Sunday, March 22, 2015

Campbell of the Guards: Anglo-Zulu War 1879

My topic this time concerns a man who fought in the Zulu War but not at Isandlwana nor indeed at Rorke's Drift. The piece could also have been titled "Denied a VC?" because in many eyes he was denied this highest honour. The person concerned was born on the 30th of Dec 1848, baptised on the 5th Feb 1849 at Stackpole Elidor in Pembrokeshire, son of John Frederick Vaughan Campbell and Sarah Mary Cavendish.

His name was Ronald George Elidor Campbell whose father was the Earl of Cawdor. A memorial plaque to this man can been seen at the Holy Trinity Church in Windsor. Ronald joined the Coldstream Guards but the regiment did not in the main participate in the Zulu War though individuals certainly did. The legend on the plaque reads as follows, "Sacred to the memory of Lieutenant and Captain and for 7 years Adjutant of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards. He fell on March 28th 1879 leading an assault on a strong position on Zlobane [sic] Mountain Zululand and was buried under fire by his comrades. The two men that followed him received the Victoria Cross".

These men were Pte Edmond Fowler and Lt Henry Lysons both of the 2nd Btn, The Cameronians. Ronald was educated at Eton and joined the Coldstream Guards in 1867; by 1871 he had reached the rank of Captain and was appointed Adjutant to the 1st Btn. By Nov 1878 he was seconded to Col Sir Evelyn Wood as his Chief of Staff. Zulu snipers were laid up in caves on Hlobane mountain and Capt Campbell was in the vanguard of a party of men sent to flush them out. The snipers opened fire killing Capt Campbell instantly, Lysons and Fowler just behind Campbell then followed in and took care of business.

It was in October 1881 that Sir Evelyn Wood recommended that Fowler and Lysons were to be awarded the VC. The London Gazette (5th April 1882) has the following:
"On the 28th March 1879, during the assault of the Inhlobane mountain, Sir Evelyn Wood ordered the dislodgement of certain Zulu (who were causing the troops much loss) from strong natural caves commanding the position in which some of the wounded were lying. Some delay occurring in the execution of the orders issued, Captain the Honourable Campbell, Coldstream Guards, followed by Lt Lysons, Aide de Camp, and Pte Fowler, ran forward in the mass of fallen boulders, which lay between walls of rock, which led to a cave in which the enemy lay hidden. It being impossible for two men to walk abreast, the assailants were consequently obliged to keep in single file, and as Capt Campbell was leading, he arrived first at the mouth of the cave, from which the Zulus were firing, and there met his death. Lt Lysons and Pte Fowler, who were following close behind him, immediately dashed at the cave, from which led several subterranean passages, and firing into the chasm below, succeeded in forcing the occupants to forsake their stronghold. Lt Lysons remained at the caves mouth for some minutes after the attack, during which time Capt Campbell's body was carried down the slopes".

There was no suggestion as in other cases that had the nominee lived he too would have received the Victoria Cross. The answer to this is in the records at Kew in a recommendation dated October 15th 1881 by Wood:

"Awards to Lt H Lysons and Pte E Fowler."
"I did not recommend them at the time the acts were performed, as they did not, in my opinion, come under the category of acts of valour included in the warrant (Royal Warrant of 1881). As an explanatory interpretation which has been made public has changed my opinion I trust that the gallant conduct of these soldiers will now be deemed a sufficient reason for my now submitting the cases for Her Majesty's gracious approval.

Without wishing to take away in the slightest degree from the bravery evinced by Lt Lyons and Pte Fowler, I should add that if Capt Ronald Campbell had survived, I should have recommended him for the Victoria Cross before the others, as in the assault of such a cave, as I have attempted to describe, the greatest danger is necessarily incurred by the leader".

It is well known that Melvill and Coghill received posthumous VCs in 1907 in carrying the Colours from the field of battle at Isandlwana, a heavy object which meant seeking them out and carrying them at full flight; they were at first indicated as had they lived they would have won the Victoria Cross why not Capt Campbell who actually engaged the enemy in the fashion described earlier? In WO 32/ 7834 at Kew is a note which states "General W does not wish this question raised", this refers I am sure to General Wolseley and a possible posthumous award to Campbell. There was a big time gap in the incident and award recommendation: had Wolseley had enough of Zulu War incidents? Remember of the 11 VCs won at Rorke's Drift only one was actually received there in August of 1879 - to Pte Hook who had been in camp there since January 1879. Was there a time limit for such awards? Can you imagine the hue and cry had Lysons and Fowler been deprived of their VCs?

It also could be argued that Pte Williams (Rorke's Drift) for his actions should have received the VC but he died at that battle and another defender there (C/Sgt GW Mabin) should have been awarded a LSGC (Long Service Good Conduct Medal) for 30 years unblemished service, not once even on defaulters' parade and gained the rare distinction of being awarded the maximum (6) good conduct stripes. The chances of these three men getting such belated awards are virtually nil but look at the 306 men shot for 'cowardice' in World War I: pardons are being granted as I speak. I would invite world opinion as to a campaign to hopefully grant these well-deserved medals. 

John Vaughan Campbell son of Capt Campbell joined the Coldstream Guards and in September 1916 won a VC at Ginchy during the battle of the Somme: some justification for the family, possibly.

Graham Mason
Anglo-Zulu War Researcher

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