation Durnford was also
entitled to act on his own initiative. He ultimately did return to and take command of the
The camp was lost because first because of Zulu fearlessness in their frontal assault and
secondly because both Durnford and Pulleine at Isandhlwana put into place Chelmsford’s
desired instructions for meeting a Zulu attack which were flawed. Chelmsford realized this
and afterwards removed any hint of their existence. However a set of these instructions
survived and were found in 1989 by David Jackson and myself found at the RE Museum in
Chatham. The programme’s presenter has merely created a sensationalist (and false)
distraction from the real reasons for the disaster and made baseless accusations against
Chelmsford whilst ignoring the valid ones.
He further maintained that Chelmsford was ‘rewarded’ for his actions. Not so. He had to
defend himself in the House of Lords, his career was ruined, he was permanently tainted by the
Isandhlwana disaster, and never again did he command an army in the field.
Regarding, the VCs awarded to the two young officers of the 24th Regiment. These were not
awarded for running away. One was given to the man’s widow (posthumously 30 years later)
for trying to save the Colour; the other (posthumously also 30 years later) for turning back
from safety to try to save his fellow officer.
Regarding Rorke’s Drift, Chard and Bromhead did not first try to ‘abandon the post’ and were
prevented from doing so by Commissary Dalton. Chard admitted in his own account that they
considered evacuating the post to a stronger postion but were persuaded by the old soldier
Dalton to remain and defend it. Chard praises Dalton effusively. All the more credit to both
officers for not acting with the arrogance of youth (and their class) and taking the advice of a
social inferior (but of superior experience) - precisely what a good officer should do. If they’d
been massacred, Chard and Bromhead would have got the blame; but they won, so they should
get the credit (as did Dalton himself).
Regarding the claims of 19th-century spin in playing up Rorke’s Drift and playing down
Isandhlwana, the facts do not particularly bear this out. If one reads the first reports of
Isandhlwana in the British Press (good grief, the casualty lists alone made awful reading), there
is a parity with the coverage regarding Rorke’s Drift. And if, subsequently, the Home and
Natal Press did lionize the Rorke’s Drift defenders it was because, first, the army’s morale
needed the boost and, secondly, they genuinely believed that the post had forestalled a Zulu
invasion of the colony.
Lastly, the presenter greatly overstresses Victoria’s role in the affair - her constitutional duty
was never exceeded and to her credit she was not willing to allow Chelmsford to be lambasted
until she was in possession of all the facts.
There is much to be proud of in our imperial record (especially when compared to the
Europeans’ and Americans’ behaviour) and in our adminstration (when compared with the
indigenous and barabarous regimes it replaced). What was it Patrick Ford wrote - “Half the
world is British, and half the world is civilized because we made it so.” But it is not
fashionable these days to tell a pure undiluted tale, neither is it politically correct to act on the
defensive with regard to anything concerned with the British Empire. Nothing has changed
since Kipling wrote, “If you can hear the truth you’ve spoken, Twisted by knaves to make a
trap for fools...”
Well, let this letter commence the fightback.

Yours sincerely,
Julian Whybra
27th October 2003Peter Weedon

Hear, hear!

Thank you for posting this as I suspect that we will will not have the opportunity to read it elsewhere.

Peter Weedon
27th October 2003Keith Smith
Good on you, Julian. Go get 'em, tiger!

27th October 2003Melvin Hunt
Well, that's opened up the conversaton a bit.
Well said Julian.
(You forgot to mention the post 1881 frock, mind.)
28th October 2003Phil Read
Well said, Julian.

By the way, the BBC website states that Dr Saul David ' writing a history of the Zulu War to be published autumn 2004.'

Prepare for discussion forum meltdown!
28th October 2003Martin Everett
I did write to the Sunday Telegraph, before I had seen the broadcast I might add. In the event my letter was not published; but the two that were adequately covered my points.

