Melville and Coghill - Zulu Dawn

Dec 03, 2018
I am sure that most of you have seen the epic movie Zulu and the subsequent movie Zulu Dawn that depicts the events preceding “Zulu” the defense of Rorkes Drift. If you haven’t seen these movies I highly recommend them.

The battle of Isandlwana took place on22 Jan 1879 between the British and King Cetshwayo’s Zulu Impis. In the space of a few hours over 1200 British troops (includes loyal natives) were wiped out.

Lt Melvill was the 1/24th’s Adjutant, he was tasked with saving the battalion’s Queens Colour. Lt Melvill broke out and as the trail to Rorkes drift was blocked by Zulu he was forced to make for an alternative ford (Drift) across the Buffalo River, this is now know as Fugitive’s Drift. Counter to popular belief, it was only here at the Buffalo river that Lt Coghill joined his brother officer. Coghill had already reached the further bank, but he turned back to assist the dismounted Melvill, Coghill’s horse was shot from under him. The two exhausted Officers found themselves stranded on “Coffin Rock” in the Buffalo River, with the Zulus taking pot shots at them. They swam the river (which was in flood) and made a last stand on the further bank. The history books tell us they made 200 yds up the further bank. In the movie Zulu Dawn they are slain on the bank. Every one agrees they made their last stand with their backs to a huge rock and that is where their tomb stands.
Above: The tomb of Lt Melvill VC and Lt Coghill VC. This was taken July 2009 with my back to the Buffalo River, over the skyline and they would have probably been safe.

Above: Standing at the tomb looking to their crossing point of the Buffalo River my Lecia gives the distance to the river as 650 meters! A tough walk under any conditions.
Above: A view of Fugitives Drift, from the cliffs to the shallows in the foreground is where the majority are believed to have crossed. I think “Coffin Rock” is on the sand in the bend of the river, very close to the bank the Zulu’s held.

The trail from the battle field at Isandlwana to the Drift is dotted with white washed stone cairns marking the grave sites of fallen soldiers. I have visited Fugitives Drift a second time, on this occasion we had a guide and walked from the battle field of Isandlwana to Fugitives Drift, I then swam the Buffalo River, I was surprised how cold it was. It was easy for me, enjoying a holiday, my wife had driven round to the further bank and was there to pick us up.  To cross that river, when it was in flood, after a bloody battle, witnessing most of your comrades slaughtered and with Zulu warriors taken shots at you would it itself have been an achievement.

All over the world there are battle fields and monuments to fallen warriors, sadly a lot are now forgotten. I read the tale of Lt Melvil and Lt Coghil as a school boy, probably when I should have been studying for exams’. I feel very privileged and humbled to have been able to walk in their footsteps.

Keep your powder dry,

Mr Wolverine

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