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Sawubona


Joined: 09 Nov 2005
Posts: 1179
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I agree, Special, that building a barricade with 200 pound sacks of corn must have been a backbreaking task indeed. Unless you Brits are somehow more genetically engineered for such things than we Yanks, few men can even drag that kind of weight no less lift it. Even "team lifting" so many of those things into place wouldn't seem to have left them in any condition to fight a protracted battle afterwards.

Why would anyone put produce in a bag so large that two men working in concert would have trouble loading it? Hardly seems practical. Is there any chance that that 200 pound bag thing is a red herring? Seems like a lot of weight for the amount of dry corn that would fill such a bag.
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AMB


Joined: 07 Oct 2005
Posts: 871
Location: Queensland, Australia
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Two man lift? Maybe.

Army logic would see the boys just 'cracking on'; many simply testing their own ability to move such weight!

Certainly the 112lbs bags on the farm were a one-man lift.

AMB
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Coll
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They must have been of considerable weight, or else their use at Rorke's Drift as barricades might result in a flimsy defensive fortification, whereas a wall of more solid heavy bags of mealie couldn't be pushed over just as easy by the bodies of the attacking Zulus.

About as near as a sandbag redoubt as you can get, using what there was to hand there and then, including the fact the heavier bags would have been a steadier load on the supply wagons.

This may have been their secondary purpose on campaign, seeing-as-to-how, there wasn't always a guarantee of near-to-hand materials to construct defences, or time to fill empty bags with sand or soil, improvisation being the key, as proven at Rorke's Drift.

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Alan
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Joined: 30 Aug 2005
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It has been suggested that if they had thought of it, the Zulus could have sliced open the bags and they would have emptied themselves, especially in the defences overlooking the orchard.

Having said that, my experience of mealie in South Africa has been of a substance more like heavy flour. Surely the Army in the field wouldn't want to be grinding grain?

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Special Artist


Joined: 29 Apr 2012
Posts: 22
Location: UK
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Archibald Forbes mentions the grain fallen from wagons having sprouted at Isandlwana in May, so they seemingly took some in grain form; but I've also read somewhere that part of each man's ration could be issued as mealie flour, quite right Alan that that would certainly be quite a job grinding in the field for an entire column!
If we are talking about 200lb sacks, that would certainly hint why some defenders mentioned the great help given in building the barricades by the NNC, and why the barricade in front of the hospital, furthest from the supply of sacks, was unfinished, not just the natural inclination to build from the nearest point outwards, but the simple physical effort of getting them that far by hand.
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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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Fascinating! I'm usually just an impressed spectator in this section but I do enjoy examining these illustrations carefully.

Yes, good points Jeff & a great photo. Stripes very similar to Lady Butler's. Do you mean that you came across these already so marked and that you assume the maker had spotted the stripes in Lady B's work and copied them? Or have I confused myself? The Melton Prior sketches are also helpful. He must have seen some bags/sacks somewhere in Zululand (or at some stage in S Africa during 1878) with WD initials and arrows on, unless – as has been suggested is possible – these were embellishments by the artists in London working on his rough sketches. Has artist’s licence been used? The words “flour” or “mealie” may have been added simply to indicate to the reader in Britain what the sacks contained. But then, as far as I know, the expression “mealie” meant nothing to the British public – at least before the news of the sacks used at R/Drift. In fact, it still doesn’t - does it?

The Punch cartoon of Chard & Bromhead on p66 of the Rattray/Lloyd compilation (perhaps the one referred to above) also depicts sacks marked “mealie” and boxes marked “biscuits” – but these do look more symbolic or representational than realistic, although size-wise look OK. On pp70/71, Lloyd’s water colours certainly show the bags at post-Isandlwana Helpmakaar as pretty big. These look as if they may be gathered and tied at the end, and those in the Punch cartoon certainly are. On p72 his sketch of the rotting mealie bags at Helpmakaar shows the “closed” or sealed type with no gathered ties at the end - a bit like a pillow case without an opening. The dotted lines along the middle may be stitches (perhaps where the bag was slit open quickly along its middle like a tomato growbag? But then they couldn't have been re-used) or are they perhaps Lady B’s parallel lines (2 instead of 3?). The wonderful painting of the Helpmakaar laager on p73 again shows – like Degacher's – their considerable size (certainly as big as Sgt Windridge’s pair in Zulu!)

I’d be really surprised if WD-marked sacks went out to S Africa to be filled, but perhaps they did? We must have an 1879 equipment/logistics expert here who knows? Given that Lord C’s force had been in S Africa for years, not weeks, surely supplies of grain & flour were sourced locally and came in local containers, whether of a standard size or not. So much has been published on the supply & transport practicalities and problems of 1878/79 and how much the campaign depended on local civilian contractors, that I’m sure the answer is out there somewhere. Might there have been a difference between the 1st & 2nd invasions?

Saw, like you I somehow doubt Tommy Atkins’ physique outstripped the average American soldier – it certainly didn’t during the 20th century. 200 lbs does seem heavy - but I can't really imagine what it would feel like any more than I could a kilo or two! Coll, you wonder whether the mealie bags were already considered as having a possible secondary defensive use, as they eventually were used at R/Drift. I’d think it unlikely, given the belief that the invasion force would be “doing all the attacking” – and remember the Boers’ advice on laagering in any way at all was eschewed. And Chard, Bromhead & Dalton were credited with some considerably imaginative improvisation in thinking of the bags & boxes from the stores to form a barricade. Alan, Wood's column boasted a mobile bakery during the 1st invasion at least. Would he have used sacks of grain or flour - presumably flour?

