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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Thursday 8 August 2019


A work trip next month is taking me to South Africa. So, there will be a bit of a theme to my posts as I plan to visit at least some of the battlefields of the Zulu and Boer wars.

My grasp of the Zulu wars don't go much further than Michael Caine and Stanley Baxter and the less well known Zulu Dawn. I am remedying that starting with Saul David's 'Zulu: The Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879".

What little I thought I knew is debunked in this book. For example, I don't need to practice 'Men of Harlech' because very few of the defenders of Rorke's Drift were Welsh and would be unlikely to know the words either. The 24th Foot did become the South Wales Borderers, but not until 1881. In 1879 most would have been recruited from the slums of Birmingham. The film might not have been quite as memorable with lots of Jasper Carrot types!

Chard and Bromhead were not rated very highly by their respective commanders. Bromhead's Colonel described him as a 'hopeless soldier due to his unconquerable indolence'. Mind you, as the Major who should have been commanding at Rorke's drift abandoned his post, he wasn't the worst officer in the regiment, and he did pretty well. Partially deaf or not.

The Zulu War need not have happened at all. It was deliberately provoked by Sir Bartle  Frere, governor of Cape Colony and the British commander, Lord Chelmsford, went along with him. It could also have been concluded earlier, but by then Chelmsford was desperate for a big victory to cover up for the disaster at Isandlwana. It was quite shocking the lengths that his officers went to to cover up his errors and scapegoat Colonel Durnford.

The book is very well written as well as researched. It gives a clear account of the campaigns as well as the political context, in Britain and South Africa.

Needless to say, I won't be able to visit the battlefields without wanting to wargame them. So, I have already made a start. I used to have them in 15mm, but unusually for me, sold them some years ago. I have therefore decided to do this war in 10mm and I picked up two Pendragon army packs at Claymore, which should get me started. I have the Osprey Elite on the Zulus and have added the Osprey Warrior on the Brits and another MAA on the volunteer units.

From the photos and drawings it was clear that few troops remained in parade ground condition as in the film. A Sergeant of the 24th at Rorke's Drift wrote that his men were in rags, "some with no boots, some with their jackets and trousers patched with sheepskins and all kinds of things." I am not sure how I will reflect that in 10mm, but we will see.


  1. Great photo of them as survivors and they all have a look of the 1000 yard stare- long before the phrase was invented.

  2. They have the look of real veterans and I look at them and see a view of men who have been 'through the mill' and out the other side. I'm an ex soldier and know the look