Date: 4th August 08
Location: Dundee, South Africa
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, warmer at last, 27°c
Status: Learning lots from an expert guide!
Anthony, Patrick’s uncle, has been a military history guide around the battlefields of northern Natal for the past 40 years and is a true expert with all things relating to the numerous battles which have changed the face of this part of the world over the last 200 years.
We packed our things into his Nissan Patrol, cameras, lunch and notepads and headed out of the town around 8.30am ready to drive the 50kms to the first of the sites….Isandwala, the site of the British massacre in 1879.
After an hour’s drive down some very bumpy dirt roads, which he totally flew down incidentally, we arrived at the top of a pass overlooking the expansive valley floor below which stretched off far into the horizon. We got out and Anthony explained the lie of the land in front of us and how, off to our east the British troops had advanced towards the Zulu warriors pulling oxen and carts all of those years ago down the steep passes and onto the valley floor in the middle of summer through boggy wet conditions.
Back in the car and a short drive to the first of the battle sites and immediately as we pulled into the car park I sensed a place of enormous emotion and history, white cairns scattered all over the surrounding parched, brown grasslands each paying homage to the soldiers who 129 years ago had given their lives as part of the continuing British empire across the planet.
We sat for a couple of hours as he expertly told us of the significance of the landscape and its features and hiding places, the regiments, battalions and individuals involved and the critically incorrect decisions which had been made over the course of a 3 day period leading to the eventual deaths of thousands of British, colonial and commonwealth soldiers in a total massacre at the hands of the advancing Zulu warriors. A very moving, emotional and realistic description of the actions which took place that hit home even more as we were right there on the site of the battleground.
The sun was rising in the sky and heating us and the surrounding air and finally I was feeling African heat again after the chills of Cape Town and the Western Cape. We packed our chairs up and took a walk up the famous outlined hill of Isandwala to visit yet more cairns and reflect on what had happened here so many years ago.
Into the car and off to the next location, Rorke’s Drift some 15kms away passing over the Buffalo River on the way, the site at the time of the battle of a fast moving obstacle which required a command of British engineers there at all times to operate a pont bridge to allow the carts and supplies to be fed forward to the men on the front line.
The original buildings and trees which were on the site of the infamous Rorke’s Drift have unfortunately long gone, but there has been a replica built on the site to show quite how difficult and large a position it would have been for the battalion posted here to defend, they numbered 400 at the start of the battle and through desertion and death totalled less than 30 when the Zulu’s pulled back after 2 days and nights hard fighting.
I will endeavour to write more on this subject later as a specific article for the site as this very famous battle, detailed in the film ‘Zulu’ covers one of the most important sites in the whole of the world in terms of number of Victoria Crosses handed in a single battle.
Once we’d toured the site, taken photos and paid our way we made to the car and headed back out towards Dundee after a stunningly interesting, moving and thoughtful day in the very careful, knowledgeable hands of our guide Anthony who can’t be thanked enough.
Back to the house where Patricks aunt cooked us a gorgeous roast chicken AND beef dinner, did some work on the computer then bed. Early start tomorrow to be in Joburg to collect Josie from the airport by 9am….some 220kms away!
End of day location: Dundee, South Africa
Distance covered: 110kms