Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Anglo-Zulu War: Replacements and Ulundi

I think by now we all know what occurred at Isandlwana on Jan 22nd 1879, the British army lost a lot of men that day, the Zulu nation even more of course. Something had to be done to fill the many gaps as a result of this huge loss in man-power on the British side. The call went out, leave was cancelled, regiments mobilised and volunteers came forth, out of a sense of duty or revenge?, perhaps a piece of both?. One of these regiments was the 21st or as it was known, Royal Scot Fusiliers. This fine old regiment was also known as The 21st Royal North British Fusiliers. They lined up beside the 58th regiment at Ulundi - but I am getting ahead of myself as usual.

Before I relate  what the 21st did in South Africa a little on the regiment itself. The 2nd Battalion who participated in South Africa was formed in Paisley, Scotland in April 1858, the first Commanding Officer was Col Last who had been in the 99th before this appointment.

By December 1858 the 2nd Battalion was in Newport, Wales, moves to Aldershot, Dover, Ireland followed. Foreign service began in 1863 to Madras then Burma and Rangoon. On the 1st May 1872 the Fusiliers were caught up in a severe cyclone at Madras, thanks to the efforts of the 21st ships and their crews and many passengers owed their lives to these men. And the people of Madras as a thanks gave the Officers Mess a large silver vase.

By 1873 the regiment was back in Scotland when in 1874 it again moved to Aldershot and then to Portsmouth, back to Scotland in Nov 1877. By 1878 the regiment moved to Ireland when a call went out in 1879 after news of the losses reached these shores, the regiment was put on active service conditions. From the depot in Ayr, volunteers from regiments serving in Ireland, the 2nd Battalion left Curragh Camp under the command of Col W Pole Collingwood for Cork. On the 20th Feb 1879 they boarded the 'City Of Paris' and set sail for South Africa. On the 21st March they were in sight of Table Mountain in the face of a severe gale, hoping to make Simon`s Bay before nightfall. At about 8 pm the ship ran onto Roman Rock.

The Ayr Advertiser reported, It was very dark, it was blowing a gale, and there were 1100 men on deck. The Captain gave his orders, with coolness and courage from the bridge; the boats were made ready for lowering, signals of distress were sent up, and all were prepared for the worst. The Scots Fusiliers behaved with admiral coolness, nothing could have been better, the young fellows vying with their older comrades in their apparent contempt of danger. Happily for all on board, the gale, now increasing, catching the ship on the port side, at the same time as the reversed engines pulled her back, pushed her off the rocks; and putting on full steam we now went ahead, and passing through forbidden water, over sunken rocks, we got in into Simon's Bay with no water to speak of in the hold. An episode is worth reporting of the good behaviour of the men. The instant the ship struck the rock, the quartermaster at the wheel uttered an exclamation of horror, and crying, "all is lost!" made a rush to the nearest boat. Two or three young soldiers at once seized the wheel, and did their best to steer the ship until another quartermaster could be got hold of.

The battalion was transferred to the HMS Tamar for the trip to Durban, where it arrived on the 31st March 1879. At Durban bandsmen were issued rifles but the pipers and bugle players retained their instruments. By the 3rd April the Fusiliers left Durban and on the 5th April arrived at Pietermaritzburg and received a warm welcome from the locals. Fort Newdigate was constructed and two companies of the Scots Fusiliers, along with two Gatling guns, a company of Basutos, and a troop of the 1st Dragoon Guards made up the little garrison. A march ensued to the Upoko River where a skirmish had taken place on the 5th June 1879. Waiting there for supply wagons. Fort Marshall was constructed, with two companies of Fusiliers along with a squadron of the 17th Lancers. In overall command was Brigadier General Collingwood. On the 18th June the remainder of the battalion resumed its march. By the time of Ulundi on July 4th the 2/21st were lined up with the 58th regiment, Regimental Colours were unfurled and bands began to play.

Ulundi Memoria

Chelmsford got his troops in a favourable position with his front facing Ulundi about a mile to his east. The first Zulu were seen at about 8:30 am on July 4th. After the savage defeat of the Zulu at Ulundi, Chelmsford received orders from Sir Garnet Wolseley on July 8th to bring the sick and wounded to Fort Newdigate. Chelmsford was camped at EULONGANENI and had decided there to resign his command and leave for home. In closing his parting speech he said the following, "For the courage, coolness, and devotion you have all displayed wherever I have been with you, my best and warmest thanks are due. For the unselfish devotion, untiring energy, and good humour with which you have encountered hardship, fatigue, and privation I find it hard to express my gratitude sufficiently. In all senses you have done your duty as British soldiers!."

Lord Chelmsford
The withdrawal started on the 10th July, and four days later they had passed Fort Marshall; with wounded and sick men being escorted to Ladysmith by two companies of the Scots Fusiliers and Bengough's natives. The regiment had started to break up on July 26th on the banks of the Upoko river, with various elements going to different locations. Other engagements took place in South Africa for the 21st but that is a different story. The Zulu nation had been broken at Ulundi and later the then British Prime Minister (Gladstone) had commented on the loss of 10,000 Zulu and for what reason when in the cold light of dawn the historians and record keepers gave the post-mortem on the Anglo Zulu War of 1879.

Graham Mason AZW Researcher

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