Monday, March 23, 2015

The Mounted Infantryman: Anglo-Zulu War 1879

Even after many decades the Anglo Zulu War still throws up many unanswered questions. The subject of this article is one such item. 

Among the four known versions of the roll calls at Rorke's Drift is a reference to a Pte Frederick EVANS of "H" Coy 2 /24th, a mounted infantryman listed as amongst the defenders on Jan 22nd 1879. In my studies I have the number of men at the mission station as 152: this figure is my own interpretation of who was there. It still baffles me why Lt CHARD RE VC did not call upon C/Sgt G W MABIN at the end of the battle to get a complete and accurate return of the men at the station. Mabin's job as a Chief Clerk would have been to compile a list for future reference but this did not happen. I still do not know if the original CO, Major SPALDING had a list of the men at the station prior to riding off to look for help.

Read the version of events as described by C/ Sgt Mabin:
"It was about 3:20pm when I saw a horseman spurring furiously towards the camp. Drawing rein at the tent he demanded to see the Commanding officer. The senior is absent, he has gone to Helpmekaar, what's up? I said. Good God man! the men in camp at ISANDLWANA have all been killed by the Zulus who are coming on here." 

If this account is true then Mabin was the first to learn of the impending onslaught. I thought to myself, all I have to do is next time I am at the now renamed National Archives at Kew, is to seek out the papers of this Frederick EVANS whose regimental number was 953. I searched for his papers and none were found, however I did come across a set of papers for 954 Pte Thomas EVANS of the 2/24th. Details show he was involved in the Zulu War of 1879 and gained the South Africa campaign medal with clasps for 1877,78,79, indicating he engaged against the Zulus.

I then checked the medal roll and both are shown in the 2/24th with Frederick EVANS shown as a mounted infantryman in "H" Coy. Lt Chard RE also recounts horsemen coming into the camp, one being Lt ADENDORFF. No mention is made or refuted about C/ Sgt Mabin's claim to having spoken to a horseman; Mabin recounts that it was 3:20 pm when he saw the rider and Chard recalls it being 3:20pm. Remember Chard was not the officer in charge of the men until Maj Spalding left and the next in command, Lt BROMHEAD was not asked to produce a roll call. The actions attributed to Adendorff are according to the book by Dr Adrian Greaves down to Cpl Attwood, a case of mistaken identity I feel.

Four horsemen were known to have ridden to Rorke's Drift, these being Lt VANE, Lt ADENDORFF (Natal Native Horse), Pte Frederick EVANS attached to the Mounted Infantry and one other and it is he I believe was the EVANS we are looking for, more about him later. As stated, Frederick EVANS was in "H" Coy 2 /24th. Before I reveal the identity of the fourth horseman, a little background on the Mounted Infantry. Due to a shortage of cavalry, mounted infantry were recruited on loan from regular battalions. The 24th were the first such unit raised alongside with elements from the 88th. It was the 1st/24th that supplied nearly 100% of the men from the 24th; both regiments served in the 9th Frontier War. In 1878 1st and 2nd Squadrons were formed with 150 men in each divided into two troops and drawn from the 2/3rd, 1/24th, 1/13th and 80th regiments. 20 Mounted Infantry were in action at Isandlwana with a loss of 13 of their number. As Frederick EVANS 953 is shown on the Chard roll (no number mentioned) and the Bourne roll (amended) and the Maj Dunbar roll, it is quite clear that this man must be severely in doubt as to his participation in the defence on Jan 22nd 1879.

The vast majority of 1/24th men as Mounted Infantry are listed in No 1 Squadron and Frederick EVANS was in the 2/24th. Very few were listed in the 2nd Squadron if at all. In his book "Rorke's Drift", Dr Adrian Greaves on page 106 states: "the dreadful news from Isandlwana had been re-confirmed by three more breathless horsemen, all survivors from the battle including Pte Frederick EVANS 2/24TH on loan to the Mounted Infantry (he may have been in the 2nd Squadron). Having made their report they then rode off to Helpmekaar". Now if Frederick EVANS rode off as stated he could not have been at the defence as seems to be the case due to the confused recording of the facts. Remember Chard did not know any of these men except the sappers under his command and of these four had been killed at Isandlwana early on the 22nd Jan, Bourne included EVANS on his amended roll and Maj Dunbar who compiled the fourth known list was not even at the battle!

A letter in Welsh was allegedly written by Frederick/Thomas EVANS to his wife:
"Dear wife, I send you these few lines to inform you I was not amongst the unfortunate men belonging to our regiment who were killed on Jan 22nd of this month, the camp was left in charge of some 850 privates and officers, and when they were out they were attacked and all killed, excepting 20 (note: the actual number of known survivors was in fact 55). The Zulus crossed into Natal, and attacked another station with such fire against them that they failed to force an entrance, and when they saw what number of men amongst them was being killed they set fire to the hospital and then retreated. I was in the midst of this fight, and about 100 of us killed about 600 of the enemy with only a loss of 15 men among ourselves (2 more died later on making 17 in all). On the following morning, what remained of our regiment came to us, and we are now waiting for the others to come and take our place, because we have neither clothes nor anything else. I do not suppose we shall go to battle again because our companies are so cut up that it will be hardly possible to form us into a regiment. I shall write again when that is possible, and will give particulars.
Your affectionate husband Thomas Evans."

The plot thickens! Listed as a survivor of Isandlwana was a man called Edgar EVANS of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Buffs, also a Mounted Infantryman! Could it be that he was the rider that C/Sgt MABIN saw and spoke to while Chard saw Lt Vane and Lt Adendorff alongside Pte Frederick Evans 2/24th "H" Coy 2/24th and as stated 4 men on horseback rode into camp (Rorke's Drift) and then according to Dr Greaves rode off to Helpmekaar? Did Chard vaguely remember an EVANS and remember on his roll EVANS was shown as having no number. Did Bourne in his amended roll recall an EVANS and was he told it was Frederick EVANS? Or was it the fact that 954 Pte Thomas Evans was the man already at the drift and with the regimental numbers being so close and both called EVANS did Bourne recall the wrong man? Did Mabin speak to EVANS of the Buffs whilst Chard spoke to 953 Pte Frederick EVANS and is it possible that 954 Pte Thomas Evans was in fact the man at the drift and that no Mounted Infantrymen were in fact amongst the defenders on that fateful day? 

I aim to locate a copy of this letter written by EVANS and also see if the service papers still exist for 726 Cpl Edgar EVANS 2/3rd a Mounted Infantryman who survived Isandlwana and is most likely one of two people named EVANS who were Mounted Infantry who both survived the trauma of Isandlwana, rode into Rorke's Drift, made their report to two different men (Chard and Mabin) and then rode off to Helpmekaar.

The papers of Pte Frederick EVANS and Cpl Edgar EVANS may have furnished clues. On my next trip to Kew it is my intention to seek out (if they are there) the papers of Cpl Evans to see if they can assist. I believe that Bourne and Chard (who did not know these men) remembered the wrong man and although Bourne has an EVANS it is on his amended roll and could well have been 954 Pte Thomas EVANS who in fact should be remembered as the man at Rorke's Drift and not 953 Pte Frederick EVANS.

In closing, can anyone tell me what became of Lt VANE and, more importantly, Lt ADENDORFF, whose roll in both battles is still hotly disputed?

Graham Mason
Anglo-Zulu War Researcher.

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