Dear Sir,

Unexceptional VCs

The BBC appear to have resorted to unnecessary tabloid tactics to drum up an audience for BBC Timewatch Zulu: The True Story (Sunday Telegraph October 19 2003). It is unworthy of them. The courage of the British soldier during a difficult campaign against the Zulus in 1879 is not in question. The documentary therefore did not really warrant the pre-broadcast hype which your correspondent Charlotte Edwards fell for. Most of the claims made by the BBC production team are not new. Some are based on tart remarks made by Sir Garnet Wolseley at the time. It should be remembered that Sir Stanley Baker’s 1964 film Zulu was produced as an entertainment. Real war is a much more serious business as can be witnessed on our TV screens each day.

The British Army has always produced well-trained soldiers who do their job professionally often under difficult circumstances. It has never created 'rambo' type characters - this aspect has to be only for the cinema. I would contend that most holders of the Victoria Cross before their award were, like Lts Chard and Bromhead, 'unexceptional' soldiers. It should be remembered that in 1879 there was no other medal for valour, courage or bravery in existence. The Commanders in the Field in South Africa and Army Headquarters at Horse Guards made the final recommendations based on information available at the time. There were undoubtedly many acts of gallantry that took place at the disaster at Isandhlwana some 12 hours previously which were never witnessed. My Regiment lost 596 men in that action; only 10 survived. It beggars belief that your correspondent suggests that the injured Lt Coghill should have stayed and let the Queen's Colour of the 1/24th fall into the hands of the Zulus.

On the 125th anniversary of the Defence of Rorkes Drift in January 2004, the successors of the soldiers who fought there so bravely – The 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Wales will be on duty in Iraq. We wish them a safe return to their families. However, out of conflict has grown reconciliation and a great friendship exists today between the Welsh soldiers and the Zulus. This bond is something both nations should be proud of.

Yours sincerely,

Saul David's book is planned to be published in January 2002 - the 125th anniversary.
28th October 2003Clive Dickens
That was just brilliant well done but I too bet reading it here will be our only chance,
Well Done
28th October 2003AMB
Well said, Sir!
28th October 2003Mike McCabe
It was even more dire than I had expected. It was particularly disappointing to see the dignified remarks of Prince Buthelezi set in such a trifling context. Also, whilst Ian Knight made considerable efforts to raise the tone and quality of the finished product, it seemed that he was very unevenly and unfairly edited.
No criticism of the Dundee Diehards, or their Isandlwana 'oppos', but these almost compulsory and trite re-enactments ultimately just demean the memories of the unfortunates who died on both sides by adding a circus element to the proceedings. As do short and tubby Lord Chelmsfords!

Mike McCabe
29th October 2003Julian Whybra
Short and tubby? Isn't that a sizeist remark? Tsk, tsk!
29th October 2003Mike McCabe
Those who know me well, would recognise my expertise in defining what did or did not constitute 'tubby'.
29th October 2003Julian whybra
Then all is forgiven!
30th October 2003Martin Everett
Dear All,
I watch the History Channel's programme on the Crimea. Excellent, just shows how archives can be used properly and effectively.
Interestingly, the Daily Telegaph (29th October) made the comparison under 'Beebwatch' i.e. BBC watch:


Two television documentaries about Victorian military escapades have been broadcast in the past few days: the History Channel's study of the Crimean War and a BBC2 Timewatch about the Zulu campaign. The Crimean film, while excoriating British incompetence, resisted the temptation to judge l9th-century soldiers by the standards of 21st-century morality. The Timewatch programme, by contrast, dealt in stereotypes: tea-sipping, racist toffs versus noble warriors.

On the same day in January 1879, 1,300 troops under Lord Chelmsford were wiped out by Zulus at Isandhlwana, while a British outpost Rorke's Drift. The programme that Disraeli's government used the second episode to distract attention from the first disaster – fair charge. There were some strange omissions, however.