Peter
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Sawubona


Joined: 09 Nov 2005
Posts: 1179
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I'm not aware of the "credit" for the illustration on the cover of Barthop's book, but although inaccurate in some details (the helmet plates, for example) it seems both contemporary and fairly well researched. No stamps on the bags although there is some illegible script on one of the boxes. Note however the grain spilling out of the torn bags at the lower left corner.

Any man who can dead lift (that is, raise a weight equipped with a good gripping point from the floor to his waist) his own weight is both fit and and physically above average by modern standards. For him to be able to raise the same load to chest height would mean he was well above average. And that's just asking for just one "rep". An average man, then or now, who can/could lift a bag a quarter or a third again his own body weight beyond his waist repeatedly? I don't believe it . The barricades had to result from a team effort-- that is, two or more men on each bag working in concert. After all, these guys knew each other pretty well and were certainly trained to doing the same thing at the same time. And I'm not overlooking the NNC contribution.
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Alan
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Joined: 30 Aug 2005
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If you were working out the logistics of transporting mealie for the army,
common sense would suggest that ground mealie is less in volume than grain
and would therefore take fewer wagons, oxen etc. I'm not aware of anything
to do with grain other than to grind it. Was there insufficient time before
setting out? Is grain less prone to contamination than flour?


Last edited by Alan on Thu May 10, 2012 8:21 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Martin Everett


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 780
Location: Brecon
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The illustration on the dust cover of Michael Barthorp's 'The Zulu War: A Pictorial History' is the painting of the defence of Rorke's Drift by W H Dugan which is on display today in the Regimental Museum in Brecon.

This painting was the first to be placed on public view in Britain in 1879, before the more famous de Neuville and Lady Butler depictions of the famous action. Whether artist Dugan had the opportunity of speaking to veterans of the event we do not know. Certainly there is not record of him being in South Africa. Excellent as it is, you have to 'take the images with pinch of salt' even though the painting must have had a significant impact on the public at the time.

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Rob D


Joined: 01 Sep 2005
Posts: 93
Location: Melbourne Australia
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Hi
With regard to Saw's post, for what it's worth one reason given for the Royal Navy concentrating on building 6"-gunned cruisers prior to and during WW2 was that the 6" gun with a 112 lb / 51 kg shell could be worked by hand if necessary, while the 8" gun in the County class cruisers, with its 256 lb / 116 kg shell, couldn't - unless you had a gun crewed entirely by Sgt Windridge clones. Wink
So, yeah, teamwork in moving those bags and boxes.
Rob
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Alan

I'm not a Baker/cook, but flour might pack together/solidify in a block, or even turn into mush and become unworkable if not stored right, whereas grain, used in amounts only needed at the time can be ground.

Just a thought.

Coll
Sawubona


Joined: 09 Nov 2005
Posts: 1179
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I'm thinking with you, Coll. I imagine the contents of sack of ground flour would putrefy quickly unless kept absolutely dry, a seemingly impossible goal in the Spring in South Africa. I can't imagine what one of those bags would weigh if full of wet flour, but I would think that it would be considerably more than 200 pounds.
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Jeff Dickinson


Joined: 16 May 2006
Posts: 35
Location: Baltimore, United states
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Special Artist,
Thank you for the compliment. I’m with you about the boxes as well. I couldn’t resist either. For these I got hold of a couple of old skids and some rusted strapping from along a railroad yard. I made them prop style as they only have two sides with hinges. They are of course completely “artist’s license” (a self proclaimed title on my part, wink wink) but I think they turned out OK. I had the boxes and bags under my display table rather than just a plain table cloth. Turned out pretty well.


Peter,
Sorry I wasn’t really clear. I had the same idea as Old C about making bags for a show I had. I remembered Lady Butlers’ painting from way back and thought stripes were correct but wondered about the WD and arrow. From movie stills I saw Stanley had them on the prop bags in Zulu but I wasn’t sure if that was correct or not. I found the couple of examples I posted and thought that’s what I would do. (Just as a side note checked Sheldon’s book and the bags in “Zulu” were filled with wood chips). I found big burlap coffee bags and they had blue and red stripes down the middle.



Unfortunately the guy wanted too much money for them so I decided to build them myself. I made the bags in the pictures from scratch. Burlap from the fabric store. I actually hot glued the seams then stitched them with heavy twine. Painted on the red and blue stripes and the WD. Filled them with packing peanuts and cut up carpet padding. Then weathered and dirtied them up a bit with different layers of paint.

Not sure why it didn’t come to me before but now that we have been discussing this I consulted Skinnertons ‘The Broad Arrow” and found this relevant section “…. Only the Royal Ordnance Factories or Government establishments were entitled to use the Broad Arrow mark in manufacture although the Broad Arrow by itself was regularly marked on stores purchased from other contractors, upon their acceptance into Government Service”.
Also from Skinnerton, L.o.C 7815 of January 30 1895 “….the practice of marking such stores with the “W.D.” will be discontinued”. So to discontinue the practice it must have been common to mark the stores originally. Anyway I think what ever you decide Old C it will be a big hit.
All the Best, Jeff
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Sawubona


Joined: 09 Nov 2005
Posts: 1179
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There's 'er nick on the cavalry 'orses,
There's 'er mark on the medical stores --
And 'er sign on the sacks that 'ave broken our backs
Which we slung on the ramparts before.

From a recently discovered early draft of Kipling's "Widow of Windsor" (not really).
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Peter Ewart


Joined: 31 Aug 2005
Posts: 1797
Location: Near Canterbury, Kent, England.
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Saw

Good effort! Slipped into the old man's style perfectly - it's one of my favourites but I'd have believed it!

P.
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