It was quite common for regiments to take their 'paperwork' into battle with them when on active service, as in the case of the 24th - both elements (1/24th & 2/24th). The 1/24th took well over 1000 sets of papers (enlistment & attestation) into the cauldron that was to become Isandlwana on 22nd January 1879.
When a soldier died in battle, or of disease as so often was the case in Victorian times, service papers were destroyed and vital information about a man was lost forever. The casualties incurred at Isandlwana are a case in point. We know who fell and their names and ranks as listed in regimental returns, effects are returned to next-of-kin, often the effects say 'Claimed by next-of-kin, father' etc, but we do not know the names of these people and tracing their families and history becomes very difficult indeed.
My own research has shown that in those papers held at Kew the ones most researched are held in WO 97 which are service records. Obtaining background information on a person the correct designation of a known man enables you to look into the correct set of papers (assuming of course they survive and are held at Kew). Again research has thrown up an interesting element. The majority of enlistment sheets are missing in sets of papers: there's a good reason for this. To accompany this article I have included below an enlistment sheet that has survived. It belongs to Sgt George SMITH of the 24th who was a defender at Rorke's Drift.
In those days a man joined the army and was then sent to a holding brigade and then to a regiment: in the case of the 24th it was 25 Brigade. Oddly, a man was considered an adult at the age of 18 but in civilian life it was, of course, 21. You could join the army as young as 12 or 13, though, as a boy. However, the crafty recruiting Sergeants had a trick up their sleeves. They knew full well that if you joined the infantry or general service you had to serve a minimum of 10 years if aged 18 or above, 12 years if it was the Artillery or Cavalry. If under 18 you served the shortfall up to 18 then the designated amount of time.
For example, if aged 16, you served 10 years plus the extra 2 for the shortfall to 18. By 'losing' the enlistment sheet a large proportion of men served an extra 2 years by signing up for 12 which was only, as stated before, applicable to the Artillery and Cavalry. Often original papers were lost and replacements made up; men who did not like a particular regiment often enlisted in another without legally leaving a current regiment first; very frustrating when trying to trace a man and his family.
The 24th had a reputation for bad paper work and this caused immense problems even to this day. As is so often the case, officers' records are quite easy to trace but the common soldier is another story.
At Isandhlwana one Pte James CAMP of the 1/24th was killed; at Rorke's Drift one of the little garrison was Pte William Henry CAMP of the 2 /24th. Were they related? William indeed did have a brother but was it Pte James Camp? Research has thrown up many relatives of Pte William Henry Camp but not his final resting place: he died in 1900 but his grave is not known.
When papers survive, to the trained eye the clues are immense when trying to trace a man and his family. Having established the place of birth and local district, the task of looking for his family begins and in the first instance the census returns from 1841 to 1901 are a great start.
Take the case of Fred HITCH VC for instance. For many years it was believed he had only six children: investigations have shown that in fact he had 11 children of which 8 survived, and so on. Contact with families often results when research is undertaken but you can imagine how frustrating it must be when researchers such as myself are faced with well over 1000 sets of papers taken into battle by the 1/24th on Jan 22nd 1879 - and by 4 o'clock in the afternoon lost forever. Papers are a treasure-trove of information - only if they survive and are accessible to the researcher.
'STAND TO! HERE THEY COME AGAIN!'
by Graham Mason AZW Researcher