For example, we heard that the conflict was sparked by British demands that the Zulus abandon "key cultural traditions". We were not told those traditions included a rule that a Zulu warrior could not marry until he had killed someone.

There was no attempt to analyse the motives of the British commanders in terms of their religious world view. Yet cultural relativism was automatically extended to Zulu war crimes: the disembowelling of British corpses was only an apparent atrocity because it was intended to release the spirits of the dead. The bravery of Rorke's Drift was grudgingly acknowledged - but, inevitably, we heard that an elitist conspiracy had deprived the real working-class beat off a much smaller force at heroes of recognition. Two private soldiers suffered from the Victorian equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder; that, too, was blamed on attention from the first disaster – the British government.

This was revisionist history of the old school.

There you go!

30th October 2003Peter Booth
Re. the recent ‘Timewatch’ programme on Rorke’s Drift’. I wish to focus on a few aspects, namely the treatment of Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead. I must declare an interest at this stage since John Chard was my great-great uncle. However since I have been a teacher of History for over thirty years I feel can apply historical objectivity to my viewpoint. I feel that they were hard done by.

In the programme, the case against Chard and Bromhead seems to consist of several points. Firstly that they were ‘well-bred’. Secondly that ‘their first instinct was to do a runner’. Thirdly that Dalton should have got more credit. Fourthly that both Chard and Bromhead were very stupid and therefore by implication incapable of running the battle let alone fighting with any courage.

· The first comment, that they were ‘well-bred’ and was accompanied by a carefully selected photo from the many that exist of John Chard, is a piece of twenty-first century inverted snobbery which should have no place in a piece of serious historical investigation. They were simply both officers in the army of 1879.

· No evidence was offered to substantiate the suggestion that John Chard wanted to flee Rorke’s Drift. When the news from Isandlwana first came he was at the pont. When he arrived at the army camp he had to assess the options - flight from a superior enemy force that had just destroyed an entire British army was one. After discussion with Bromhead and Dalton it was soon rejected.

· ‘Dalton should have got more credit.’ Indeed in his report John Chard goes to some lengths to stress the importance of Dalton’s contribution to the initial plan for the defence of Rorke’s Drift. Chard says that by the time he reached Rorke’s Drift, ‘Dalton was actively superintending the work of defence and I cannot sufficiently thank him for his valuable services. I entirely approved of the arrangements that were made’. Later Chard writes of ‘Acting Commissary Dalton, to whose energy much of our defences were due and who was severely wounded while gallantly assisting the defences'. It was certainly through no fault of John Chard if it took some time to recognise the importance and courage of Dalton’s part in the battle.

· ‘One man described Bromhead as ‘a stupid old man – deaf as a post’. Another described Chard as was ‘hopelessly stupid – incapable of the most menial of tasks’.’ These comments are unsubstantiated but seem to echo the words of Sir Garnet Wolsey. However Wolsey had his own motives to be critical of any aspect of the war that reflected credit on Chelmsford. In addition the comment about Bromhead seems to equate the two characteristics of stupidity and deafness, which is certainly insulting to the deaf and is another sweeping and unsubstantiated smear. It is quite clear from all the evidence that the British soldiers fought with exceptional courage and expertise. They needed leadership and they got it. Edmund Yorke, also a lecturer at Sandhurst, in his book, ‘Rorke’s Drift 1879’, makes a very interesting military evaluation of the quality of Chard and Bromhead’s military decisions in the battle – they both emerge with flying colours. John Chard’s career did not end at Rorke’s Drift. He went on to be colonel of the Royal Engineers in Scotland. This was not just a politically assisted career but one of some distinction.

The men involved at Rorke’s Drift on both sides emerged with huge credit. All of them, officers and men, rose to the occasion. Whether in different circumstances so many V.C.’s would have been awarded is a different matter. So too is the question how much criticism Chelmsford deserves. What should not be denied is that all at Rorke’s Drift acted with immense effectiveness and courage