The National Army Museum Book of the Zulu War

The National Army Museum Book of the Zulu War

  • Author: Ian Knight
  • Publisher: Sidgwick & Jackson
  • ISBN: 0-283-07327-6
  • Price: 30.00

Review By : Elizabeth Hogan

In 2004 the National Army Museum Book Of … series was awarded the prestigious Royal United Services Institute award for ‘Best Military History Publication’, and two books were singled out as having particularly influenced the decision, one of which was Ian Knight’s Zulu War title. As with the rest of this series, the book is based largely upon the unique archive material in the Museum’s collection, woven together, in this case, to produce the first single-volume history of the war published since Ian Knight’s own Brave Men’s Blood. The archive material in this case is wide-ranging, and in particular includes the voluminous collection of letters and reports that constitute the Lord Chelmsford Papers. These in themselves provide first-hand insights into everything from the planning of the war to the conduct of individual battles and decisions to commend individual acts of bravery, but they have been augmented by a number of diaries, including one from a Bandsman in the 58th Regiment which provides a different perspective on events viewed otherwise from above.

There is inevitably a shortage of material from Zulu sources in the collection – which naturally reflects British military preoccupations – but Ian Knight has used what there is to maximum effect, shading in unfolding events within the Zulu kingdom in his own narrative. All in all, this is a vivid study of the war, full of unexpected details and incidents, and often casting a sidelong light upon well-known controversies. Captain Alan Fitzroy Hart’s account of the battle of Nyezane – which of course took place just a few hours before Isandlwana, elsewhere in the country – is particularly interesting in the light of the interminable Isandlwana ammunition debate. By taking care to secure appropriate permission beforehand, Hart had no problem obtaining ammunition supplies for his own Natal Native Contingent from a regular infantry battalion at the height of the battle, and carrying it quickly to his men for distribution. No need for excuses on that occasion of obdurate quartermasters or boxes that could not be opened; excuses which have become part of the rich and essentially misleading mythology of Isandlwana, and which do not in fact stand up to close scrutiny.

Thursday 12th of January 2006 08:48:04 PM